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Bellowhead are an 11-piece band who specialise in playing traditional English music, rearranged with a contemporary twist. With a range of influences spanning sea shanties, folk songs and dance pieces, the band use a combination of traditional instruments such as fiddles and the tuba alongside modern-day ones such as drum kits and bass guitars. The material performed by the band relies on the 11 band members swapping instruments many times during a gig, with over 20 instruments used between all members. The band members are all highly respected instrumentalists in their own right, with numerous credits earned on other folk or traditional projects alongside their work with the Bellowhead collective.
Formed by John Spiers and Jon Boden in 2004, Bellowhead was the product of a discussion borne from a tedious traffic jam endured whilst on tour. The longer Spiers and Boden sat in traffic, the more musicians they decided they could invite into the band, resulting in the eclectic mix of instruments which gives Bellowhead their signature sound. Described initially as a "bunch of mates" who got together to play a gig at the Oxford Festival in 2004, it was quickly decided that there was merit in continuing as an ensemble. Bellowhead have always seen themselves as primarily a live band, winning the Best Live Group category five times between 2005 and 2011 at the BBC Folk Awards.
In the studio, Bellowhead's debut was the five-track EP released as E.P.onymous, which showed that the intensity created by the band on stage was not abated when recorded for posterity. The time taken by the ensemble in creating their first full-length album, Burlesque, resulted in arrangements of folk standards such as Death and the Lady which confounded expectations. The album received praise for its intelligence and humour, winning critical acclaim.
The third studio album, Hedonism, which was released in 2010, was recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios and produced by legendary producer John Leckie, who also produced bands such as Radiohead and Kula Shaker. In common with the majority of the rest of the band's output, most of the tracks on the album are arrangements of traditional melodies treated with Bellowhead's unique approach to the original material. In selling over 60,000 copies to date, the album has been certified Silver and is the highest-selling independent folk album ever.