REVIEW: Bellowhead live at Sheffield City Hall


When a band plays a seated venue and end the set with an audience on its feet, they know they’ve done well, writes Worksop Guardian reporter Hayley Gallimore.

But when that audience is dancing in the aisles and screaming for more, they have played a blinder.

That was the scene at Sheffield City Hall on Thursday 14th February 2013 after a stomping show from 11-piece folk fellowship Bellowhead.

This being my third Bellowhead gig, I should have expected nothing less. It’s virtually impossible to sit – or stand – still during their live performances.

Even so I was curious as to how the dynamic would work between the traditional space within the auditorium and the rambunctious rhythms on stage.

The answer: very well indeed.

It was Valentine’s night and there was palpable love in the room for the band whose latest release, Broadside, has just been named album of the year in BBC Radio 2’s Folk Awards 2013.

All except one of the songs on Broadside are traditional folk songs, many written several hundred years ago, but with contemporary new arrangements after ‘the Bellowhead treatment’.

For me it was a concert of two halves. For the first hour I was once again in awe at the band members’ pure musical mastery.

No fewer than 20 instruments appeared on stage throughout the evening, brass, fiddles, guitar, melodeon, oboe, cello… even bagpipes.

And my imagination soon sailed away on a sea of lyrics, each song telling a captivating story – a lesson to live your life by.

Stand-out numbers were opening song Black Beetle Pies, with its chanting vocals creepily delivered with typical theatrical style by lead singer John Boden, and spine-tingling love song, Betsy Baker.

New single Roll The Woodpile Down finished the first half off with gusto.

After the interval the performance stepped up a gear and gained tempo. It was time to dance.

The band were having such a knees-up on stage, jigging and jumping around, it felt rude not to join in.

Soon most of the audience was on its feet. People flocked to the front of the stage where they could boogie to their hearts’ content. And the aisles were positively bouncing with bodies.

A momentary glance to the side of the room revealed an uneasy look on the face of one City Hall steward who seemed a bit concerned at the sudden frenzy.

But nobody was going to steer the good ship Bellowhead to shore just yet.

They rolled through some of their best dance tunes including New York Girls, London Town and lively instrumental Hopkinson’s Favourite.

It was a riotous end to what had started out a very civilized affair.

And the band left the stage to deafening applause and howls of delight, safe in the knowledge that they had shown Sheffield a folky good time.

Afterwards, those fans who were in-the-know followed the musicians to the nearby Bath Hotel for an impromptu jam session.

The rest of us went home to bed with a rosy glow and a extra jig in our step.

By Hayley Gallimore