Larmer Tree Festival, Dorset
Thursday 16th July 2015, 19.45-21.00
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
Let Her Run (Revival)
10,000 Miles Away (Broadside)
Haul Away (Bellow – Spiers & Boden)
Gosport Nancy (Revival)
Fine Sally (Revival)
Roll Alabama (Revival)
Jack Lintel (Revival)
Betsy Baker (Broadside)
Greenwood Side (Revival)
Let Union Be (Revival)
Hopkinson’s Favourite (Burlesque)
Rosemary Lane (Revival)
London Town (Burlesque)
Roll The Woodpile Down (Broadside)
New York Girls (Hedonism)
Frogs Legs & Dragons’ Teeth (Burlesque)
This was the second gig of The Farwell Tour which is destined to last for another ten months. As with the “10th Anniversary Revival Tour” late in 2014, they concentrated on Revival, and played seven of the eleven songs, a repetition which is not their usual style from year to year. In fact the only songs in today’s set which they hadn’t played in Southampton last November were Haul Away … a live track which is actually from Spiers & Boden, but which Bellowhead have often done, and Hopkinson’s Favourite … not that I can name all the dance tunes and jigs from memory. They announced it.
As such, I found it mildly disappointing, and as I have already booked to see them again late in this long farewell tour, I hope they embrace more of their deep catalogue in the two phase Farewell Tour … half takes place in November 2015, and half in April 2016. They announced early in June that:
‘John Boden is standing down as lead singer and the rest of us don’t feel that we wish to continue without him’
and the formal announcement added:
“It’s in keeping with all the musical and theatrical traditions that make Bellowhead what it is, that we will end at our peak and leave the audience wanting more. The shows always finish on a high, and so should we.”
Speirs and Boden also did a Farewell Tour last year. Back in 2004 Bellowhead were conceived as “The Spiers and Boden Big Band” and they grew to become much more than that. Jon Boden is the charismatic front man in both, and we must wait and see what he does next. I’d hope he’ll explore his own songwriting as on his solo work, as neither of the exiting entities lend themselves to abandoning the traditional folk song area entirely. In my opinion, he should explore his own writing. I wonder why they never touch the excellent “second CD” of the Revival DeLuxe set. On that Josephine and Roseville Fair are contemporary Jon Boden compositions, and both are very strong songs and both work with Bellowhead’s sound. Josephine has major hit written all over it. The downside is one that many have found before him. I think of Raoul Malo, the “voice” of The Mavericks launching himself solo, or indeed Mick Jagger, and then resorting to reforming the bands. On the other hand Lou Reed and John Cale both carved out fine post-VU careers. Incidentally, that second CD also has Townes Van Zandt’s Rake … another I’d love to hear live.
Last time Bellowhead were at The Larmer Tree, their set was the festival closer, in the dark on Sunday evening. That felt right … they had grown up with the festival and it was the deserved place. This year they’re on Thursday, and on at 19.45, before The Levellers (totally wrong running order on current form to me). Being on in the fading daylight diluted their impact.
Yes, eleven of them
A Larmer Tree phenomenon, witnessed before at Van Morrison gigs, is the small but annoying number of people who decide to spend the set in the Main Stage Arena, but stand with their backs square to the stage, talking loudly, smoking and swigging pints of beer. Weird. There are so many places outside the main arena where you can stand, chat and still hear the band clearly. Why stand right in the middle? It’s a beer drinkers thing, and I moved away from four different examples. They also tend t wait right till the encore then turn round and jump about.
I kept moving away from the talkers, but even more so, I was trying to find the sweet spot for sound. In the past I’ve complained that Jon Boden’s mic was distorting. Not tonight, but the helicon (basically an outsized tuba thing) was overwhelming. At the front and the sides it enveloped the sound way out of balance. I moved back to near the silver shelter with the sound mixers and it was remarkably better, That spot formed an equilateral triangle to the main speakers, but unusually the sound was best a good ten yards further back from that. The choice was between good sound or proximity to the action … and the energetic action is so important at Bellowhead gigs. I know outdoor is hard, but the sound guys should walk around and listen from various positions.
The big change is that they’ve bought Pete Flood a drummer seat! He always used to stand up, but tonight he was sitting with a more conventional kit.
It’s outdoor. The set was directed to that, and as a result the subtlety of Greenwood Side was lost … it just sounded weaker and the talkers upped their volume. Even Betsy Baker, one of my favorites, was dissipated a bit into the air compared with the late-Beatle intensity it gets indoors. I had been hoping for my favourite track, Fakenham Fair which they’ve done on recent gigs, but in the context they were right not to try it.
London Town” “Up to the rigs … down to the jigs”
Outdoors it becomes clear that the audience love those instrumental “dance tunes” and a lot dance and shimmy about to them. Hopkinson’s Favourite worked a treat, and I thought (very unusually for me) that the encore Frogs’ Legs and Dragons’ Teeth was the outstanding number of the night … they’d worked the audience and a majority were shimmying on the spot. The horn section were sublime and funny as ever – and had cinematic additions. It pointed to me that Bellowhead, billed as INSTRUMENTAL in large letters could have a future after Jon Boden.
Once you’re in the open air it’s London Town with the hand movements, and Roll Alabama and Let Union Be that work perfectly. I did think in New York Girls that there’s been a long time with Spiers and Boden and Bellowhead where that’s the obligatory last number of the main set. Jon Boden must be getting fed up with it … but as he’ll find in subsequent careers he can no more shake it off than Don McLean could American Pie, or The Band could The Weight. He’s stuck with it for life!
So negatives: sound balance on the helicon which might even be a characteristic of the Larmer Tree sound system rather than mixing. A too conservative set list. The sadness of this being the last Larmer Tree for this line up. Far too high a talkative Arsehole-count on the audience. There’s no way The Levellers should be billed above Bellowhead, though when I think of the people dancing with little kids on their shoulders, all ages from 2 to definite 70s dancing around, maybe it was a good decision to put them earlier with a wider age range able to enjoy them.
Positives. This is and has been for years the best live act in Britain. They can still do it. Roll on the Bellowhead Reunion Tour.
SPIERS & BODEN REVIEWS