Bellowhead - Talk to Music Trespass on the verge of their next tour!!!

Dan Devour chats with John Spiers and Justin Thurgur
Reading, Hexagon, UK
Dan Devour chats with John Spiers and Justin Thurgur about what Bellowhead are all about!!!!

Bellowhead are on the verge of another UK tour, and Dan Devour talks to John Spiers and Justin Thurgur to find out! What Bellowhead are all about!!!

Music Trespass: You have won the Radio 2 best live Folk act five times now. What do you think it is that stands out in your live performance?

John Spiers: It’s difficult to say really. We have fun on stage, I think that’s the main thing and I don’t ever want that to change. I think that comes across to the audience, and the better the audience are, the more we gain from that. Because I think that as the set goes on the tempo sort of builds up a bit.

John Spiers: Obviously we try and build the set up like that as much as possible to sort of finish on a big finale, but is starts off quite strong as well so we have to find some way of bringing it down in the middle a little bit so we don’t knacker out before the end.

Music Trespass: You do have a few little ballads that you can do that with.

John Spiers: Yep, we do have some slow numbers. There still the same there still traditional material, some are a bit more wordy than others so they need to be treated at a lower tempo.

Music Trespass: You put your own take on the traditional material so it’s a little bit different to traditional Folk?

John Spiers: It's not straight down the line traditional Folk, and that’s because everyone has different backgrounds. So its never going to be just Folk.

Justin Thurgur: I think also the line up of the band you already have something different straight away. I think in terms of our performances is very much to do with the energy we put into it. It is also actually because there aren’t so many bands around who have such and unusual line up of instruments, at least no on that scene. We were in Canada a few years ago and a lot of the bands were four people at most and then we come on as an 11 piece making a massive sound and straight away there is an impact. So I think that big orchestra of instruments has an element as well.

Music Trespass: How many instruments do you use in your live show?

John Spiers: Approximately two and a half times it members so I would say its in the region of thirty.

Music Trespass: I wont get you to name them all.

John Spiers: No I don’t even know if that’s the right number.

Music Trespass: Where do you find all the Folk songs you cover or even draw inspiration from?

John Spiers: Well a lot of them are ones that people knew anyway, because they are standard, they are traditional Folk songs. Some of the more obscure material comes from people researching in libraries and the printed text of 'Broadside' ballads, and some of the collections, which were written down in the 17,18 and 19 hundreds. Quite often these ones don’t have a melody because only the words were written down, so you only get fragments of them. Whoever arranges them generally looks to see how many versions of the same ballad or song, or they could fit a version of a song out the fragments depending on what fits best with the band.

Check Out! the Video for '10,000 miles Away' Below...

Music Trespass: And if you run out of traditional songs, do you go to BBC TV Gordy TV programs, Byker Hill?

John Spiers: Byker Grove?

Music Trespass: Yeah?

John Spiers: No, who told you that?

Music Trespass: Your manager told me!

John Spiers: NO! I think that was a joke. It’s a very old coal mine anthem from Newcastle; obviously Byker is a place in Newcastle. Byker Grove was shot there. But we have a running joke. Its nothing like the theme tune to Byker Grove.

Music Trespass: That’s what I thought but this is what he told us.

John Spiers: No, don’t listen to managers.

Music Trespass: Folk music used to have a fusty image how has the Indie Folk scene changed that?

John Spiers: I don’t know really, but it seems to be the flavor of the month at the moment. I’m sure that will pass and will be left doing it like it was before it was the flavor of the month. It’s a musical fad really, people in the trendy ends like to change what they like all the time. People that they like are still doing that music for that transient moment. I hope it stays in the mainstream for as long as possible

Justin Thurgur: Yeah because I actually wasn’t in the folk scene in any way shape or form before I joined. What’s been interesting for me is to see that there were guys doing stuff just as interesting and outrageous as us 30 or 40 years ago, as is often the case. People in the world music scene often grab onto it. Hopefully we have got a fresh take on it, but the concept has been around for a long, long time.

John Spiers: I actually think that the Indie Funk scene is an incredibly different scene compared to where we come from and what we do. I’m quite happy to be packed along with it, if it means were going to get some success out of it. But in fact what we do is nothing like the bands that write there own songs and basically have a singer/songwriter with an acoustic flavor to it. What we do is traditional stuff with lots of experimental stuff and drawing some other influences. So its, unfortunately, from exactly the opposite direction. It has changed that because people have come along with trendy haircuts and so on.

Justin Thurgur: Have I got a trendy haircut then?

John Spiers: No I wasn’t talking about you.

Justin Thurgur: The point I was making was the fusty way was a misconception, so there is an element but actually people like me can come in from the outside and know what’s going on. The only thing that has changed is that, because perhaps of the Indie Folk scene or Pirates of the Caribbean or something, is that folk has come into the lime light a lot more and seems to be hugely popular at the moment, so its made people more aware of something that’s been going on for quite a while really.

Music Trespass: What kind of music scene do you come from?

Justin Thurgur: Musically, I’ve spent a lot of time playing Cuban and African music, usually Jazz influenced, and some Funk as well.

Music Trespass: Do you think you have brought any of that to Bellowhead?

Justin Thurgur: Yeah defiantly, actually the whole of the horn section come from that scene and Pete the drummer comes from that scene, so there’s defiantly an element of that which has come into the band, I’m thinking about some of the arrangements that have happened. Obviously when we first came into it a lot of the arrangements had been done by Jon Bodon and they were coming very much from his experience, as we developed, he’s changed the way he’s written because he’s got to know us and the way we play and the way we sound, and simile other guys I the band have writing, and it can happen the other way round where for example Pete Flood will write more from his side of experience, but then bringing in the Folk thing which means that we have all adapted to peoples past. You can see that in your live show the bond between you, you all know what you’re going to do next.

