KING Belshazzar was a merry old soul – and his last feast was a bacchanalian knees-up of epic proportions.

So the decadent Coregent of Babylon, and his hedonistic final repast, is the perfect inspiration for an almost equally fun-loving celebration of the finer things in life.

Formed by fiddle and oboe player Paul Sartin and accordionist Paul Hutchinson, Belshazzar’s Feast play the kind of folk music that forces you on to your feet and makes it impossible not to break into a broad grin.

That makes them the perfect band to ease us into the festive season.

Now celebrating their 20th anniversary, the pair are heading back to Oxfordshire for a couple of shows with a Yuletide twist – both in suitably rural surrounds: in Uffington today (Wednesday) and Nettlebed on Monday, December 21.

“It’s very light hearted,” says Sartin, who is perhaps better known as a member of folk supergroup Bellowhead.

“We draw on traditional music but not exactly. There are some serious numbers but we make it entertaining. No-one wants to be preached at with folk music; they want to have a fun night out. We don’t take things too seriously.”

So, while the starting point is traditional folk, there are flashes of classical, jazz, pop and music hall, and cracking banter.

It all makes for a lively and, at times, very funny show – which is why the pair were nominated for the Best Duo Award at the 2010 BBC Folk Awards. It’s not all light-hearted though, with songs dealing in more sombre material, such as the First World War.

“We do songs that make people laugh and make people cry,” says Sartin. “We are in the tradition of the old troubadours, who would go around entertaining people – but also making them sob.”

And the name? “It also refers to a piece of music by Walton, but Paul Hutchinson used to be a church organist and we just wanted something that sounded biblical. It’s very colourful, sums up the idea of hedonism, and, because people have trouble pronouncing it, it makes it easier to remember.”

It’s a different world to Bellowhead. As a member of the group, he found himself hoisted from intimate folk sessions to Glastonbury Festival and the Royal Albert Hall.

The 11-piece avant-folk band, which formed 12 years ago as a hastily assembled collective to play the Oxford Folk Festival, went on to redefine folk. Their five studio albums have sold more than 250,000 copies, while their third LP, Hedonism, was recorded at Abbey Road studios and is the highest selling independently released folk album of all time. Their trophy cabinet includes two silver discs and eight BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Belshazzar’s Feast’s winter tour comes as Bellowhead come to an end.

“There are mixed feelings,” says Sartin, who lives with his family in rural Hampshire.

“It’s the right time to bow out on a high, rather than outstaying our welcome. A break is needed for all sorts of reasons. It’s a logistical nightmare and it tends to take precedence over other things.

“But we have all got other projects and always have done. We will all be able to keep the wolf from the door.”

However, he does not rule out a comeback at some stage.

Like Bellowhead, Belshazzar’s Feast has its roots in Oxfordshire, the seeds for the band planted while playing a session with a now-defunct folk group in a trailer in Cumnor.

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It was there he met Paul Hutchinson, whose own credits include Hoover the Dog, Karen Tweed, The Playford Liberation Front and the Pagoda Project.

While most commonly seen wielding a fiddle and singing, Sartin says his first instrument was the oboe.

“You can’t accompany yourself while you’re playing the oboe, though,” he said.

“The biggest change from Bellowhead, though, is not being part of an 11-piece where I could hide if needs be. Here there are just two of us – and that comes as a bit of a jolt.”

He added: “This has been our fourth tour in four months. It has been absolutely mental, so I am looking forward to getting back for Christmas.”

Before that there is the rest of the tour, though.

He said: “We love playing Uffington, which is a great venue, and Nettlebed is where Paul and I traditionally have our company Christmas lunch. There are only two of us though, and Paul doesn’t drink. It’ll still be fun though. It always is.”

* Belshazzar's Feast play Thomas Hughes Memorial Hall, Uffington, today at 7.30pm. Call 01367 820282 for ticket information.

The gig at Nettlebed Village Club is on Monday, December 21, at 8pm at The Village Club, High Street, Nettlebed. Tickets are £13 – call 01628 636620.