Salisbury City Hall, Salisbury Wiltshire
Friday 15th April 2016
SUPPORT SET: Mawkin (see later)
Jon Boden – lead vocal, fiddle, percussion
John Spiers – melodeons, concertina, vocal
Benji Kirkpatrick – guitar, bazouki, mandolin, banjo, vocals
Rachael McShane – cello, fiddle, vocals
Paul Sartin – fiddle, oboe, vocals
Sam Sweeney – fiddle, bagpipes, vocal
Pete Flood – percussion, vocal
Ed Neuhauser – helicon, sousaphone, vocal
Brendan Kelly – saxophone, clarinet, vocal
Justin Thurgur – trombone, vocal
Andy Mellon- trumpet, vocal
Roll Alabama Roll
Hudson’s Hornpipe / Parson’s Farewell
Cold Blows The Wind
Trip to Bucharest / Flight of The Folk Mutants Parts 1 and 2
Roll The Woodpile Down
The March Past
Little Sally Rackett
Sloe Gin Set
New York Girls
Frogs’ Legs and Dragons’ Teeth
Prickle Eye Bush
We saw the second Farewell Tour gig last July and here were are near the end in April. This came a week after the release of The Farewell Tour Live 2 CD / DVD set, which contains enough songs for two complete shows, and which was recorded on earlier dates in the tour.
Astonishingly, we had five songs here which are not on the 2CD set. The Salisbury setlist was identical to Birmingham the night before, so these are late tour additions: Cold Blows The Wind, Trip to Bucharest (3 tune instrumental set), the astonishing Fire Marengo, Little Sally Rackett and then the second encore, announced as the first song they ever played together Prickle Eye Bush, so that was twelve years ago. As their poster says, that’s all folks, and I still never got to hear them do Fakenham Fair live.
Salisbury City Hall had been set up like the O2 at Southampton eighteen months ago … a seated raked metal “stand” at the back, and standing at the front. As the instrumental tunes sections started you could see hundreds of heads bobbing from our high vantage point, then when the high jumps started in Sloe Gin Set, hundreds jumping up with the front line of the band. As ever the band jumped, danced, leapt from platforms, played with extraordinary vigour.
Musical high points? The Jaques Brel Amsterdam was an intriguing introduction before they got the audience going with the recent starter Roll Alabama Roll.
The one I put on from the live CD to hear repeated when I got home was Captain Wedderburn with Rachael McShane’s plucked cello, and then her joining Jon Boden on vocals. That’s such a good vocal blend and sound that it’s surprising they had never used it more. Fire Marengo straight afterwards was raucous, aggressive, fantastically lit and as it ended, I whispered Frank Zappa would have been proud of them. It’s from Burlesque and was totally unexpected. Cold Blows The Wind is the haunting ballad from Hedonism. They covered their career pretty comprehensively.
As so many awards attest, Bellowhead have comfortably been the best live act with the most vigorous (and invigorating show for years). Tonight was no exception. They will be sorely missed.
I’ve found something in most Bellowhead shows to criticize on sound. It was the helicon at Larmer Tree, excessive echo blurring John Boden’s words at Poole. The sound straight to the board, as displayed on the live CD set is a superb mix. Unfortunately, the mix in the hall was not up to current standards. Basically, the master volume was just much too loud. I’m always fearful of saying this, because it makes you sound old, and like Pete Seeger (allegedly) striding to cut Dylan’s sound cables with an axe at Newport 1965 … no comments on the truth of this urban legend please, I’m quoting the myth whether it happened or not. But while I always liked loud, in recent years artists have learned to control the volume and suit it to halls.
It was loud to the point where you couldn’t distinguish words, and a lot of subtlety was lost. Compared to Natalie Merchant this year, and to The Manfreds this year, or in the last few years Leonard Cohen, James Taylor or Paul Simon, it was poor concert mixing. A comparison I’d make is connected and very recent: Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party, where every instrument was clearly articulated. The Full English was the same, and their studio guy for both albums did the concert sound for both gigs. And of course Sam Sweeney was there in that performance as he was tonight. Natalie Merchant filled The Albert Hall with perfect sound from all-acoustic instruments too.
I agree that the Bellowhead audience want volume for the visceral feel to leap about, but you don’t need excessive volume to rock. A few years ago that much volume would have distorted and fed back, but now the sound mixer can take it cleanly up. It gets to a point of loudness and the lyrics blur. Where we were sitting in Row V, the kick drum was the case in point. I want to watch Pete Flood play as one of the great percussion players. You could see his hands hammering away on snare, cymbal and tom toms, but the kick drum was at an awesome dominating volume, way out of balance with the rest of the drum kit … most of the problems were sheer master volume, not balance (and for once the helicon was fine), but the mics on the drum kit were clearly balanced unnaturally, and every time the kick drum just overwhelmed. I could feel it in my stomach. We thought it was the raised metal seating stand and our eyeline level, but we went downstairs in the encores and it was the same there. At the back of the standing area you feel the air blowing from the PA in your face. The PA was on the floor, not flown, which might exaggerate the effect.
SUPPORT SET: Mawkin
David Dellare – lead vocal , acoustic and electric guitar
James Dellare – fiddle, vocal
Nick Cooke – melodeon
Danny Crump – bass guitar
Lee Richardson – drums
set (? = titles uncertain)
Jolly Well Drunk (?)
My Love Farewell (Eliza Carthy)
The Frenchy Set (French Medieval Tunes)
Arise Sons of Freedom (?)
To Go To Sea No More (?)
Mawkin are a highly acclaimed and experienced band, not the usual support slot lone solo singer stuck with trying to reproduce an album with just one acoustic guitar. They’re a full on “proper band” for a change with a strong album backlist.
Mawkin suffered from he same volume issue as Bellowhead. As we noted, the guitarist kept switching from acoustic guitar to Stratocaster, but at the volume and blurring between instruments, the difference in sound was indistinguishable. Mawkin is definitely a “violin is the new lead guitar” band, with their two instrumentals getting the audience going in straight Bellowhead style. The fiddle / melodeon interplay is very “Spiers and Boden” in fact.
Very good, rousing, the audience loved them. Unusually for me, I didn’t buy the album. I might have done if they’d had a clearer mix for me to appreciate the songs better. As it was the instrumentals towered above the songs.
SPIERS & BODEN REVIEWS