[prev] …get into the entertainment industry the problem is trying to bring some of that atmosphere onto the stage, and it’s difficult – as soon as you put it on a stage you change its nature, you’re no longer in a pub session situation. A lot of it is held in the music, fortunately: just by playing the songs their ‘genetic imprint’ and social function becomes clear, and it’s the job of a good performer to bring that out.
Many bands complain that they’re asked to record in a manner that isn’t natural or enjoyable: stopping and starting, lines being spliced together, rather than just playing. Is this how you’re asked to lay down tracks, or are you able to simply play and get it magnetised in the old-fashioned way?
We’ve done it both ways, and it’s a question of what you want to do. Once you stick something on a CD you change its nature anyway, and whilst you could stick a microphone in a pub for an evening and at the end of it say, ‘here, that’s what we do’, you have to live by the rules of the world you’re going into. So, if you’re making a CD and you want it to be played on the radio, you have to accept it’s going to be played next to a track by… I don’t know, Elton John or something! You have to have the production, although some CDs we have said, ‘right, let’s just go in and play’ and actually with Spiers & Boden our most successful album to date was us just playing in a big room – it was great! I do get slightly concerned that people think that a CD is like the real thing when it’s not, it’s like a photograph, and you can’t get cross that a photograph isn’t real life!
‘We just came round the corner after they’d done all the hard work, and picked up from there!’
Folk is enjoying a huge revival at the moment, and you – as part of Spiers & Boden and Bellowhead – are, arguably, at least partly responsible for this. How does it feel to be at the centre of such a vibrant, successful scene?
It’s fantastic. We came along at a good time in that quite a bit of the serious groundwork had been done in terms of redressing the balance of the dark days of the 80s, by the likes of people such as Kate Rusby. Then we just came round the corner after they’d done all the hard work, and picked up from there! We’re really just part of the team. With Bellowhead, I don’t think anyone was… pushing it, until we took it up, so it doesn’t feel as though we’re competing with anyone. I think that we’re bringing a lot of new people into this music, but my long-term concern is very much about ‘the scene’: I think it’s often overlooked what a remarkable social occurrence the English folk scene is, it’s a massive movement. But there’s no room for complacency, because while folk has now secured its place on the metaphorical CD rack of modern British culture, what I’m not so sure about is that social scene and whether it can sustain the critical mass of new people coming into it. In 20 years time, that generation from the 60s who started it all off, they’re not going to be getting out to pub sessions, but the backbone of the scene is very much that group of people, who are totally committed and who really go for it.
‘If someone starts singing in a pub they’ll most likely get kicked out because people just don’t understand’
In a nutshell, my big worry is, in 20 years time if I want to go and sit in a pub and sing some sort of Copper Family-style songs with people who recognise where I’m coming from, am I going to be able to do that? It’s not just relating to the licensing laws, it’s a cultural thing: it’s more of a leap for people now than it was in the 60s, if someone starts singing in a pub they’ll most likely get kicked out because people just don’t understand. In Ireland it’s different, if you walk into a pub and someone starts singing, people will listen and then probably buy them a drink; here, everyone would think that person was a weirdo. People expect to go to pubs to be entertained, but to receive entertainment, not to be part of it. They might expect live music but they want to see a PA, a ‘proper performer’, have the choice of whether to listen or to ignore the performance. What they don’t expect is someone at the pub, like they are at the pub, to start making music. It makes people very uncomfortable sometimes. So I think the folk scene needs to come out of the function room – it’s a very healthy scene, but it’s segregated, and you need to pay some money to go into it. There may be a folk club in the room upstairs at a pub, but some regulars might never have been.
Who would you most like to perform with, dead or alive?
Peter Bellamy, who I sadly only discovered some years after he died. And I’m told that were he still alive he would have loved to have been in Bellowhead, so if I could bring him back from the grave it would definitely be him.
So, what does the future hold, in Bellowhead and possibly without? Maybe America is on the cards?
I don’t think America is particularly on the cards. The problem is getting 15 people all with different schedules, including sound engineers and so forth, on a plane at the same time, it’s a big undertaking. There’s still a lot to be done in terms of finding an audience in the UK, and we are gradually branching out into Europe: Belgium, Holland. We played a gig in Ireland earlier this year, which was fantastic!
Spiers & Boden
Sunday, 11 May, 7.30 pm
Key Theatre, Embankment Road, Peterborough
Jon Boden: ‘I think that we’re bringing a lot of new people into this music…’ 1 2