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Bellowhead - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 25 / 9 / 2015

Bellowhead - Interview


Nick Dent-Robinson speaks to John Speirs from much acclaimed and bestselling eleven-piece folk band Bellowhead about playing this year's Towersey Festival in Oxfordshire and their recent amicable decision to break up

This year's line-up at Oxfordshire's Towersey Festival is another strong one - with Joan Armatrading, Stornoway, John Smith, Sally Barker, Show of Hands plus Bellowhead leading an impressive range of artists. But for Bellowhead this year's Towersey is special as it is to be the last festival they ever play. After twelve hugely successful years, the band have decided to go their separate ways. It was back in 2003 when folk musicians John Spiers and Jon Boden were asked to put together a band to headline the Oxford Folk Festival. They rapidly assembled a group of mates they knew from playing Oxford's pubs, and the ensuing show brought the house down. The eleven-piece band thoroughly enjoyed themselves and decided to repeat the experience. Tongue in cheek they called themselves Bellowhead – a name cheekily “inspired” by fellow Oxford band Radiohead. And over the next months and years Bellowhead helped redefine the English folk music genre, making it fresh, fashionable and exciting again....rather like the way Fairport Convention and others had revitalised English folk decades earlier when folk-rock was launched. But this time there was something even more anarchic and unpredictable about the new music. Now, twelve years on, singer Jon Boden has decided to go it alone, and Bellowhead are disbanding after a final festival appearance at Towersey and a short tour culminating in a last concert on 1st May next year back at Oxford Town Hall where it all began. “That's a great way to 'book-end' it...a romantic gesture,” commented John Spiers who plays melodeon and concertina. “We are lucky to be able to plan our ending like that, and the event is already sold out with over 12,000 people seeking just 400 tickets! We are looking forward to playing Towersey too. We started as a festival band, and I have attended Towersey ever since I first got into music. It will be slightly emotional for us but far more fun than sad and we'll give it our all as we always do.” There is no acrimony about the band's break up, and band members are just very happy to reflect on the big success Bellowhead have enjoyed. They have recorded five albums selling over 250,000 copies. These include 'Hedonism', which was made at Abbey Road and is the best-selling independently-released UK folk album of all time. The band have two silver discs and won eight BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Their 2014 record 'Revival' also reached number 12 in the UK charts. With their unusual mix of folk instruments plus trombones, trumpets and assorted percussion, the 'prog-folk' band have played everywhere from the Royal Albert Hall to Glastonbury - and, as John Spiers says, there is a huge amount to celebrate as Bellowhead bring things to a close. John is especially pleased that Bellowhead have helped make the English folk tradition acceptable and interesting to an audience that might not otherwise have given it a second look. “That spread of folk's appeal was definitely a very worthwhile achievement,” John reflects. “I have learned a lot from being in the band and I am naturally a little sad about it ending. But the break-up is not in the slightest acrimonious – it is the right decision at the right time for everyone. And Jon Boden was very upfront and open about his intentions. I am working on solo things, too – which is very exciting. But meanwhile I am focussed as we all are on giving Bellowhead the best send-off possible. Our many supporters would expect nothing less from us!”

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Bellowhead - Interview

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Bellowhead - Interview

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