The professional bit:
For anyone impatient to hear more from all-star folk band Bellowhead, the past few days have been a rare treat. Following Thursday’s Playhouse appearance by Benji Kirkpatrick and Paul Sartin as part of Faustus, last night saw the Maze play host to Bellowhead’s key founder members: singer and violinist Jon Boden, backed by John Spiers on melodeon and concertina.
Where Faustus focus on finely balanced three-way counterpoints (*), Spiers and Boden take a more straight-up traditional approach, with Spiers providing a solid, unflashy backdrop to his partner’s resonant vocals and amazing fiddle playing.
Clocking in at over two and a half hours, the duo’s marathon set showcased many numbers from their fifth album Vagabond. As befits its title, these were songs of rebels, wastrels, pirates, beggars… and even a certain Mr. Hood, whose conception and birth in the “good green-wood” provided the subject matter for a fine epic ballad.
Amongst the many splendid jigs, the irresistible Sloe Gin – as recently popularised by Bellowhead and The Imagined Village – made a welcome appearance.
The evening finished with a surprise non-traditional choice from the Tom Waits songbook: a lilting, yearning Innocent When You Dream, which had the crowd softly singing along, almost to themselves.
The amateur bit:
(*) The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that this is the third consecutive gig review in which I have used the word “counterpoint”. Are counterpoints the new curveballs? Perhaps they are.
(In truth, I filched the observation from K, who described Faustus as “more contrapuntal” and Spiers/Boden as “more chordal”. I love it when he talks dirty.)
Boden, it has to be said, looked physically knackered – pasty-faced and red-eyed, in the manner of a new dad who hadn’t slept for a few weeks – which made the two and a half hour set all the more remarkable. To further emphasise the already significant height difference between his lanky frame and Spiers’ altogether squatter construction, Boden performed on top of a wooden box, which K reckoned was miked up, in order to add resonance to his all-important foot-stamping.
(Faustus were all about the feet, as well. I may be new to the folk scene, but I’m learning fast.)