JON Boden & The Remnant Kings open next month’s five-date tour at The Wardrobe, Leeds, on February 1 at 8pm.
Joining boundary-stretching folk heavyweight Boden will be fellow Bellowhead musician Sam Sweeney, Leveret’s Rob Harbron, Ben Nicholls, from Kings Of The South Seas, and M G Boulter.
Lead singer and main arranger for the reactivated progressive folk juggernaut Bellowhead – who played Harrogate Convention Centre on their Broadside 10th Anniversary Tour on November 25 – Boden founded The Remnant Kings in 2009 to perform his album Songs From The Floodplain.
Those initial performances combined the album’s post-climate change concept with other songs that might survive the apocalypse, taking in folk songs, Bach, pop and jazz, all rubbing shoulders with his own compositions. All this was augmented by the use on stage of two wax cylinder players, playing specially recorded material.
The Remnant Kings went into hibernation for several years while Bellowhead hit top gear but were reunited and relaunched to record Boden’s 2017 album, Afterglow, followed by the more traditional Rose In June in 2020, before contributing to Last Mile Home, the final album of Boden’s post-apocalyptic trilogy, in 2021.
Tickets are on sale at thewardrobe.seetickets.com. Doors open at 7pm.
A COMEDIAN’S quest, a musical Nativity, winter storytelling, open studios, folk luminaries and supreme songwriters put a spring in Charles Hutchinson’s step as the season for scarves arrives
Comedy gig of the week: Sara Pascoe: Success Story, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm
EXPECT “name-dropping, personal stories and anecdotes” from comedian Sara Pascoe, who will be mulling over status, celebrities, her new fancy lifestyle versus infertility, her multiple therapists and career failures in Success Story.
“What I want to explore is how do we define success and when do we define it,” she says. “Does it change with age? Do we only want things we can’t have? When we attain our goals, do we move the goal posts and become unsatisfied with what we’ve got and want something else instead?” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Christmas musical of the week: Pick Me Up Theatre in Nativity! The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 24 to 26, 29 and 30, December 2, 7.30pm; November 26, 2.30pm; November 27, 3pm; December 1, 2pm, 7pm; December 3, 12pm, 4pm
ROBERT Readman directs York company Pick Me Up Theatre in Debbie Isitt and Nicky Ager’s humorous musical, built around St Bernadette’s School’s calamitous attempt to mountain a musical Nativity play.
Unfortunately, teacher Mr Maddens has promised that a Hollywood producer will attend the show to turn it into a film.
Join him, his crazy teaching assistant Mr Poppy and the unruly children as they struggle to make everyone’s Christmas wish come true to the songsheet of Sparkle And Shine, Nazareth, One Night One Moment, She’s The Brightest Star and a heap of new Yuletide songs. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickts.com/york.
Promenade theatre event of the week: Ye Wretched Strangers Storybook, York Mansion House, St Helen’s Square, York, tonight, 7.30pm
YE Company of Wretched Strangers, a transatlantic community theatre troupe of performers and storytellers from Yorkshire and Wisconsin, present sometimes comic, sometimes serious, always intimate and often poignant tales from Britain and North America, spanning 1799 to 1942, in the refurbished home to the Lord Mayor of York.
Laughter, smiles and a tear or two will be elicited by A Christmas Eve Ghost Story, the Creation Myth of the Ojibwe Tribe of Native Americans, A York World War Two Tale and other stories of ordinary people often forgotten by history on both sides of the Atlantic. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/ye-wretched-strangers-storybook/
Christmas shopportunity of the week: Winter Artists Open House, South Bank, York, today, 11am to 4pm
FIVE York artists are opening studios today in South Bank with an eye to the Christmas market. At Kay Dower’s Corner Gallery, at 2 Telford Terrace, her acrylic paintings and prints of corners of York, the Yorkshire coast and quirky still-life objects will be complemented by photographic collages by Claire Morris, inspired by vintage books.
Kate Buckley’s “origami meets porcelain” sculptural ceramics and Marie Murphy’s modern, geometric paintings, prints and illustrations of urban landscapes can be found at 31 Wentworth Road. Mixed-media artist Jill Tattersall’s vivid, dreamlike artworks in paints, inks and dyes on handmade paper await at the Wolf At The Door studio, 15 Cygnet Street.
Heavy metal gig of the week: Saxon, Seize The Day World Tour, Hull City Hall, Tuesday; York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm
BARNSLEY heavy metal veterans Saxon bring their 23rd studio album, February’s Carpe Diem, to stage life, led as ever by Biff Byford. “Can’t wait to get out on a real tour again, it’s gonna be monumental!” he says. “See you all out there. Seize the day!” Special guests will be Diamond Head. Box office: Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk; York, yorkbarbican.co.uk.
Songwriters of the week: Mary Gauthier & Jaimee Harris, Wednesday; Jane Weaver & Jake Mehew, Thursday, both at The Crescent, York, 7.30pm
NEW Orleans roots singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier is backing up June’s release of Dark Enough To See The Stars with a rare UK tour this month. The album mourns the loss of dear friends John Prine, Nanci Griffith and David Olney, but the optimistic side to Gauthier bursts through songs of new love and personal contentment.
Her seated show is followed the next night by Jane Weaver’s standing gig. An unshakable leading light of Britain’s experimental pop music landscape, this Manchester musician released her latest album, Flock, last year with its eco-friendly hum and pop for post-new-normal times. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Rare sighting of the week: Oysterband, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm
OYSTERBAND play Pocklington as the only northern gig in their 2022 autumn diary. Formed in Canterbury in 1976, the veteran six-piece still perform with the spirit a punk ceilidh band but with depth and sensitivity to their songwriting, coupled with the strength of John Jones’s voice.
Songs from the five-time BBC Folk Award winners’ March album, Read The Sky, are sure to feature. Box office: 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Folk event of the year: Bellowhead’s Broadside Tenth Anniversary Tour, Harrogate Convention Centre, Friday, doors 7pm for 8pm start
FOLK big band Bellowhead are reuniting for a “special one-off” tenth anniversary tour of their fourth album, 2012’s Broadside, their first Top 20 entry in the UK Official Album Charts, fuelled by such favourites as Roll The Woodpile Down and 10,000 Miles Away.
Support comes from Stroud fiddler Sam Sweeney, who served in Bellowhead from 2008 to their last tour in 2016 and is now back on the front line alongside Jon Boden and John Spiers. Tickets update: Sold out; for returns only, contact 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.
FOLK big band Bellowhead are to reunite next year for a tenth anniversary tour of their Broadside album.
Among the 18 dates will be Yorkshire concerts at Harrogate Convention Centre on November 25 2022 and Sheffield City Hall two nights later.
During lockdown in 2020, the 11 members first re-connected online to record New York Girls – At Home remotely, prompting Bellowhead to reconvene in person for a one-off performance, streamed to mark the tenth anniversary of 2010’s Hedonism.
Thousands of fans watched one of the biggest online streams of 2020, confirming contemporary prog-folk act Bellowhead still to be in big demand despite not performing their traditional dance tunes, folk songs and shanties live since 2016.
The stream led to pleas for more and now the stars have aligned for Jon Biden, John Spiers, Sam Sweeney and co to assemble once more next autumn to toast fourth album Broadside’s tenth birthday.
Produced by John Leckie for release on October 15 2012, Broadside gave Bellowhead their first Top 20 entry in the UK Official Album Charts and features the BBC Radio 2-playlisted singles Roll The Woodpile Down and 10,000 Miles Away.
Bellowhead say: “The reaction to the online concert was overwhelming and we really did enjoy playing together again. The tenth anniversary of Broadside presented an opportunity for us to take things one step further and get back out on the road. We couldn’t say no! It’s going to be lots of fun. Hope you’ll join us for the party.”
Support on all dates will come from Sam Sweeney and his band. Stroud fiddler Sweeney is not only a Bellowhead “veteran” (serving from 2008 to 2016 and now back on the front line) but also former artistic director of the National Folk Youth Ensemble.
Last year, Sweeney released his second solo album, Unearth Repeat; last Friday, he played a sold-out gig at the National Centre for Early Music, York, with Jack Rutter, acoustic guitar, Louis Campbell, electric guitar, and Ben Nicholls, double bass.
Bellowhead formed in 2004; played to thousands of people at festivals and on tour; recorded five studio albums, selling more than 250,000 copies; received two silver discs and won eight BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards before parting ways in 2016. Next autumn’s reunion itinerary is being billed as a “special one-off tour”.
AFTER years of speculation, English folk duo Spiers & Boden are back together.
Last month came the album Fallow Ground on the Yorkshire label Hudson Records: the herald to a 23-date autumn tour that visits Pocklington Arts Centre for a sold-out 8pm show on Wednesday.
First forming the duo in 2001, melodeon and concertina player John Spiers, now 46, and singer, fiddler and guitarist Jon Boden, 44, became leading lights in pioneering big folk band Bellowhead, resting their “double act” in 2014 before the Bellowhead juggernaut roared off into the sunset in 2016.
