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BELLOWHEAD - Live At Shepherds Bush Empire

BELLOWHEAD - Live At Shepherds Bush Empire
Westpark Music 87170

In case you’ve had a bit of a doze these past 5 years, this remarkable big-band collective was convened by John Spiers and Jon Boden to fuse English traditional music with contrasting rhythms and influences, played by a heterogeneous bunch of musicians; “originally a very loose idea to expand the work we’d been doing into as big a sound as possible” says Spiers in one of the bonus interview segments here.

Making a glorious racket, and bringing a touch of mayhem to venues such as the ornate Shepherds Bush Empire, (more usually featuring Starsailor and The Fratellis in its programming) on the strength of this footage, the game plan’s surely paying off - with dividends.  I witnessed the mighty Bellowhead on the Burlesque tour just 4 days after this recording, which captures them arguably, at the peak of their powers; – remarkably, since that September 2007 date, the potency remains intact.

Ambling insouciantly on stage but romping straight into the stirring Prickle-eye Bush with a practised abandon, a rapid fire attack of good spirited, audience-pleasing, wall-of-sound music ensues, never losing sight of the tradition from which it draws but never doubting the same tradition can stand a bit of liberty-taking.  Sensing the crowd’s energy, their high power approach soon has cheers rising up when a recognisable piece such as Hopkinson’s Favourite stands out.  The snazzy 11-piece, though percussionist Pete Flood soon discards jacket and cellist Rachel McShane is as cocktail-party-elegant as ever, has total engagement with each other; - grins, eye contact, nod of the head, and the musicianship is exceptionally good.

Bouncing off smooth as clockwork arrangements, led by one-hand-waving-free fiddle singer Boden, the roof-raising continues, occasionally tempered by such as Death And The Lady and Across The Line but for the most part, it’s a stomper until the Frog’s Legs And Dragon’s Teeth set brings proceedings to a wonderfully chaotic close.The tightness, the sense of fun and excitement make this one of the best music videos you’ll see, in any genre. Put it this way, it’s a heck of a sight more cheery and uplifting a DVD than Jeff Buckley – Live In Chicago!

Clive Pownceby
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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.