Bellowhead’s Paul Sartin: ‘I think folk is fashionable to listen to now’

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Paul Sartin has a secret – he supports Southampton.

He says it quietly, and laughs nervously, knowing full well that he’s speaking to Portsmouth’s daily paper.

It’s a tense moment, but one that is eased when he jumps into an explanation for his choices.

Paul, who’s one of 11 performers in folk band Bellowhead, adds: ‘I live in Whitchurch and the village is split down the middle with Saints and Pompey supporters.

‘We were in Portsmouth at The Pyramids when I told the audience, and half of them cheered and half of them booed.’

Hampshire born-and-bred, he simply picked the wrong side of the village.

Admittedly he doesn’t know Portsmouth particularly well, but the band have performed here in the past and he loves the fans. He’s looking forward to being back tomorrow night at Portsmouth Guildhall.

Paul adds: ‘We’ve played The Pyramids before and we’ve been in Southampton, but this is a completely new venue for us. It’s exciting.’

When we speak, Bellowhead are two dates into a national tour, and they’re setting up for the next show after driving through the night.

‘On tour you have to be careful you don’t end up being nocturnal,’ he adds.

‘But I love the reception from the audience, it makes it all worth while. We had lots of schoolchildren in for a matinee yesterday and they were very enthusiastic.’

And playing in the city the same night as Show Of Hands?

‘Well, I think that’s just some bad planning,’ he adds.

Celebrating their 10th anniversary next year, the group is a contemporary folk band and draws inspirations from dance tunes, folk songs and shanties.

Their third album, Hedonism, is the highest-selling independently-released folk album of all time and they’ve been nominated for eight BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in the past, winning five times for Best Live Act.

They even have their own brand of ale which is sold at the live shows, and have been known to head to the pub afterwards for an impromptu acoustic set.

If you mention Bellowhead, folk fans know it’s all about the live performances. But why are they so good?

Paul says: ‘All 11 members of the band are pretty specialist in their own field [Paul is a multi-instrumentalist with the group and has become known as part of Belshazzar’s Feast and Dr Faustus].

‘We are all musicians and I think we tend to not take ourselves too seriously. We like to have fun and we change our material quite regularly. They are all contributing factors.’

The success of Hedonism (recorded at the famous Abbey Road studios) was a surprise to the band, and their fourth album Broadside recently re-entered the Top 100.

The album originally entered the UK official album charts at number 16 and number one in the UK independent album charts.

‘It’s very gratifying for us,’ Paul explains, ‘especially as album sales aren’t what they used to be. The record industry is struggling a little bit.

‘The majority of the tracks are traditional or folk. There’s a smattering of sea songs and shanties and some others as well. It’s a real mixed bag.’

Arguably, Bellowhead are seen by many music fans as figureheads of the folk world, bringing a genre of music out of pubs and on to the main stage.

Paul explains: ‘I can’t really speak for other members of the band but we’ve long believed that it’s important for music to get back to the people.

‘It came from ordinary people so we try to find a way of making it appealing to them.’

One British group that has hit the international stage with phenomenal success is Mumford and Sons. But, as Paul is quick to point out, their sound may be ‘folky’ but it’s not folk.

‘They aren’t folk and they don’t really claim to be. They use traditional instruments and they do folky songs – with a small f.’

Although he does admit that folk music is enjoying a lot of attention, with many music fans enjoying the lively singing and dancing that goes hand-in-hand with it.

Paul adds: ‘I think folk is seen as quite fashionable to listen to now, and I like to think we were a part of that revival.’

Bellowhead are celebrating their 10th anniversary next year with special tour dates, one being at the Royal Albert Hall.

Paul says: ‘We’re also bringing out a song book which we’re in the middle of editing. And we’re releasing a Christmas single at the start of December, so we will see what happens with that.

‘We didn’t expect what has happened, it has taken us all by surprise. We’re still catching up with ourselves a bit.’

Formed specifically for the Sidmouth Folk Festival in 2004, Bellowhead was originally an experiment.

Paul explains: ‘We wanted to see if we could get a big band together for the show. There were no big English bands, but there were from other countries like Canada. That show ended up winning us our first folk award.’

With Bellowhead ‘s s uccess showing no signs of stopping, Paul is excited for the future and hopes they can carry on performing and recording.

‘My mortgage advisor hopes so anyway!’ he laughs.

‘But I think we will have to evolve like any other band. We have got 11 traditional performers and various backgrounds.

‘We can reach out into different genres and if we continually keep doing new stuff for our fans then I think we may keep going. I can’t afford not to!

Bellowhead will be performing at Portsmouth Guildhall tomorrow evening. Tickets: £18.50 to £23.50 on (023) 9387 0200 or go to