“We always thought of it as a hiatus rather than us ending the duo in 2014,” says Boden. “We stopped because Bellowhead were taking over. We were fighting against the tide in terms of time being available and media attention.
“It felt like the right time to focus on Bellowhead, but that said, since Bellowhead’s finale, we seem to have taken it in turns to be busy. When I was busy, working with The Remnant Kings, John wasn’t; when he was, I was twiddling my thumbs, and then along came the pandemic.”
Boden duly completed his post-apocalyptic trilogy with his fifth solo album, Last Mile Home, recorded in Spring and Summer 2020 at home and in a Sheffield industrial unit for release in March with its theme of a walk through wasteland to a mystical coastal destination with messages of hope and renewal en route.
“The last album in the climate-change concept trilogy, set a few years’ hence, is more nature focused, describing an older couple who have lived in the wild by themselves for years and are now making a valedictory journey from moor to coast,” he says.
“Certainly, in my mind, it’s about walking from Sheffield to the Lincolnshire coast, but I’m also interested in the idea that if you’re using an album as a format for telling a story, you can leave a lot more gaps for people to fill in the story for themselves.”
Once Boden’s trilogy was complete, Boden & Spiers set to work on resuming their fiddle and melodeon partnership. “The last time we were seriously putting original material together, before Vagabond [their fifth album, released in 2008], we were both living in Oxford, meeting once a week,” says Boden.
“This time, we decided pre-pandemic to start up again, and then had to come up with slightly more thought-out suggestions before taking it further, at first meeting up in a strictly distanced format.”
Recording sessions subsequently took place between lockdowns. “We decided it shouldn’t be a radical departure from before, but traditional or in the tradition. We wouldn’t be doing a thrash metal rock opera or anything like that. It would be in a familiar vein,” says Boden.
“It’s such a long time since we came up with anything new that it’s just exciting to be working together again.”
They settled on a combination of rambunctious melodies and contemplative ballads, mixing Morris tunes with tunes brought to the 21st century from dusty manuscripts, bolstered by their own gift for conjuring tunes.
Spiers “used his intuition” to finish off Bampton fiddler William Henry Giles’s incomplete Funney Eye, discovered in a 19th century manuscript; Bluey Brink finds the duo dipping into the Australian folk world for the first time, from the repertoire of Peter Bellamy, complemented by Bellamy’s Butter And Cheese in a version by Sam Larner known as The Greasy Cook, The Cook’s Choice or, more intriguingly, Cupboard Love.
The title track, also known as As I Stood Under My Love’s Window, or more prosaically The Cock, is an unusual traditional love song, neither boasting of conquest, nor lamenting betrayal or abandonment.
Original composition Bailey Hill/Wittenham Clumps combines a tune by Boden with one by Spiers, both parts taking a name from a hill with significance for the duo, while Giant’s Waltz/The Ironing Board Hornpipe was inspired by the Giant’s Causeway. Spiers contributed The Fog too.
The Fallow Ground title refers not only to Spiers & Boden’s 2014 decision to put the duo to one side but also to the pandemic’s impact, drawing a red line through concerts for months on end.
Nevertheless, the album strikes a positive tone. “I guess we were looking for songs during lockdown with a sense of fun and light relief,” says Boden. “I realise that there are zero songs about death on Fallow Ground, which is probably a first and may get us expelled from the English Folk Dance & Song Society. Yes, these are traditional songs with a joyous edge.”
Such positivity mirrors Boden’s tone on his climate-change trilogy. “I started off by assuming the first album [2009’s Songs From The Floodplain] might be quite dark and dystopian, but half way through I found I was being drawn to an almost utopian ideal of existing in the moment, existing within nature,” he says.
“It ended up being, not celebratory, but more optimistic, not about climate change, but for the human possibilities of adapting and finding positive solutions.”
Now, a mood of celebration does apply as Spiers & Boden return to the road, but how would Boden define the two-decade chemistry that has sparked up once more? “It’s such a subtle thing with folk-tune playing, particularly with English tunes, where it’s about swing but not too much swing,” he says.
“You think about how other melodeon players might play, but with us, it’s all about how much swing to put in, and that’s because I learned to play English tunes with John, where previously I played Irish tunes.
“There’s a thing about the melodeon and fiddle in that each instrument does what the other can’t do, so there’s no fighting over territory because they do such different jobs, and that’s why they are the perfect match – and why there have been so many fiddle and box duos.
