From Arrested Development to Billy Ocean - Hop Farm 2014 was enjoyed by all this weekend.
The return of Kent's Hop Farm Music Festival was an expectedly diverse affair, with day three (July 6th 2014) mixing it up with an array of genres from folk to hip hop.
For all the old school Hop Farm revellers, there was plenty to enjoy with the likes of rhythm and blues veteran Billy Ocean, rockney pioneers Chas & Dave, Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond and 2 Tone ska from Birmingham's The Beat. Also, Joy Division's Peter Hook returned to the festival with his latest project Peter Hook & The Light.
It wasn't just a local gig either: plenty of overseas acts hit the Farm on Sunday. They included Texas folk group Midlake and Atlanta collective Arrested Development, who turned the event irresistably into the Hip Hop Farm Festival (Sorry, folks). The alternative rap band were one of the biggest of their kind during their 90s reign; their debut album '3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of...' going multi-Platinum on its release. And they're still going strong, dropping their last album 'Standing At The Crossroads' in 2012.
Albums of Note… Copenhagen band Efterklang release Piramida, an album named after a Norwegian ghost town. Befitting of such a theme, the music itself falls somewhere between Brian Eno, Sigur Ros and The Blue Nile. Though they're writing about a town full of ugly abandoned Cold War-era buildings, Efterklang have somehow instilled Piramida with "an atmosphere of warmth" and our reviewer was so impressed, he went so far as to say that they write songs that are "everything you'd love an Elbow song to actually sound like." "With the pop world and everything else now divided beyond conciliation, what was once perceived as avant garde is now just another way of working."
Are they a choir? Or just a ridiculously large indie pop band? Whatever they are, the twenty women that make up Gaggle have crafted a fine album in From The Mouth of The Cave. The debut album from this unusual group is never dull and combined, their voices have some serious dramatic potential: "20 plus women joining together in a deliberately paired back drum and vocal delivery about being wronged, abused, deceived, damaged and pained is a formidable thing." "From The Mouth Of The Cave' is a challenging album from Gaggle. It is an experience and at times it can be hard work. it break(s) certain boundaries and above all it shows a great deal of promise for what else might yet come from the most unconventional girl group on the planet."
With every album Bellowhead release, they raise the barrier. Broadside, Bellowhead's fourth full-length offering, complete with their trademark infectious folk-funk stomp, juicy, eclectic arrangements and almighty appetite for entertainment, does it yet again.
'Byker Hill' opens with a steady string arrangement before Jon Boden's distinctive vocals join with the eclectic Bellowhead ensemble of instrumentation. The track continues with folk fiddle and accordion sounding clear amongst the blend which is underpinned with their trademark distinctive sousaphone/helicon bass line. With a later interjection of rock moodiness with what sounds like chugging distorted guitars, the track has something of a more menacing, moody edge. This rock edge and construction is also echoed in 'Old Dun Cow'; the track opens with a bass clarinet and sousaphone riff accented by stabbing higher brass which is then joined by the wider blend and thudding drums but seems to nod to a more aggressive and punching rock construction. There's then an almost classical sounding oboe and strings interjection amongst the sturdy and foreboding roar of the remainder of the track before it blasts into a more up-tempo funk groove, sax solo and dramatic conclusion. Bellowhead always have interesting takes on traditional tracks, and the same individuality with originals, with focus being as much on arrangement as on melody. Opening with a traditional undulating, double-stopped violin line then joined by the rest of the band, 'Roll The Woodpile Down' is a fantastic example of Bellowhead's infectious toe-tapping folk-funk fusion which certainly contributes to making their eclectic yet intricate arrangements sound so fun!
While '10,000 Miles Away' is a more traditional folk song with precisely picked banjo accompaniment and emphatic brass backings with the kick of a well-produced pop/funk track, 'Betsy Baker' has a steadier pace and the slightly more sedate feel of a love song with a typically strong almost orchestral arrangement and powerful harmonies. This is contrasted again by 'Black Beetle Pies'; from its xylophone and clarinet opening, 'Black Beetle Pies' leads into a playful track with distinctive glockenspiel and xylophone accompaniment sounding clear amongst the usual eclectic blend, and carries a real feeling of mischievous playfulness. With 'Thousands Or More', Bellowhead then kick right back to that characteristic, crowd pleasing, infectious stomp interspersed with smooth, slushy-string accompanied verses; in fact, the slushy and powerful instrumental builds the track to a wonderful climax then gentle close before the more traditional fiddle-led folk stomp of the instrumental 'Dockside Rant'.
Continue reading: Bellowhead - Broadside Album Review
Hedonism is the third album from Bellowhead, an eleven piece multi-instrumental folk-funk collective with an almighty appetite for entertainment. Combining all kinds of brass, wind, strings, melodeons, bagpipes and an array of percussion all under Jon Boden's distinctive Jonny Depp-esque vocals; Bellowhead have a unique and eclectic sound. Perhaps, as many have suggested, Bellowhead are an acquired taste, but they sure are one worth acquiring; much like their phenomenal live performances, there's barely a dull moment or a pause for breath on this recording.
'New York Girls', a traditional song arranged by the bands' Boden & Spiers, kicks it all off with a fast moving snare and fiddle reel rapidly joined by the rest of the band; wind, percussion, helicon and all. The track progresses on contrasting thinner parts that imitate its introduction with a much deeper sound, which involves the whole musical range in terms of pitch and timbre. One thing is for sure, when Bellowhead really get going, it's impossible to stay still whilst listening to them; their folk/big band blend is ridden with irresistibly infectious foot-stomping grooves. 'A Begging I Will Go' begins with more of a morbid feel but it's not long before the stabbing strings emulate chugging distorted electric guitar and the track kicks into a rock tinted pound. Interceptions of dialogue between the guitar and funky brass/string backing which support something of a medieval sounding, flute and fiddle-led break before the entire ensemble launch into an alluring groove and on into a driving folk romp which gradually picks up pace and determination to a tight big band ending.
Continue reading: Bellowhead, Hedonism Album Review