BELLOWHEAD – The Farewell Tour (Navigator NAVIGATOR095X)

The Farewell TourBellowhead are really going out in style. The Farewell Tour comes in a lavishly packaged hard-back book containing two CDs recorded at various venues across the first half of the tour and a DVD filmed at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. The audio recording is superb, clear and crisp and twenty-nine tracks are crammed onto the two discs which, unusually, caused me to turn the volume up to maximum. Mind you, my auditory nerves were burned out years ago but I do want an album like this to pin me to the back wall.

This being a show for an audience who want to bop their socks off, Bellowhead avoid some of their more experimental material. Thus ‘Whiskey Is The Life Of A Man’ is the only selection from Matachin and I was surprised at the omission of ‘Fakenham Fair’. That said, we do have Pete Flood particularly strange ‘Moon Kittens’ and they do find room for the marvellous ‘Black Beetle Pies’. ‘Fine Sally’ is a bit strange, too. Almost every track is taken at the gallop, ‘Captain Wedderburn’ being one of the few moments of relative respite on the first disc. That’s not to say that the playing is in any way sloppy – perish the thought – and the stage chat is kept to the absolute minimum. The editing gives the impression that the band move straight from one song to the next but they must have stopped for breath sometimes.

There are a couple of previously unrecorded tracks including the version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Down Where The Drunkards Roll’ that ends the video but they are merely  the icing on a very rich cake. What comes across is the sheer inventiveness of the arrangements – the swagger of ‘Byker Hill’ followed by the almost-Wagnerian ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ and the not quite laid-back ‘Jack Lintel’.

The film has twenty-three songs, in a different order, and begins with spooky blue lighting and the equally spooky ‘Moon Kittens’. It shouldn’t work as an opener but it does, seeming to set up expectations in the audience. The filming can’t be faulted, getting close in on the players as well as giving us panoramic views – and there’s plenty of scope for that – but the “atmospheric” lighting gets a bit much at times. I feel that about live gigs a lot of the time, anyway. Oh come on, I’ve got to find something to criticise!

Dai Jeffries

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‘Fine Sally’ – live at Leicester: