Hard to believe that 2016 sees the first ever Jon Boden solo tour. A man who fingers have rested in many pies from being a Rat Catcher with Eliza Catrhy to the duo work with John Spiers to fronting his own Remnant Kings and beyond. He's now part of a stripped back dream team with Andy Bell onboard the sound desk and a set designed by Emma Thompson (of Sam Sweeney's Made in the Great War and Bellowhead fame) making sure that he's not going to do an Adam Ant; stand and deliver, but to give a show in an intimate set up. Aside from the ominous 'fiddle Icarus' standing guard he's surrounded by flickering light sticks and a battery of instruments and paraphernalia which add an slightly ramshackle intimacy which may have arguably looked better in the tighter confines of a theatre rather than the more expansive alternative while The Met's refurb enters its final few weeks. However, the key thing is that Jon Boden is to seeing him much more at ease essentially doing what he wants - simply getting out and singing without being a cog in the machinery of the huge beast which his former main job had become. Not just a first solo tour but one where a theme seems to have been developed - hence the subtitle. Granted there's been something of a promotional push with the dramatic vision of the iconic fiddle winged man - all very Angel of the North cum Icarus - which also not only forms the backdrop to the stage show but a representation maybe of his first solo flight. Boldly flying solo but hopefully not too close to the sun.
The healthy sell out in Bury shows his pulling power remains, which it has to be said is, possibly makes more financial sense than playing with an large band in a bigger room but having to divvy up the booty into much smaller chunks. Anyway. Although with no new album or product to sell or promote, aside from some snazzy shopping bags which seem to be the new black for any self respecting merch stand, it's not that he's short on material. Playing fiddle, guitar and concertina, the folk song and tune catalogue is sufficiently vast for him to dip into, as seen in the Boden 'Folk Song A Day' archive plus he has the recorded legacies of Bellowhead and his own solo albums from which to choose. The recent re-issue of his 'Painted Lady' debut gives a chance for him to air the three new recordings included on that album including the one made famous by Whitney which is a rather splendid 'I Want To Dance With Somebody' and 'All Hang Down' the temperance marching song and its transformation into a drinking song cum sea shanty. 'Blue Dress' sees him shifting positions to deliver with the trench ambience of the concertina and the title track with some jazzy electric guitar, not for the first time showing he's an underrated and underused guitarist.
The excellent 'Songs From The Floodplain' album was farmed for 'Days Gone By' and the 'Has Been Cavalry' ("retirement stabling for the horsemen of the apocalypse") which provided a reminder that it's an album well worth a revisit. Perhaps more for more for what he didn't play with several gems to discover in there. And of course, there's the familiar, call it almost expected - giving the masses them what they want or hope for. A few songs from the Bellowhead days make the cut, opening with a droning 'Rigs Of The Times' and '10,000 Miles Away' which ease the open the set.
Something that's less familiar which provides the centrepiece of the set right on the stroke of half time. The unaccompanied version of 'Rose In June' from the 'Folk Song A Day' website (http://www.afolksongaday.com/?p=84) paling into insignificance with the intenseversion with subtle backing. A song from the late nineteenth century which covers the religious theme of the power of belief and the power of song singing together (despite having no chorus…), it epitomises what Jon Boden is all about. Despite not being a religious man he delivered it with a passion and a fervour which would have you taking up the good book or at least enrolling on the Alpha Course. Well worth looking into as well with a fascinating background - the song that is, not the Alpha Course…
A selection of drone backed fiddle tunes come and go and suddenly the show comes full circle with a couple of songs given life breath and made more recognisable from a previous life. The epic stomp and swirl of 'Jordan' and the subtle guitar picked march 'Roll Alabama' see out the set and an encore with a song which has been very good to Mr B, 'New York Girls' provide the common ground and primer to Jon Boden as a solo musician. A path which looks like one which is going to be one whose progress will be nothing if not stimulating.
Mike Ainscoe - Words & Pictures
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