Peter Bellamy was the most exciting and distinctive performer the English folk scene has ever produced. A man of many paradoxes, he revered the tradition while constantly recasting it in an effort to capture the adrenaline rush of rock'n'roll. He studied source singers with devotion but came away sounding like none of them. He polarised audience opinion like few other performers. If the word "genius" was ever appropriate to a folkie, then Bellamy came closer than most, yet he never achieved the success his early career amidst the razor harmonies of the Young Tradition had presaged. In later years he blamed this on his unfashionable political, he would say, apolitical, stance and his championing of the non-PC works of Rudyard Kipling, but I always thought he was just too confrontational for the cosier backwaters of the English folk scene. Confrontational in every way, from his performing style to his dress-sense (the Rolling Stones T-shirt with flashing light bulbs is fondly remembered), to his apparent though deceptive arrogance, and his appetite for a verbal scrap. Thereís a plausible tale of him arriving at the house of an unsuspecting folk club organiser and, with hardly an introduction, marching over to the poor manís record collection and denouncing its mediocrity in the most colourful terms. I mention it because with Peter Bellamy, the performer was inextricably linked to the man. Those who knew him well, however, remember a warm, generous and surprisingly vulnerable man.
Wake the Vaulted Echoes is a lavish tribute. Three CDs that play for three-and-half-hours, with a CD-ROM section on disc 3, and a 70-page booklet containing encyclopaedic information on the 57 songs (including Bellamy's own remarks and concert introductions to them), a lengthy and excellent personal account by Karl Dallas, loads of photos, tributes from the great and good, the man's pronouncements on the folk scene and beyond, and general trivia. And Peter Bellamy trivia is a sight more interesting than most other folks' trivia.
"On Board a 98"
"Come Write Me Down"
w/ Shirley Collins
Bellamy's powers as a singer are amply demonstrated: the voice isn't pretty or mellow, but it has tremendous edge, can hit impossibly high notes to spine-tingling effect, and is bent and bullied into all sorts of inspirational twists and turns. The styles of traditional singers from his native Norfolk are to be heard, but so too are Appalachian balladeers and Southern Baptist gospel shouters. Sometimes he's austere, almost didactic, sometimes deeply emotional, other times he seems to throw his voice around for the sheer hell of it, like an improvising jazz musician. In the last chorus of "Santa Fe Trail" he loved to take an already impossibly high note and screw it up another notch so remorselessly that you could feel your testicles contract (well, if you were male, anyway).
"A Pilgrim's Way"
While there were those in the English folk world who couldn't handle Peter Bellamy at all, there were many more who loved him, and this is certainly a labour of love by those who compiled it. For Peter's many devoted fans, it's a must. And now that it's becoming hip to sing the old songs again, it's well worth hearing how a master and true original could bring them to vibrant, pulsating life in a way few other folk revivalists have ever done. - Brian Peters
Available from cdRoots
The Peter Bellamy online "Celebration"
Free Reed Records, the publisher of the recordings
More Audio Clips
Wake The Vaulted Echoes is available at cdRoots