Published on November 16th, 2014 | by Mike Ainscoe0
BELLOWHEAD Live in Liverpool – 10/11/14
‘The trials and tribulations of a gig tart’
‘Bellowhead to the rescue’
‘Sea shanties and the prostitute’s revenge’
There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to evaluating your experience and enjoyment of a gig. How much you like the band, your expectations, who you’re with, the venue, the audience – the list is endless. So having set off for a 50 minute journey into Liverpool and finding the last two miles of the motorway take almost an hour to negotiate finding the venue, but nowhere close to park, getting slightly lost and taking a roundabout route to the venue with ten minutes to spare only to hear the strains of the FOURTH SONG OF THE SET drifting out (turned out to be an early start!) isn’t really a good way to kick off the evening. Oh….and it was raining.
Let’s just take a deep breath, step back and set the scene for a moment. Bellowhead’s usual Autumn tour was set for a stop off at the plush Philharmonic Hall in the city (where they were robbed on their last visit incidentally) yet they had to face a cancellation or a switch of venues as the Philharmonic is still undergoing a refurb. Ticket holders could exchange their tickets for a date set for early next year (front row tickets holders could breathe a sigh of relief) or exchange for an alternative Liverpool date at the Mountford Hall in the University’s Guild of Students. So the Mountford it was and compared with the Philharmonic, and after opening the tour in ornate venues such as Sheffield’s City Hall and Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, there was a distinct contrast. The Mountford is quite a nice modern venue but in terms of size and space, quite a climb down from the opening dates of the tour. Long and narrow and with a low ceiling, the space meant a somewhat scaled down version of the expansive stage set which has been in place for this tour. The raised daises around which the band cavorts were reduced to single platforms, and the huge backdrop of the new album artwork only just managed to fit in. Judging by the number of girders still outside in the touring truck, they must have had their work cut out to install what they did.
But it’s not always about the setting – Bellowhead could put on a show in a shed and have it rocking, yet arriving halfway through the first set the hall seemed strangely subdued. The audience sat politely applauding – maybe they’d had a chance to get up and bop around a bit to the strains of ‘Cross Eyed & Chinless’, which has been an early rabble rouser in the set, or possibly the even more apt opening ‘Roll Alabama’ with all its Merseyside seafaring references, but I suspect not. Unexpectedly flat is not a term often used at a Bellowhead show, but the stillness of the audience and its passive mood seemed to rub off into a restrained first half. For once, the interval was not so much welcome, but more of a chance to see what the second half would bring.
With a blast of a couple of drinking songs in ‘Let Her Run’, and the rollicking ‘Whiskey Is The Life Of Man’, there was an upbeat in the fortunes, but tempered with the nauseating tale behind ‘Black Beetle Pies’ and a cheerless ‘Captain Wedderburn’, combined with a heckle (indeed!) about playing more songs to dance to. It seemed the general malaise and expectations were to be thwarted. The pairing of ‘Let Union Be’ and ‘Rosemary Lane’ signalled the start of the comeback and having seen the opening shows of the tour, it’s been interesting to see how the setlist has slowly been tweaked to provide a more balanced experience, yet with a definite build to the last half hour.
It took ‘London Town’ (introduced as “a song about ripping off a prostitute – but don’t worry she gets her own back later”) and its audience participation of “up to the rigs, down to the jigs, up to the rigs” to finally get the crowd on its feet. First a few brave lone dancers, then pockets spreading out until those in the seats couldn’t resist the urge, or feel the overwhelming coaxing to get up and join those uninhibited revellers who’d found a dancing space to the front right of the stage. And at last, not just polite applause but cheers, dare we say roars of approval, and finally it had become an archetypal Bellowhead jamboree.
With the forewarning “don’t sit down!” from Paul Sartin, bearing in mind the previous heckle, it was a new set of tunes – one having something to do with a march past, and then two more typically strange Bellowhead titles involving some reference amongst others to Motown – whatever. It was a stirring which saw all inhibitions shed and couples reeling in the open are in front of the stage. Buoyed by the response, the band upped their game too and the usual frolics ensued with ‘New York Girls’ – “This is the prostitute’s revenge”. It’s not often you see folk gigs where the band are up at the front with their rock star styled foot on the monitor poses, but there were Jon Boden and Paul Sartin, heads back showing that they know exactly how to folk rock and roll. The riotous ‘Frogs Legs & Dragons Teeth’ set of dance tunes was a totally appropriate ending to an evening which had started out a little forlorn, yet ended up the usual and expected triumph – who needs Thunderbirds and International Rescue when Bellowhead can save the day with folk music.
Photos by Mike Ainscoe. More from the show can be seen here