John Spiers: We hope so! That’s what the rehearsals are for. In the live show we have to be quite on top of the music we play, and in order to be quite instinctive about quite difficult arrangements. Its taken us eight years to know each others music, I’ve learned a hell of a lot about all sorts of different kinds of music knowing the people in Bellowhead. I think it’s an enriching experience being part of the band.

Music Trespass: So have you cottoned on to the Jazz that Justin plays?

John Spiers: Well not in any formal way, but yeah I’ve listened to the way Justin phrases stuff, it’s a very different way to anyone that I know of in the Folk scene and the way he approaches thing. Justin’s written a couple of arrangements for the band, every time someone comes to the band they want something different from me as an accordion player. I have to really sit back and think how do I play it absolutely straight? How do I put my spin on it? It’s quite a lot to learn actually. What do you see as Bellowhead's role as being at the for front of the change of image?

John Spiers: I suppose we have been there as it’s happened, quite glad we were because it’s quite a different think to the Indie Folk scene, although we are an independent label who do play Folk, because otherwise there would be very little traditional material in that kind of well exposed scene. I think our role has just been being they’re doing what we wanted to do at the right time.

Justin Thurgur: Were doing what were doing, but still keeping quite true to the old Folk melodies or oldFolk words. The bands that are more out there, in terms of the public eye, but were trying to keep the tradition. Well not everyone you can never claim your doing the most

John Spiers: It’s a difficult question to answer. Because that’s what other people think

Justin Thurgur: Yeah, I’m still discovering folk bands all the time because I’ve not been on the scene for so long, its always dangerous to say you’re the only ones doing something because there’s always someone down the road who’s also doing it.

Music Trespass: I note your site has a German version do you have a particular following there?

John Spiers: Does it have a German version?

Justin Thurgur: It does yeah!

John Spiers: Oh right, as you can see I don’t really pay much attention to it. Something we are trying to do at the moment is we are trying to develop our following in Europe. Were particularly focusing on Germany and the Netherlands and Belgium. We went on tour there last February and then we did some festivals in that area in the summer and then we are going there on tour again this February, its part of our strategy to…

Justin Thurgur: …conquer northern Europe

John Spiers: … yeah, our market to northern Europe.

Music Trespass: I noticed that a couple of your members have quite German sounding names. Do they have any German history?

John Spiers: I think it entirely coincidental.

Justin Thurgur: Ed Neuhauser is Austrian decent.

John Spiers: But is he really!

Justin Thurgur: He says he is, but his German isn’t very good.

John Spiers: I think its not to far down the line actually, oppose to me who has a Viking surname, so that’s obviously very old.

Music Trespass: Were there any particular areas you were drawing on when making 'Broadside'?

John Spiers: No

Justin Thurgur: No not really we generally bring to the table what arrangements the band has for an album, and see how they go

John Spiers: Yeah I think if there were anything that sounded similar it would be entirely coincidental. So no, not really.

Music Trespass: How did it really getting a Folk album into the top twenty in the mainstream?

Justin Thurgur: I personally was very proud to be part of it, because I didn’t ever think it would happen again. When I started playing Folk music in the late 90's it was not doing incredibly well in the mainstream terms. It’s amazing how twelve years since I’ve started playing how the scene has turned on its head and its now possible to do that, I’m just very proud.

Music Trespass: With so many people in the band do you all contribute to the album and writing process?

Justin Thurgur: Were all aloud to.

John Spiers: Yeah, all the songs are arranged by an individual, although a lot of that has been eitherJon Bohon or Pete Flood, although most people in the band has at some point done an arrangement. Then it depends on the arrangement and the intention of that arranger. A lot of them are unchanged from the way the arranger presented them. There’s always Benji on the guitar will often free up a lot.

Justin Thurgur: Yeah its difficult to write for guitar or squeeze box, especially as we don’t read music.

John Spiers: There will be an element were we will free up and some of the tunes that will be more the case and others won’t. Essentially an arranger will write a tune, and then they will play it in and if things can be done to help it then that can happen.

Justin Thurgur: There are underlying things as well, we draw mainly on traditional things for the songs. A lot of the dance tunes are written by the band as well, so it might get written by one member of the band and then arranged by another member, so some swapping and changing goes on.

Music Trespass: Is there any town or festival you would like to revisit, and do you prefer more mainstream festivals?

Justin Thurgur: That’s an impossible question, Folk or mainstream is an impossible question because I love Folk festivals I’ve been going to them for years and there full of my friends, but the mainstream festivals are still this new world opening up to me. I go them and think there fantastic as well. My favorite was either last year or the year before was the Green Man Festival, which was a brilliant festival, and also the electric picnic in Ireland I thought was very nice.

Music Trespass: What’s next for Bellowhead after the tour?

John Spiers: Well were going on tour again in February, we’ve got half of it in this country England, then half of it in Europe. Going back to the point earlier about developing the European market. Actually I don’t think were going to Germany are we?

Justin Thurgur: No were going to Holland and Belgium.

John Spiers: Yeah, hopefully the keener German's will step over the boarder. And hopefully the usual sort of festivals and stuff.

Justin Thurgur: Yeah but in-between that we are going to try and get some sleep.

John Spiers: Yeah the thing is because obviously we’ve just launched this album, so were not really thinking that much beyond the album at the moment, and promoting that album. I guess at some point we will start talking about what’s happening next, but for the moment its very much promoting 'Broadside'.

Music Trespass: I can tell you Belgium is amazing you will have a good time there.

Justin Thurgur: Yeah the gigs there have been good.

Questions by Jon Cooper, Interview and all Photo's except Promo Photo's by Dan Devour and special thanks for Transcribing by Tom Reece