“The reason we clicked together from the beginning is that we recognised something in each other’s approach; something I was doing with songs and he was doing with tunes, though I’ve now got more involved with the tunes and John with the songwriting.”
Meanwhile, should you be wondering whether Bellowhead will ever play together again, keep up! They already have for a one-off concert streamed worldwide by Stabal TV in December 2020, marking the tenth anniversary of their third album, Hedonism.
The live session recording at a mansion house near London has now been released this summer as an album, Reassembled, on double LP vinyl , CD and digital formats.
“Andy Mellon, our trumpet player, was busy writing for the BBC so he felt he wouldn’t be able to get match-fit to play together again, but the rest of us managed to squeeze in the concert between lockdowns, and it was great to play again,” says Boden.
“I was a bit worried, thinking, ‘how will it feel when we’re having to keep two metres apart and there’ll be no-audience’, but it was absolutely brilliant. Just such a joy, after nine months, to be able to play music with people in the same room and especially with people who hadn’t played together for five years.
“We just had to remember not to stand too close to each other, and the remarkable thing was just how well we played, maybe because we were all nervous about it, so we all worked really hard in preparation.”
Spiers & Boden play Pocklington Arts Centre on Wednesday at 8pm; doors, 7.30pm. Sold out.
One final question for Jon Boden:
You composed the scores for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions of The Merchant Of Venice in 2011 and The Winter’s Tale in 2013 (toured to the Grand Opera House, York, that March). Will there be further theatrical collaborations, Jon?
“I’ve done bits and bobs of theatre since then, most recently for Goat & Monkey’s national tour of Toby Hulse’s play The Pirate Cruncher in 2019. That was great fun, and I’m still in touch with theatre friends, but nothing ever quite happens, even though we say, ‘oh, we must do something’.
“The problem has always been – and a lot of musicians find this difficult – the time scale involved because, surprisingly, theatre is done within a much smaller time frame, bringing the cast and creative team together only three months before the production, sometimes less, whereas bands book gigs 18 months in advance, so there’s often an unavoidable clash of commitments.”
AFTER years of speculation, much-loved English folk duo Spiers & Boden are back together, working on new material and bringing a live show to Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) this autumn.
John Spiers, 46, and Jon Boden, 44, former leading lights of big folk band Bellowhead, will perform in Pock on Wednesday, October 20.
PAC director Janet Farmer says: “Spiers & Boden are a fantastic addition to our live events programme, and the fact that Pocklington Arts Centre will be one of their first live dates after they re-formed as a duo, following a hiatus of several years, is just incredible. Tickets have only just gone on sale and are already selling fast.
“We cannot wait to welcome this talented duo, and of course our wonderful audience, through our doors for what will be an utterly brilliant night of world–class live music.”
Forming a folk duo in 2001, Spiers & Boden won a clutch of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards: the Horizon Award for Best Newcomerin 2003 and the Best Duo Award in 2004 and 2006.
A sojourn in Eliza Carthy & The Ratcatchers included a performance at the Mercury Music Prize Awards. After years of touring, in 2011 they headlined their own star-studded show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire to celebrate their tenth anniversary.
Meanwhile, they had built on their early success as a duo to found the ground-breaking folk big band Bellowhead, going on to achieve Royal Albert Hall sell-outs, Proms In The Park successes, multiple awards, signing to Universal Records en route to 250,000 album sales, and headlining PAC’s Platform Festival at The Old Station, Pocklington, in July 2015.
Inevitably, Bellowhead increasingly dominated their time and in 2014 Spiers & Boden made the tough decision to rest the duo, with Bellowhead bowing out two years later.
Since then, Boden has carved out a career as both a solo performer and with his own band, Jon Boden & The Remnant Kings, while continuing to work on his creative trilogy of albums exploring a post-apocalyptic world and his work writing music for theatre. On November 6 2017, he launched his album Afterglow with a solo gig at Pocklington Arts Centre.
Melodeon player Spiers formed performance collaborations with fiddler Peter Knight, of Steeleye Span and Feast Of Fiddles, and separately folk singer and fiddler Jackie Oates.
He is a member too of the Gigspanner Big Band, with Knight, percussionist Sacha Trochet, guitarist Roger Flack and the multi-instrumental Edgelarks duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin.
What an autumn week this is shaping up to be at PAC: Irish chanteuse Mary Coughlan on October 19, Spiers & Boden, October 20, and Texas-born singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman on October 23. Tickets for Spiers & Boden’s 8pm Pocklington concert cost £20 at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.