Bellowhead: Broadside (2012)
1. Byker Hill
2. Old Dun Cow
3. Roll The Woodpile Down
4. 10,000 Miles Away
5. Bestsy Baker
6. Black Beetle Pies
7. Thousands Or More
8. The Dockside Rant/Sailing With The Tide
9. The Wife Of Usher’s Well
10. What’s The Life Of A Man (Any More Than A Leaf?)
12. Go My Way
Broadside is their 2012 album, and comes before the start of the 2013 tour, some of which sold out almost at once. I’m new to Bellowhead, being alerted when some of them backed the Sandy Denny Tribute tour.
Howard Goodall’s “Story of Music” pointed out the Moorish musical connection from Granada in Spain, with its long extended notes, to medieval troubadours, and therefore on to English folk. And from there, I’ll add, on to the classic English prog singers. You can hear the extended note at the end of a line in Steve Winwood, Roger Chapman, Jon Anderson, Peter Gabriel, John Wetton. It’s a shared English (rather than British) folk and prog characteristic.
Way back in the 1960s (to quote the Incredible String Band) folk and prog were closely connected. If you look at those late 60s / early 70s sampler albums: You Can All Join In and Nice Enough To Eat (Island), Rock Machine Turns You On and Rock Machine I Love You (CBS), All Good Clean Fun (United Artists), Happy To Be Part of The Industry of Human Happiness (Immediate), Picnic – A Breath Of Fresh Air (Harvest), Wowie Zowie! (Decca / Deram), Clogs! (Peg) or Listen Here! (Transatlantic). You’ll see prog and folk rubbing shoulders and magazines today call it Acid Folk or Psych Folk, which fits some but not all of it. So The Ian Campbell Folk Group shared an album with The Purple Gang on Transatlantic’s sampler, and Shirley & Dolly Collins sat with Deep Purple, Third Ear Band with Syd Barrett on Harvest’s effort.
Bellowhead have been consistent over almost a decade of sticking to traditional songs with intricate arrangements. Songs like Fakenham Fair, I Drew My Ship Across The Harbour, Cholera Camp, New York Girls, Broomfield Hill all take achingly-lovely folk melodies and do wonderful things with the backing. Some songs are more raucous … Roll Her Down The Bay or A-Begging I Will Go, but they always keep the tune.
Broadside, to me, often crosses the folk / prog interface and much of it falls on the prog side of the line. That fits the time. The Unthanks have covered King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black on Last, and devoted half an album to the songs of Robert Wyatt. The Waterboys An Appointment With Mr Years uses a wide range of styles. Virtually all of Broadside is “Traditional” some arranged by Jon Boden, some by Pete Flood. A lot veers into modern film music, and the classical influence of having strings and horns pushes it that way.
Byker Hill starts it off, and fits well with Queen’s We Are The Champions or We Will Rock You, though the aggression of the bass line is reminiscent of King Crimson’s Red album.
Old Dun Cow benefits from the sleeve notes … it’s a rugby song staple apparently, though not in this arrangement nor with those soaring choruses and hypnotic bass line (tuba, I assume).
Betsy Baker would be a standout track on any of those 1969 / 1970 sampler albums, and mines that Strawberry Fields of Magical Mystery Tour to Penny Lane classical arrangement area that ELO exploited so well.
Black Beetle Pie sounds more Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht than (say) Fairport Convention.
Roll The Woodpile Down has been getting the Radio Two airplay and that sounds like Bellowhead, and is a melodic traditional song, but with an anthemic Queen / Asia style chorus.
10,000 Miles Away is similar … but the big tune in the instrumental section is so big you expect film credits to roll.
Thousands or More is what you’d expect: brilliantly arranged straight folk, while The Dockside Rant / Sailing With The Tide are unusual in being originals by Jon Boden. A “rant” is a dance step, not a folk word for rap. At this point you’re thinking, ah, it is a folk album.
Then The Wife of Usher’s Well is dramatic film music with that distant chorus, so that you expect Russian serfs, or downtrodden workers to appear on a screen. You’d expect it to open a powerful stage musical or perhaps a sequence in A Game Of Thrones. It’s so effective because (I never thought I’d say this) because like much opera, the voices are under the music … as much medieval music was … you actually have to read the words to get the story, though I suggest between listens, not while listening. But the chorus is anthemic again.
What’s The Life Of A Man is stage musical territory to me with chanted chorus. A touch of Les Miserables, even.
Lillibulero is jaunty and raucous, and the one that Proper put on its current sampler CD.
Go My Way saves a haunting melody to go out on, and would fit the earlier albums better than most here.
It’s a strange album. For the first three listens, I thought it not as good as its predecessors, Hedonism, Matachin, Burlesque. The fourth time it hit me. The sounds are often so unexpected that you have to familiarise yourself first. The folk / prog interface is falling again.