Spiers and Boden

Live Review | The Civic Theatre, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

It’s been a while since I was able to get to a gig on foot, not counting the five mile walk I did with John Jones and others from Holmfirth to Shepley back in May, but the first on my own doorstep so to speak.  The Civic Theatre in Doncaster has been part of my life since childhood and having the opportunity to see such acts as Spiers & Boden there once again is fantastically encouraging.  Their appearance at the venue tonight was part of the annual Doncaster Hothouse Festival, which was launched back in 2005 and has grown in reputation over the ensuing years, with a concerted effort to prepare for the forthcoming new cultural centre, which promises to continue bringing good music and arts to Doncaster.  Promoting their new ‘best of’ album The Works (2011), John Spiers and Jon Boden delighted a 200-plus audience at the theatre, with a revitalised overview of the duo’s ten-year career as one of the UK’s finest folk duos.  Alternating between a variety of boxes, including a couple of melodeons and English concertina, and fiddle and guitar respectively, augmented by Jon Boden’s trademark stomp box, adding a notable percussive feel to the songs and tunes, the duo revisited some of their older repertoire, recently re-recorded with the help of some notable guests such as Eliza Carthy, Maddy Prior, Martins Carthy and Simpson and Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, to name but a few.  It seems so long ago now since Paul Adams had the good sense to take these two then Oxford-based musicians into his Cumbrian Fellside studio to record their first album Through and Through in 2001, and an awful lot of water has cascaded under the bridge since, with the meteoric rise of Bellowhead and various other collaborations, not least Eliza Carthy’s Ratcatchers.  With all that in mind, it’s refreshing to see the duo return to basics and to the songs that have long been associated with the two musicians.  With some familiar songs and tunes including “Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy”, “Prickle-Eye Bush”, “Horn Fair”, “Three Tunes” and “Captain Ward”, the two musicians each vacated the stage to allow the other a moment or two to deliver something solo, with John choosing the set of tunes he contributed to the Banquet of Boxes compilation, “George Green’s College Hornpipe / Ewan Mac’s Export / Autumn Hornpipe”, while Jon chose a couple of songs from his own solo project Songs From the Floodplain (2010), “A Pilgrim’s Way” and “April Queen”, seamlessly segued with the aid of a nifty capo change.  For those in the audience who might only have previously known the duo through their work with Bellowhead, a well-received encore of “New York Girls” was rewarded with a huge audience response. With the reaction to this concert, Doncaster Hothouse, along with the ongoing endeavours of the annual Doncaster Folk Festival, may well herald in a new phase of good music in Doncaster.  Hope so.