Review | Spiers & Boden at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea: 'Almost telepathic communication'

The last time I saw these two gents on stage together it was for the farewell tour of the 11-headed folk monster they co-founded – Bellowhead.

Monday, 11th October 2021, 4:31 pm
Spiers and Boden at The Wedgewood Rooms, October 6, 2021. Picture by Chris Broom

Spiers and Boden had been put on hold to concentrate on the bigger band.

While Bellowhead achieved more than they could have hoped for, becoming festival headliners and crossing over to become Radio2 staples, they called time in 2016 when frontman Jon Boden wanted to pursue other projects.

However, John Spiers and Jon Boden have now decided to reunite as a duo.

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Boden plays the fiddle and occasional guitar, while Spiers uses a variety of melodeons and concertinas – both sing.

And even though this is their first tour together in several years, they’ve clearly slipped back into a comfortable relationship – the unspoken communication between them as they play is almost telepathic.

Boden takes the lead with much of the between-song patter – part folk-music history lesson, part stand-up.

After the wryly comic opener Butter & Cheese & All, Boden tells us they wanted to get the ‘serious songs out of the way early.’

The show is a mix of traditional folk songs, ‘mostly 200 years old – 150 for the more “now” ones’, given the Spiers and Boden twist, and tunes trad and those penned by the pair.

It’s because of one of the latter efforts that the dressing room’s ironing board makes an impromptu and slightly bizarre appearance on stage during the Spiers-written Ironing Board Hornpipe.

The songs are your standard folk tales of love gone wrong, murder, magic, and drinking – occasionally all together. Oh, and whaling.

The latter, Old Maui, is introduced with Boden telling us how it’s sometimes difficult to sympathise with the life choices of the songs’ characters as judged against modern standards – but this one isn’t so bad as it’s about taking a holiday rather than killing.

The new album’s title track is introduced as being about ‘a psychopath having a fight with a witch.’

There follows a rollocking tale which Boden claims they like to play with by changing the outcome of the fight each time they play it. I guess you need to see more than one night of the tour to find out if that’s true…

They finish with a stomping Prickle-Eye Bush (more death!), but are, of course called back for an encore.

Boden claims that ‘We've run out of our songs, so here's a cover,’ before they launch in to Bellowhead’s New York Girls, which duly brings the house down.

While the duo may not provide the full-blooded thrill of the big band, it is good to see them on stage together again.

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