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Two cheers or three? Spiers and Boden back. Bellowhead sort of back

Thanks to John Spiers for spotting that a reference to his album with Jon Boden as Fallow Road. The caption in question has been corrected - it's Fallow Ground, of course -  and I apologise to the lads for the sloppy error

Here is some good news, and a piece of even better news, for lovers of superior English folk music.

In glorious defiance of the wretched impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on music, Bellowhead and the duo formed by its founder members, John Spiers and Jon Boden, have come up with new albums.



Fallow Ground, from Spiers and Boden, is the better of the two news items since it launches their comeback, the album to be followed - doubtless subject to where the Johnson variant has led us all by then - by a 23-date tour that includes a full day event at Cecil Sharp House, headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society,  on October 9.

The album, conceived before the pandemic, builds on the punchy virtuosity of both men - Spiers on accordion and melodeon, Boden on fiddle - and Boden's compelling and utterly distinctive vocals, a combination that always underpinned one of the greatest and most invigorating pairings English folk has produced.

It is an instantly infectious collection of mostly traditional songs and tunes, though the title evokes the effects of the crisis on their trade as well as their chosen break from performing together.



Jon Boden and John Spiers. Courtesy of the folkimages site


Bellowhead Reassembled is not (yet) quite what might be hoped from such a title.

Whenever I find myself yearning for a full return to live and studio work, I remember that 11 musicians playing 20 instruments would confront any band with a mighty economic and logistical challenge. And I think back to the wonderful but predictably short-lived Irish supergroup Arcady. 

But Bellowhead did reform temporarily during lockdown, first to record remotely from their various homes and then to stage an audience-free concert  last December that sold 10,000 online tickets and yielded the live album now available. 

Bellowhead was a bold and scintillating experiment in the presentation of folk music and I offer the fervent hope that a public starved of live music would rush, post-pandemic, to make it a proper comeback seem a viable option.

Two of the people whose views on music i most respect are Bill Taylor, a Salut! Live contributor and a friend of closer to 60 than 50 years, and my granddaughter Maya, all of 12 but blessed with a remarkable musical ear. Both have been known to drool over Bellowhead and that is good enough for me.

A recent item here, about the Bellowhead version of Broomfield Hill, prompted this interesting exchange:

Bill Taylor: This is superb! I didn't know Bellowhead at all. I see there's quite a bit of their stuff on Spotify so I must go delving into it.
One question, though, and I'm not being entirely facetious: "11 musicians, playing 20 or more instruments including percussion and brass..." can that still be counted as folk music, or is it a small orchestra performing a folk song? I'm trying to picture jamming that lot onto the beer-crate stage at the Aclet...
Is there a boundary between one and the other? What would Ewan finger-in-his-ear MacColl think?
And does it matter a damn, given the sheer excellence of Bellowhead's rendition?


John Spiers:  Ha! Yes - some interesting points ... the idea that folk music was always purely a participatory activity and never meant as performance is a common bogus position ... ... but the sheer complexity of that particular arrangement is unlikely to have emerged in the pub from someone who spent all day at work in the fields! All I know is that many members of the band have a deep love of traditional music and it shows in that performance ...
... Broomfield Hill was always one of my favourite ones to play (it wasn't hard for me - I just played concertina and melodeon full on for my bits) ... I was spared the more orchestral parts which - when the band got it right - were absolutely stunning live.

Broomfield Hill does not appear on Bellowhead Reassembled. So I have chosen, to illustrate this article, a piece Maya particular likes, Cross Eyed and Chinless, in which the various instruments seem - as she observed while listening in the car - to talk to one another.


And in the absence of a readily available track to embed here from their new album (though I think the title can be reached at this link) , I offer Spiers and Boden with some more lockdown fun, a remote production of Prickleye Bush complete with a staged false start.



*** Fallow Ground release date by Hudson Records: September 17 2021


** Fallow Ground Comeback Tour 


Tues 28th St. David’s Hall, Cardiff

Wed 29th Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan

Thu 30th Redgrave Theatre, Bristol


Fri 1st The Regal, Tenbury Wells

Sat 2nd Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham

Sun 3rd Exeter Phoenix

Mon 4th Cheese & Grain, Frome

Tue 5th Komedia, Brighton

Wed 6th Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms

Fri 8th Revelation, Ashford

Sat 9th FULL DAY The Spiers & Boden Festival at Cecil Sharp House, London

Sun 10th Chipping Norton Theatre

Mon 11th Nettlebed Village Club, Nr Henley on Thames

Tue 12th The Corn Hall, Diss

Sat 16th Hartlepool Folk Festival

Mon 18th Colchester Arts Centre

Tue 19th Cambridge Junction

Wed 20th Pocklington Arts Centre

Thu 21st Manchester Folk Festival

Fri 22nd The Live Room, Saltaire

Sun 24th The Music Room, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall *matinee and evening shows

Mon 25th Rheolwr Neuadd Ogwen, Bethesda, Bangor

Tues 26th Aberystwyth Arts Centre



Bill Taylor

Good news to hear and great music to hear. Cross-Eyed and Chinless is the sort of title the wonderful Penguin Cafe Orchestra would have chosen and there are elements of the tune and arrangement that have echoes of the Penguins. But it's also very much folk-oriented. A lovely bit of whimsy.
The false start to Prickleye Bush may be staged but it's very nicely done. And the song is terrific. It was your Phil who used to sing Pricketty Bush at the Aclet, wasn't it? But, as I recall, with rather different words to the verses. This version is more reminiscent of Gallows Pole, as notably performed by Led Zeppelin (and did you ever think to see a link to Zep on Salut! Live?)
It's one of my favourites from their catalogue. But I prefer the way Spiers & Boden do it, cod false start and all.

Bill Taylor

Whoops! Having touted the link, I forgot to include it....

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