Bellowhead - Cardiff, St David's Hall
Cossack dancing was the answer and, in retrospect I should have guessed. And the question? Why have they removed the seating from the normally sedate St David’s Hall? The last time I remember this happening I was a truculent teenager moshing to Metallica and surely folk music hasn’t embraced the moshpit. Indeed it hasn’t, but it has apparently embraced traditional Russian military jigs. All of this seems a million miles away when Bellowhead emerge into the Arena with the Anthemic “Jordan”.
Eleven musicians on the stage seems like a recipe for disaster but this lot are tight: even with debutantes in the mix the precision is awe inspiring. They are eminently convincing and conjure up Pagliacci-like images of a troupe of itinerant performers bringing unbridled joy to the places they visit; and this lot are certainly peddling joy, but via the unusual medium of the sea-shanty. Sure there are dark seams to be unpicked, there’s death and there’s cholera but such trifles can’t cloud the joy radiating from performers and audience alike. Comparisons are clearly lazy but if I’ve already compared them to operatic clowns then I may as well go the whole hog and mention the P word. At times, particularly during instrumentals, they do have an air of the Pogues about them and that certainly doesn’t come through on the records. This is a band made for the stage and to experience them solely on record would be akin to experiencing a sunset by reading a travel brochure. Frontman Jon Boden is no Shane McGowan though, he’s more Leonard Rossiter in Rising Damp and this all adds to the charm of the band, they are not quite what you’d expect and it is good to have one’s expectations confounded at least once in a while.
All through the show the audience has drawn ever nearer to the stage, the remaining seats become less attractive and by the time the accordion strikes up the syncopated introduction to "Sloe Gin" the place is heaving. This is why the rows of seating were removed, there’s no moshing but there’s plenty of unfettered Morris dancing, general limb flailing and, yes, a fair bit of classic Cossack kicking. There’s all ages out on the dancefloor and that’s the beauty of the band – there’s no side, there’s no exclusion, they are here to party and they want you to join them. Don’t miss out on the opportunity and make sure the venue rip out the seats.