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Critics Award John Spiers and Jon Boden (CD cover) nominated in the fRoots Critics Award

John Spiers and Jon Boden (UK)

Song : Prickle Eye Bush
Album : John Spiers and Jon Boden (Fellside Records)

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John Spiers & Jon Boden seem to have taken the Folk scene by storm. Prior to the release of their debut CD, 'Through and Through (Fellside FECD161) in 2001, they were virtually unknown. Something clicked - whether it was Jon taking his vocals to the edge or Squeezy's punchy melodeon playing, they quickly attracted a lot of critical acclaim and a following. Their recordings and 'live' performances are full of drive and energy. On record what you see is what you get, they just sit in the studio and play - no overdubbing or multi-tracking. In 2002 they won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Horizon Award for best newcomers and in 2003 won the award for Best Duo.

CD Review

Ah yes, a breath of fresh air, as they say. Spiers and Boden's debut album Through and Through knocked a few heads together with the originality of the arrangements and the vitality of the playing and singing, and there were those who grumped and frowned and didn't get it at all. But now they've had time to think and absorb and see more of this buoyant duo there can be no excuses - and BBC Horizon award safely tucked under their arms, the world is surely ready for S&B.

Like Eliza Carthy, Kate Rusby and the other young guns, they are simply giving folk song the essential ingredient it has lacked for so long - the vitality of youth and originality of thought. They are but the latest in a long and noble tradition and their material is scarcely radical or trailblazing - not with 'The Outlandish Knight', 'Copshawholme Fair', 'Courting Too Slow', 'Prickle Eye Bush' and a couple of famous Cotswold morris tunes on board. But while there is no shortage of youthful brilliance around, others often go short on the ideas, while S&B score and score and score again with force of personality and arrangements that frequently pin you against the wall. The rampaging Spiers melodeon in particular is a brilliant foil to Boden's unorthodox vocals and vigorous fiddle playing.

They swoop from a different angle, loud, proud and dangerous to know - their arrangement of Pete Bellamy's 'Courting Too Slow' is utterly mesmerising and they tell the Copshawholme Fair story with a full-on attack that is nigh on irresistible. Benji Kirkpatrick adds to the þavour on guitar and bouzouki and the liberties they take with the tunes, notably 'Cuckoo's Nest' - all bendy notes and tangential asides - suggests that one day they could turn this lot into a mind-blowing band. The instrumental interludes going on around 'Brown Adam' are almost as dramatic as the song itself, leading us through a miasma of twists and turns and then settling back into an infectious groove. I love the sentimental old guff of 'Go And Leave Me' too.

They are uncompromisingly committed to an English traditional style with all the usual reference points. Yet their music is also firmly of today and I'd happily play this to people who would normally pull out their own toenails rather than listen to folk song - and I'd lay money that they'll like it. The best duo since the Dransfields? Very possibly. And certainly the tallest.

Colin Irwin for fRoots 2003








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