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Page last updated at 07:45 GMT, Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Review: Bellowhead at Ipswich Corn Exchange

By Dave Bell
Resident of Framlingham

Bellowhead at Ipswich Corn Exchange
There was an audience of over 900 for the standing gig at the Corn Exchange

I've seen Bellowhead a few times from a physics-bending Manor Ballroom stage (how did they all get onto it? why did no-one fall off?) in Ipswich to a darkened club in Glasgow.

For the uninitiated, Bellowhead are an 11-piece folk collective led by some of Britain's finest musicians in the tradition, combined with a jazz band incorporating every possible rhythm implement and a brass section of power and depth.

They research, find and bring together their take on traditional music, coupled with self-penned material and perform these with sheer power, vibrancy and music hall showmanship that has led to them winning BBC Radio 2's Folk Awards Best Live Act four time times in the last six years.

The beautiful old Corn Exchange in Ipswich hosted the last night of their current tour, an apparently effortless 19-shows-in-19-days epic, following the release of their critically acclaimed album Hedonism.

Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell
Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell played a half-hour opening set

The evening opened with the talented Jonny & Lucy, nominees for the Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards 2011.

Self-deprecating, they stated their set was designed as a contrast to the exuberance of Bellowhead.

However the jazz-tinged, lilting, winsome and funny observational ballads that followed the impressive opening Hares On The Mountain were thoroughly enjoyed by this "halfwit companion" and I'd certainly recommend chasing them down like Benjamin Brown as they have our love.

Tall and angular

Bellowhead, led by Jon Boden's tall and angular theatricality, launched into their set with a drum & tuba fuelled rendition of Yarmouth Town in which the saucy daughter of a local publican incites several sailors to entertain her.

This is typical subject matter for Bellowhead, who transform gloomy ballads of death, maidens, filthy women & thieves into majestic mash-ups of raucous brass and soaring strings.

The hall reverberated to the music as the noisy 900-strong throng encouraged clapped, pogo'd, skipped and sang along with the band.

Bellowhead's Rachel McShane
Rachel McShane adding theatricality to the cello and fiddle

I lost count of the songs and bounced along with the best of them, particularly enjoying the Jacques Brel epic Amsterdam, Cold Blow the Wind (successfully blending happy horns over the sadness of a grieving heart) and Sloe Gin.

The stage at times seems divided into two bands of competing troops vying for our attention, led by the two Jons (Boden and Spiers), pitching pipes versus sax, oboe versus trombone, cello versus tuba and violin versus melodeon.

The band seem to thrive inside the skin of the music as the musicians egged each other onwards to greater glory, yet Bellowhead can switch mood in a heartbeat between a grandiose wall of sound to a quirky pizzicato of strings.

The show climaxed with the crowd all chanting to go "up to the rigs and down to the jigs" of London Town.

Thank you Bellowhead for returning to Ipswich, thanks to Movers & Shakers for getting them there (keep up the good work) and I can't wait until next time.

Bellowhead were at Ipswich Corn Exchange on 28, November 2010.

If you're interested in writing a review in return for free tickets to an event, write to us suffolk@bbc.co.uk here.

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