Gig Review by Hannah Dent with Photography by Johnny Dent

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12 years ago, a newly formed band called Bellowhead, performed their first gig together in the lovely venue that is Oxford Town Hall. And now, twelve years and eight BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (five of which for best live act) later, they finish their farewell tour in the very same venue where it all started.

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It’s no surprise that a good forty minutes before doors there were already queues way down the street, and being their last ever gig I already had high expectations that tonight’s sold out gig was going to be a blinder.

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One thing that really struck me was the sheer diversity of the people here tonight. It would seem that literally anyone could be a bellowed fan, there were children as young as five and six in here tonight, standing shoulder to shoulder (kind of) with folks well into their fifties and sixties – and beyond!

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Tonight’s support act, Mawkin, a five piece band from Essex and no strangers themselves to the BBC Radio 2 folk awards did a stellar job of getting the ever filling room in the mood for tonights impending shindig. They have a big and energetic sound that usually reserved for much bigger ensembles, I for one will be checking out their back catalogue after tonight.

As the lights went down and all eleven members of Bellowhead appeared, one by one jumping down onto the stage as if just to remind us of how many of them there are, It was clear already how emotional it was going to be this evening.

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“Amsterdam” kicked off the set followed by “Roll Alabama” and “Parsons Farewell”, the first three just being a reminder of how diverse Bellowhead’s back catalogue is. Tonight we heard songs from each of the five studio albums and more, from traditional dance tunes, folk songs and shanties. I feel genuinely gutted for anyone that hasn’t seen these Bellowhead live before as you most likely won’t get the chance to now. Its clear that each and every one of the band are seriously talented musicians. I lost count of the number of different instruments being played at around twenty!

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Its clear to see why the band have won multiple awards for their live performances. They have their live shows well and truly drilled and the energy they exude infects the crowd as everyone in the room jumps up and down and dances to the shanties and at the same time just know when to stop and listen. Jon Boden is full of character and charisma, he know exactly what to say and when to say it, but its also apparent that each member brings something to the table. Its also nice when they stop and give us a little backstory and history to songs like “Fine Sally” as well as usually being quite dark yet amusing. Its clear to see that Bellowhead know the sum of their fans.

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The band disappear after what they tell use is their final song of the evening “New York Girls” but in the usual encore fashion, they re-appear again after thirty seconds or so of shouting, clapping and foot stomping. “London Town” goes down a storm and the whole room reacts by doing the now infamous (If you’re a Bellowhead fan) up and down actions and singing at the top of their voices.

For the second encore, that’s right, we weren’t going to let them get away that easily, the band finish on a apt note, “Prickle Eye Bush” the first song they performed together on this stage those twelve years ago.

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And that was it… The end had arrived and there were tears all around, even the tour catering team who were stood next to us were crying at the fact it had come to an end. My expectations at the beginning of the night had been pretty high and the level of awesomeness I saw on my first and last ever Bellowhead show well and truly blew me away.

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When I review a gig I always try and look for any negatives, and there is usually one, even if its a tiny one, but tonight I have nothing. Apart from the fact perhaps that the Town Hall curfew means that we had to stop at 11pm as I think that everyone in there could have gone on for much, much longer.

I always get annoyed when a band announces they are splitting and then does a big farewell tour, only to reform in what seems like five minutes later. If I’m honest though, I don’t think I’d mind if Bellowhead did! I’d just be excited at the prospect of seeing them again.

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Setlist

Amsterdam

Roll Alabama

Parson’s Farewell

Betsy Baker

Cold Blows The Wind

Fine Sally

Flight Of The Folk Mutants 1 & 2

Captain Weddeburn

Fire Marengo

Roll The Woodpile Down

The March Past

Little Sally Racket

Sloe Gin

Encore

London Town

Frogs Legs & Dragons Teeth

Encore 2

Prickle Eye Bush

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