Perhaps not inappropriately for a band whose crew go about their business dressed as buccaneers and highwaymen, Bellowhead's music is a double-edged cutlass. On the one hand, it's invigorating to the nth degree, full of dynamism and colour, with lots of well-conceived, often surprising instrumental textures, and undeniably a whole lotta fun. On the other hand, though, sometimes there's just so much going on that it's hard to decipher the narratives of these folk tales.
Does it matter? If you just want to leap around and have a good time – and there's nothing wrong with a bit of, to quote the band's current album, Hedonism – probably not. But from a listening point of view, it becomes frustrating. The goings on during a lock-in in the Old Dun Cow sound intriguing, as does what the 19th century Nigella's getting up to in Black Beetle Pies. Subtitles, however, would have helped.
Loading article content
That said, there was lots to admire about this latest visit by English folk music's ultimate big band. With fiddles, accordion, oboe, bass clarinet, trombone, bagpipes, whistles, cello, trumpet, helicon, frets, percussion, and soprano and tenor saxophones all earning their keep, it can be a riot. But it's a tight riot. Little Sally Racket packed the vigour of a Rake's Progress-era forerunner to punk rock, complete with ye olde vibraslap and a one-man saxophone duel for added eeriness, and the chanted Wife of Usher's Well was hugely effective and agreeably sinister. Plus, you've got to love 'em, they can turn morris dance tunes – if not quite the morris dancing – into the hippest thing since, well, the last hippest thing.