02/04/2015

Belshazzar's Feast Live! The Whiting's On The Wall - Belshazzar's Feast

Track list:

1. Intro
2. Die Deutsches Washfrau
3. Wild Rover
4. Intro
5. Beethoven's Piano (Accordion) Concerto for Oboe
6. Home Lad, Home
7. Intro
8. Sussex Cotillion/Italian Concerto
9. Intro
10. Boda/Mrs. Love's Waltz
11. Intro
12. If I Was a Blackbird
13. Gerald Road Mazurkas
14. Thresherman
15. Intro
16. Playford's Christmas Ball
17. Intro
18. One Cold Morning
19. Intro
20. Rondo a La Turkey

Running time: 61 minutes
Released: 2014
So after one subset of Bellowhead comes another. Well, in part. This time it is (one of) Paul Sartin's side project(s). 20 tracks, or rather 12 and 8 introductions, make up this disc.

I am not quite sure why I went for it; I do have another Belshazzar's Feast album but I never really listened to it. However Sartin always struck me as an interesting musician with a good stage manner and there is something almost cabaret-like about the chatter that Belshazzar's members get up to between numbers so I think that must have been the draw.

This starts with the first of the many intros, which immediately launches into their quirky stage humour... "There's something I need to do" followed by the sound of a flushing toilet in a clear nod to it being recorded for sale, before launching into a twee Germanic number. I am writing this on the first day of a holiday, from warmer and sunnier climes than I am used to and at what my system clock says is pre-9am, though it is later than that. I am in Greece with family on a break that should allow me a fair bit of downtime - so naturally one of my first acts is to listen to a very, very English duo. For all that they play a mixture of folk, chamber and classical pieces from all over the mannerisms are rooted in England for sure.

"Go and touch up Beethoven" - another one of those phrases you think you'll never hear. The second intro is "make me smile" funny by dint of Sartin's conversational style. The intro ends up exactly half as long as the piece that it introduces and thoroughly overshadowing it. I have often said to the friend that I go to Bellowhead gigs with that I find they are at their best when Paul Sartin ditches the fiddles for his oboe. This piece is doing all it can to undermine that. Obviously that is a function of the tune as much as anything else, though... and a smile is brought to my face when it morphs in to the theme from Postman Pat and then a couple of other things that I feel I should recognise but don't. It saves the piece.

It is this kind of wandering whimsy that I like about Belshazzar's feast, they are not taking things too seriously and Easter eggs are scattered through a performance. I suspect they would be very entertaining in person even if the majority of the tunes leave little impression by themselves. Sartin wanders between fiddle, oboe and song while his partner, Paul Hutchinson accompanies on accordion and they switch between tunes mid-flow with genuine aplomb. Before I even notice half the disc has flown by amidst their stagecraft and eccentricity.

I really don't find a lot of the tunes musically interesting, and yet I find the overall impression quite spellbinding because no tune lasts too long, or if it does last it morphs and is sure to pop up with some commonly known tune, a touchpoint of recognition, so you feel like you want to listen with at least half an ear even in the bits where the tune is not currently enticing. Just now, for example, they broke into a chorus of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (tune only) then into "Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside" in the space of a minute and there is no hint from the track titles that these treats will be popping up. "Treats?" I ask myself... yes treats. They are fully in line with the gentle humour laced throughout.

Final five to go, two of them intros. Audience engagement - encouragement to sing - has been a feature here, with various degrees of success; it's hard to sing along if you don't know what's going on or what will happen next even if you are intimately familiar with a particular snippet. I get the feeling that there is some physical comedy going on from time to time that reflects in the recording as audience laughs alone. That actually works against the recording in at least one case, because the listener feels excluded, isolated from that moment. Still, there are enough moments that you are connected to that this doesn't matter too much.

Overall, this is an oddity. An enjoyable one, but an oddity all the same. I do not feel compelled to remove any of the tracks but neither do I expect to sit down and listen to it again on record. I would, however, go see them if I could find willing company and they were playing a suitable location.