Folk review, Bellowhead, Koko, London

Koko, London

"We've got a song about people dying of cholera," announced singer Jon Boden. The capacity audience broke out into cheers as the 11-piece band launched into a treatment of a Rudyard Kipling poem, with slick five-piece harmonies and demented military brass work.

After a cheerful and sometimes chaotic four-year career, Bellowhead have rightly emerged as celebrities of the latest folk revival. They have done it by matching those vital folk ingredients - fine musicianship, bleak stories and good humour - with a highly original lineup. The much-praised duo of singer and fiddler Boden and melodeon and concertina exponent John Spiers, is joined by a brass section, drums, bouzouki, and multi-instrumentalists playing anything from fiddle to cello and pipes.

They have always sounded better live than on record, and have now achieved a fine balance between Boden's deadpan, theatrical vocals and furious arrangements that echo anything from English dance tunes to New Orleans jazz and a dash of Kurt Weill.

Bellowhead started and ended with their traditional favourites, Jordan and London Town, but concentrated on songs from their new album Matachin. So the melodic but uneasy love ballad I Drew My Ship Across the Harbour ("a nice song, except he's dead," explained Boden) was embellished with a subtle brass work while a series of frantic ceilidh tunes showed off their three-part fiddle work. The manic pogo dancing to the Rochdale Coconut Dance suggests that big-band folk had become the new punk.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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