Whilst the duo have played together for two decades, this festival marked the first live gig the duo had performed together in seven years. Spiers & Boden are best known for being part of the eleven-piece English contemporary folk band Bellowhead. They notched two top 20 and silver certified LP’s; this festival was not about reliving these past glory days as a duo. Apart from “New York Girls”, seldom a Bellowhead song was played. It was about people, as Jon Boden stated, “participation”, as well as interaction and intimacy with the audience of all ages.
The full-day festival consisted of ceilidhs (pronounced Kayleigh’s) where people could bring their instruments and jam with John Spiers and others. There were also ceilidhs for those who wanted to sing or hear people sing in intimate groups of no more than twenty in a round with Jon Boden and folk musicians Jackie Oates, Matt Quinn and Lisa Knapp. Support act Bristolian Lady Nade with her rich, ethereal and almost operatic voice also dropped in. Boden joined in with folk songs from England, Ireland, Germany, Italy and even Australia. The richness in Boden’s voice, who sat comfortably chilled in this intimate social session, arms crossed, was truly mesmerising. Jon’s ability to find the right key to sing in and encourage the group to participate too was a joyous experience to be a part of.
With Spiers & Boden’s seven-year absence, there were a lot of questions for Matthew Bannister (Folk on Foot) to ask. As well as discussing their new LP Fallow Ground, which the pair said had a more cheerful disposition absent of dark murder ballads, the duo discussed their folk origins and how they met. Spiers dad was a Morris dancer but seldom paid attention to it until he referenced Morris dancing songs to complete his music GCSE. The Morris dancing songs provided excellent support at university when he played them at his university folk club to take the pressure off studying for a genetics degree. For Boden, his first musical instrument of choice was the rock guitar which he preferred to the classical guitar, and it was only in his teens where he got into folk music when he swapped his “Stratocaster for a cheap fiddle”.
Despite the duo proving they knew each other inside out by answering a series of “Mr and Mrs” TV quiz show style questions where Spiers correctly revealed Boden’s guilty pleasure: Jazz; the duo didn’t initially play much together when they first met at the Old Chief pub in Oxford because Boden was originally more into Irish tunes and Spires was more into English folk songs.
The duo’s evening performances consisted of two sessions that retold and musically reinterpreted traditional songs 150-250 years old. The story themes were rather amusing, which recollected the events of a fight between a psychopath and a witch and an Australian sheep shearer called “Bluey”, an enthusiastic beer drinker who also drinks acid. The duo also wrote instrumentals individually, including a song where Boden was inspired by the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. Several school children partially obscured the view at the time.
What is incredible is that Boden and Spiers led this festival and encouraged audience participation with just Boden on the fiddle singing and Spiers on melodeon brought the joy and magic that Bellowhead created with an ensemble of eleven. Likewise, support act Lady Nade owned Cecil Sharp house with just an acoustic guitar. At Cecil Sharp, House Boden and Spiers made tradition and ceilidhs part of the zeitgeist.