Published: 21/11/2012 12:11 - Updated: 21/11/2012 12:22

From Swindon with love

Bellowhead: bringing theatrics to The Ironworks stage.

Bellowhead/Mama Rosin

The Ironworks


THERE was a time when Scotland seemed to be in love with Cajun music.

Whether Deaf Heights Cajun Aces in Edinburgh or Dundee’s Boogalusa, there seemed to be loads of Scottish musicians looking to Louisiana for inspiration.

It seems the Swiss might also have a soft spot for the music from the Bayous if Mama Rosin are any indication — and better able to get their tongues round the French lyrics.

A stripped down three-piece, the Cajuns from the cantons do not go in for the fiddle frenzy of the Celtic version. Instead their take on Cajun music is raw and punky, drums, amped up melodeon and guitar/banjo producing a down and dirty infectious sound which was not best served by The Ironworks’ cabaret style seating for the evening.

"It seems strange to be playing to people who are sitting down," melodeon player Cyril Yeterian pondered during a pause between numbers and if the audience had already been on their feet it is fair to say Mama Rosin would have had a reception more fitting with their rowdy roots-rock and Invernessians trying out their best two-step moves.

From a Swiss trio who think they are Cajuns to an 11-piece content to be English folkies, but not above borrowing the odd flourish from other musical traditions — there was even a touch of fuzzy bass that made you think Benji Kirkpatrick has been digging out his Isaac Hayes albums.

Bellowhead seem to have something of a sitting tenancy when it comes to the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Live Act title, bagging it a five consecutive times, and it was not hard to see why that should be.

Taking up the length of the stage, there is always something to catch the eye when Bellowhead play, from the brass section doubling as enthusiastic rather than expert hornpipe dancers to the rotating instruments being brought into play by the more folky members of the ensemble. Fiddle fans missing the instrument from Mama Rosin’s set were treated to sometimes as many as four by Bellowhead — and in a coals-to-Newcastle moment, there was even a spot of bagpipe playing.

The band’s taste for theatricality is not limited to dressing up on their album shoots, and that especially holds true for singer Jon Boden, first picked out by the spotlight singing through a loudspeaker and easily possessing the charisma needed to front a band of this size.

In a set drawing largely from new album Broadside, there were a couple of songs when Boden’s vocals seemed to be slightly at odds with the big wave of sound from the instrumentalists, but in far more of them, the mixture worked out just fine.

Bellowhead’s soft spot for sea shanties gave a chance to show there are other string voices in the band, while the instrumentals were rousing fun with the tight brass section punctuating the flowing strings.

It was as full on as you might expect from a band who named one of their albums Hedonism, though melodeon maestro John Spiers did take time to assure the audience that they did not just do songs about people turning beetles into pies or heavy drinking. They also had a tender side which they serviced by seeking out songs from the most romantic towns in England.

"This one’s from Swindon," Spiers then deadpanned in a joke which might have worked better if more of the Scottish audience knew where Swindon is.

Bellowhead also have dark side as they showed with the spooky string intro to ghost story The Wife of Usher’s Well, but mainly it was all about having a good time and by the closing numbers enough of the audience had thrown off their reserve to abandon their chairs and have a good going ceilidh at the side of the stage.


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