It seems that a stage hasn’t been graced by this many high calibre members of the folk fraternity since Bellowhead, with the possible exception of the Wayward band. A string trio and brass section filled out the textures with rich arrangements, dancing between rich walls of sound and melodic phrases whilst Boden took centre stage, displaying his talent for multi-instrumentalism and storytelling through song. Add to that Sam Sweeney playing percussion and decorating with fragments of fine fiddle playing, and Paul Sartin effortlessly switching between Cor Anglais, Oboe and Violin, and you already have a fearsome ensemble.
However, it doesn’t stop there. When Bellowhead last graced the stage of the Lighthouse in Poole, they were supported by the Kings of the South Seas. Jon Boden has welcomed them into fold and they bring a wealth of colour and nuance to the Remnant Kings, Boden’s band for the Afterglow tour. The end result is dreamy guitar with strains of prog-rock, the droning accompaniment of the concertina, and the grounding growl of the double bass and it’s electric cousin.
Together, this incredible collection of musicians performed the entirety of Afterglow, Boden’s latest solo project. Hearing the album in this way makes sense as it was conceived as a concept album, telling the story of lovers meeting one night against the backdrop of a post apocalyptic future. Here oil has dwindled and many of the luxuries we take for granted are no longer in evidence. Buildings crumble and fires burn in the streets. The songs paint a picture of a more simple existence and also one that was altogether harder. Between songs Boden spoke of the rise of rival factions and the re-emergence of folk traditions as people looked within their own communities once more.
A frustration worth mentioning was the general sound within The Lighthouse’s Wessex Hall. The room seemed to disperse many of the frequencies in the range of the fiddles and Boden’s voice. The end result was the lyrical content was sometimes lost within the rich arrangements and the fiddles were easily lost in the larger pieces.The performances, however, were faultless, and the combined effect of the expansive writing across this folk orchestra was powerful and uplifting. There were also moments of contrast, with the band members variously taking a break to allow smaller, more intimate textures to take the spotlight. In one such piece, Boden played against the string trio bringing a flavour of Sondheim and hints of the dark writing that underpins his Sweeney Todd musical.
In the most minimal moments Boden performed with nothing but guitar, and it was a joy to hear him waltz through an arrangement of ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. It retained the magic that it had when I first heard him play this delicate arrangement at the Cambridge Folk Festival over a year before. This clever choice of covers carried over into the after show session by the bar where a number of popular favourites received the traditional treatment. Interspersed among genuine traditional tunes and an a’capella number from a confident audience member, it was almost like being in a folk club or session. The keen onlookers kept the beer flowing for the musicians and the session carried us into the end of the night.
Words: Lee Cuff
Photos: Jo Elkington
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