Monday 24 March 2014


Live Review

Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton

Bellowhead breakaways John Spiers and Jon Boden are on their last ever farewell tour as a duo, for now at least.

John Spiers and Jon Boden
They do of course have their own styles and quirks but you can't really get away from the distinct sound of their wider interest Bellowhead mostly because fiddle player and singer Boden is the voice of the collective.
Although as a duo with melodeon player Spiers he has a much softer edge, perhaps because he is not competing against the orchestra of sound from the larger band.
This makes for a much cosier and enjoyable experience because as a member of the audience you are not bombarded by the incredibly but sometimes overwhelming sound of Bellowhead.
The pair opened with The Rambling Sailor which is a lively, traditional tune which feels like a mixture of hornpipe and morris dancing. What strikes you most, and it's surely down to their expertise, but for just two musicians they produce a surprisingly full sound.
This gave way to a softer air, Courting Too Slow, linked to the first by its narrative and gave Boden the first opportunity to really settle in his fiddle with the bellows of Spiers. It also gave him a chance to show off some of the range of his voice which can often be overwhelmed by the complex sounds of his other incarnation as the front man with Bellowhead.
They upped the tempo with a couple of jigs introduced by Spiers, The Oswestry Wake/Morgan Rattler which eventually opened with the luscious tones of Boden's fiddle after being put of his stride by his partner's attempts at dancing.
The Wake was a real footstomper which the audience were happy to do in lieu of not getting up and dancing as Spiers tried to cajole them into.
There was a complete change of pace and mood with The Outlandish Knight from their Bellow album. The song is a wonderfully dark tale of treachery and murder just like many a good folk tune. Boden's staccato bouncing of his bow across his fiddle strings gave the broken tune a menacing sound.
Spiers then left his musical partner to sing and play solo using his mandola. Boden took one from his solo album Songs From The Floodplain, We Do What We Can a gentle ballad which showed more of Boden's versatility both as a musician and a singer.
Spiers and Boden their last tour as a duo
With Spiers back on stage it was time to get any morris dancers going with a trio of tunes from the Bellow album Jack Robinson/Argiers/Old Tom of Oxford. which gave the appreciative audience their money's worth lasting for more than five minutes and getting feet stamping and hands clapping with gusto.
Spiers' melodeon took the tempo at first with the middle piece being a softer rendition from Boden's fiddle before they both then went for the big finish. To end the first half they went out with Captain Ward from the Vagabond album which was another lengthy and lively tune.
They came back for the second half with Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy a lively hornpipe-style rendition from their 2006 album Through and Through and which was pushed along nicely behind Boden's voice with Spiers' melodeon playing. This segued nicely into Spiers' lone accordion playing which began building slowly with Boden's pulling at the strings of his fiddle on which the tune also ended giving an eerie quality to the finish. Boden again took up the mandola for the opening of Bold Sir Rylas which featured on their latest album The Works and was again one of those songs which evokes visions of maypoles, men in bizarre costumes and bells on the village green.
It was then Spiers' turn to play solo with Red Kites from their first album together as a duo Through and Through. The tune started off quite gently and had almost a Parisian quality to it and it's one of those tunes which you always feel is building up to something but never quite gets there.
With Boden back on stage they moved into Tom Padget another epic song which starts quite slowly and throws in a little footstomping rhythm from Spiers to keep things on the hop. Towards the close of their gig they pulled out another from their Bellow album, The Sloe Gin set which really got the audience clapping and stomping along. Before coming back on for the obligatory encore they went out with Haul Away which they also perform in a much bigger way with Bellowhead.

There are a few more gigs in the Midlands where on May 18 they play The Courtyard, Edgar Street, Hereford. HR4 9JR with the show starting at 7.30pm. Box office: 01432 340 555. On May 20 they play Theatre Severn, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ again at 7.30pm. Box office: 01743 281 281. There is also a concert the following night at The Red Lion Folk Club, Birmingham but please note this concert is sold out. The followin night, May 22, they play the Y Theatre, East Street, Leicester, the show again starts at 7.30pm. Box office: 0116 255 7066.

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