Jon Boden is a one-man music phenomenon: as well as composing for films and theatre, he’s one half of duo Spiers & Boden and the charismatic front-man of hugely popular folk-rock band Bellowhead. Ahead of Spiers & Boden’s final appearance at the Key Theatre in May, The Moment online chatted to Jon about the folk revival, the corporate music jungle – and breaking up the band…
So, this is the Spiers & Boden farewell tour! How did you and John come to the decision to wind up the duo and also, what can fans expect from the set you’ll be playing?
The decision to stop Spiers & Boden… it’s a product of the success of Bellowhead, which is a positive reason for splitting up. We’d got to the point where it was just too difficult to keep both bands going at the same time, we were competing with ourselves, a bit, so we felt it was time to focus on one or the other – Bellowhead keeps going from strength to strength so it seems silly to not run with it. Plus we’ve both got young families, and partners who appreciate us being home! In terms of what we’re going to be playing, we’re playing favourite tracks from all our albums, actually quite a few from our first one, nothing radically different to normal, but it’s been nice because we’re really enjoying playing, I guess as we’re aware it’s our last tour.
‘We’ve all grown together, often out of our own comfort zones’
Does Bellowhead feel like a very separate thing from Spiers & Boden, or has there been a notable evolution from one to the other?
It very much started as an evolution of what we were doing: literally the set that we first played was all Spiers & Boden, but expanded; the first EP and even the first album, the first four tracks were all Spiers & Boden. And then it really nicely, gradually evolved to being in its own territory, because new people have come in and we’ve all got very specific ideas about our own instruments in Bellowhead, and that meant we have quite different approaches to arrangements. After that initial period we stopped just doing Spiers & Boden because of all the different ideas, and what’s interesting is how we’ve all grown together, often out of our own comfort zones. So yes, it’s very different territory now, with Bellowhead – the thing that isn’t different is conflict in terms of a resource issue for both bands: we’re both focused on traditional songs so every time in the last ten years I’ve found an old song I thought was a goer, I’ve had to decide which band to allocate it to. And it’s a finite resource, old songs. And as time’s gone on I’ve more and more leaned towards Bellowhead arrangements rather than Spiers & Boden arrangements, because that’s where the demand seems to lie.
‘I don’t go out in the field with a tape recorder looking for old farmers who remember old songs. To be fair it’s getting harder and harder to do that anyway…’
You’re known for re-discovering old songs to re-arrange and perform – in doing this do you feel there’s an element of archiving and preserving in your work, perhaps almost an academic aspect, as well as a creative one?
To an extent, yes. I think of myself as a mid-point between the academic end of the folk scene, and the audience. I feel there’s a responsibility on performers such as ourselves to be as familiar as we can be with that academic background, so when we talk on-stage about what we’re playing we can do so with some authority – part of the experience is that people come away knowing a little bit more about the music. But I don’t ever claim to be a collector, you know, I don’t go out in the field with a tape recorder looking for old farmers who remember old songs. To be fair it’s getting harder and harder to do that anyway.
Folk is very much about getting together in a room and playing music live, enjoying yourself and perhaps a few people joining in and so forth. But that’s at odds with the modern music model which is tracks being studio-based, lots of production, radio play. How do you deal with this contrast?
Yes, the two things are quite different. The touchstone of folk music is that, in its purest essence, you’re doing it for fun, you’re doing it in the pub and it’s an extension of an ordinary social life – that’s why I got into folk music in the first place, the bug that I caught. But once you… [cont]
Jon Boden: ‘I think that we’re bringing a lot of new people into this music…’ 1 2