By Wayne Savage, entertainment writer
Sunday, February 10, 2013
BELLOWHEAD are back, bigger, bolder and brassier than ever. New album Broadside entered the album charts at number 16, the highest ever position for an collection of traditional-based material and was just crowned album of the year at the BBC Radio Folk Awards. My first question for band-member Ed Neuhauser? What exactly is a helicon?
“It’s a tuba basically, but a very old tuba. It’s the forerunner to the sousaphone and originates in Eastern Europe; it was used quite a lot in horseback and cavalry bands a long time ago and is now used in a lot of gypsy bands. It’s really fun to play and I’m proud because if you ever put it into a Google search it’ll say my name,” he laughs. “Nobody else seems to play one.”
Bellowhead are Jon Boden on vocals, fiddle and tambourine; John Spiers on melodeon and concertina, Benji Kirkpatrick on guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and banjo; Rachael McShane on cello and fiddle, Paul Sartin on fiddle and oboe, Sam Sweeney on fiddle and bagpipes, Pete Flood on percussion, Justin Thurgur on trombone, Brendan Kelly on saxophones and bass clarinet and Andy Mellon on trumpet.
Knowing each another from informal pub sessions, they thought it might be a good wheeze to pool their widely varied backgrounds, influences and talents and form a big band just to see what happened.
Incorporating top-notch jazz, world, folk and classical musicians in a swathe of brass, strings, squeezebox, percussion and anything else that seemed like a good idea at the time they soon expanded into a gung-ho 11-piece line-up.
They must need some tour bus.
“For this tour... apparently it’s an extra-large one because this time last year we were doing a few gigs in Europe and I think in Berlin it got down to -24. The instruments were in this trailer and it’s quite bad for all the instruments in there. The idea now is we can put them on the bus because there’s a bit more room for us; it’s got like bunk beds and things like that in there.”
With four albums, a glut of awards, sell-out tours and a long trail of thunderous festival appearances down the line, they have introduced a whole new audience to folk.
Broadside follows their silver status album Hedonism, one of the highest selling traditional albums of all time.
“We’re really happy and proud of Broadside, it’s done really well and new single Roll The Woodpile Down has already been put on Radio 2’s A List,” says Ed.
“We’ve made a few good albums and hopefully they’ve spread the word and [made] people want to come see us live. We’re known for our live performances, that’s what we enjoy doing.
“It doesn’t matter if you like folk; people say outright they don’t like it and actually I’m not from a folk background I just stumbled on the band by accident,” says Ed, who was their regular helicon player since 2008 and officially joined in 2010.
“I started in brass bands. [But] they hear it and go ‘oh, I didn’t know it was like that’, ‘I didn’t know you could do that with it’ because we’ve got all the different instruments. It doesn’t have to be on a particular folk instrument or anything like that - we’ve got trumpets, saxaphones and funny tubas,” he laughs.
What can audiences coming to see them at the Ipswich Regent on Sunday, February 17, expect?
“If you’ve already seen us, you know what you’re in for and hopefully we’re getting better all the time. For people who haven’t seen us, we’re a big, bold, brassy, noisy, fun band you can dance around to. Come give us a try.”