Preview: Bellowhead, North Devon Folk Festival, Ilfracombe

North Devon fields its first eleven
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The Independent Culture

The big, brassy 11-piece English folk band Bellowhead play more than 20 instruments between them and six of them sing. Their new album, Matachin, which is to be released at the end of September, is bursting with traditional songs, including "Roll Her Down the Bay", "I Drew My Ship Across the Harbour" and "Whiskey Is the Life of Man".

These musicians, who fuse folk, rock, ska, jazz, soul and world music with English music hall and cabaret, released their debut album, Burlesque, in 2006. They had already won a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Live Act in 2005; now they are the band-in-residence at London's Southbank Centre. This summer, too, they played at Glastonbury, the Big Chill and at the first ever Prom to be dedicated to folk.

Jon Boden, who sings and plays fiddle, formed the band in 2004 with John Spiers, who plays melodeon. The duo have performed together as Spiers & Boden since 2000, and their fifth album as a pair, Vagabond, came out last year. In between, they find time to play as part of Eliza Carthy's band The Ratcatchers, and performed on her Mercury Prize-nominated album Anglicana. As if that wasn't enough, Boden also released his own solo album of contemporary indie folk rock songs, Painted Lady, in 2006, with another one on the way.

"As a duo we make a very big noise anyway because we use a stompbox," says Boden. "There is a glass ceiling for duos; you don't tend to get put on last thing at a festival. People want a big band at the end of the night so we thought if we were going to do anything bigger, we might as well do it really big. There was a good history of brass in English folk music. The main band who really experimented with it in the Eighties was Brass Monkey, but nobody had had a look at it for a while. We thought it would be a good opportunity to blend brass with a bit of disco, which can be heard in songs such as our disco track, 'Fire Marengo', on the first album."

B ellowhead play the North Devon Folk Festival on 7 September as part of their autumn tour (see for dates)