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An Interview with Bellowhead

Questions by Roberta Pia.

In case you didn’t know, Bellowhead are a musical parade of loveable, raggle taggle folksters comprised of friends of friends of friends. This phenomenal band began in 2004, formed by the formidable musical force – John Spiers and Jon Boden. Their initial plan was to storm the festival circuit and have a blast, but as years have gone by (about six of them I believe, roughly), they’ve become a very highly respected and successful musical venture with THREE mind-blowing albums under their belt (Burlesque, Matachin and Hedonism), FOUR Best Live Act nominations at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and HEAPS of appearances across the UK and North America, as well a featuring at a plethora of music festivals.  They’ve even made a number of television appearances and I’m sure we heard Jools Holland’s name mentioned.

The heartbeat and drumstick maestro of the band, Pete Flood, took a little bit of time out of his hectic festive schedule to talk to us all about Bellowhead life…

1. TELL US THE STORY BEHIND BELLOWHEAD.

It’s a woeful tale of chaos and amateurism. Essentially emminent folk duo Spiers and Boden decided to form a party band full of improbable instruments, but realising they had no mates from the realms of proper musical endeavour; they set about phoning people they vaguely knew, almost at random. The band is comprised of those of us stupid enough to say yes.

2. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME?

We strapped 100 monkeys to 100 typewriters for 100 days – Bellowhead is the best thing they came up with, although one did manage the denouement of Titus Andronicus.

3. WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT MUSICAL SET-UP?

Essentially a horn section, a string section, drums, squeezebox and guitars, with a few extras like bagpipes, frying pans, helicon (a tuba that you can climb into) and oboe. Everybody sings.

4. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST GIG TO DATE?

New Years Eve last year at London’s Southbank Centre. We took over the building and put on a whole range of nautically-themed music and other stuff (including Boxershorts Bingo). We did a trad music set and also a set where we each covered a 70’s disco classic. We’re something similar this year, but with a circus theme.

5. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT ARRANGING/WRITING A NEW TUNE?

We’re quite old school in that we work to written arrangements, at least at first. But part of the process of breathing life into a tune is taking the dots and making them our own, so we mess around with things a lot in rehearsal. Also, we don’t use music onstage – we memorise each tune before we play it live – so inevitably bits get forgotten, other bits get added – it’s all very organic.

6. WHICH BELLOWHEAD RECORD ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

Hedonism, our new record, because with this one we’ve finally nailed the task of transferring the excitement of our live shows to cd. The others are all great in their own ways, but we always had a nagging sense that the live experience and the cds were two different things.

7. WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR MUSIC TO ACHIEVE?

It’s funny. We can look back on a life of achievement, on challenges met, competitors bested, obstacles overcome. Uplift maybe – spiritual rather than mastoid, obviously.

8. WHICH BITS OF MUSICAL GEAR WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO THE MASSES?

Dream cymbals – I started using them during the last tour and never went back to my old cymbals that I’d spent years acquiring. Also, a range of mechanical toys and an onstage bottle opener are a must.

9. WHO ARE BELLOWHEAD’S FAVOURITE BANDS?

There are eleven radically different answers to that question.  I’ll try to guess them – Arcade Fire, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Blowzabella, Jethro Tull, The Band, Anthony and The Johnsons, Keyshon Khan, Rebirth Brass Band, Shibusashirazu, Extra Golden.

Click on the Hedonism album cover to get your hands on a copy.

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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