The New Year began at the Southbank with a circus-themed lock-in. Some of the audience had come dressed as ring-masters or lions, and no one could get in once the venue had been blocked off to control New Year revellers.
Bellowhead are artists in residence here, and celebrated with a slick six-hour party that made use of every inch of the building except for the main concert hall. Upstairs areas were transformed into disco or folk clubs, while the ballroom was decorated like a circus, with trapeze artists and two stages, on which Bellowhead alternated with the Newcastle group the Baghdaddies.
Each band played three varied sets replete with good musicianship, energy and humour. The lesser-known Baghdaddies more than held their own. Despite their name, the five-piece are influenced more by eastern Europe than the Middle East, but can't be accused of leaping on to the Balkan bandwagon as they have been together for 14 years. Their rousing brass work was carefully fused with ska, jazz and Indian influences, and made the case that they deserve a far bigger following.
As for Bellowhead, this was a perfect setting for their big-band blend of traditional songs and theatrics. They started out with Prickle-Eye Bush (from their first recording, six years ago), and were joined on stage by a sword swallower, before treating Cold Blows the Wind to an arrangement that mixed jazzy swing from the brass section with edgy playing from the three fiddlers. For their second set, they were in novelty mode, tackling Abba, Madness, a-ha and the Carpenters (with impressive crooning from Paul Sartin on Close to You), and they ended with melodeon-backed dance tunes, with furious vocals and fiddle-work from Jon Boden on New York Girls. We're going to need some fun this year, and Bellowhead can help deliver it.