"Oh now you've called on me to sing, I'll see what I can do" goes the opening number "And when that I have finished I will call on one of you".
The Redegrave Theatre is not a church, although in common with most small venues they sometimes host spiritualist mediums. It has a claustrophobically small front of house space. The coffee machine was broken but the staff were reluctantly to admit to this. In the end they gave us tea.
In remote pre-history, the Croft (now the Crofters Rights) played host to a mini folk festival in the sticky back bar: two Carthy's, a Simpson and a Williamson -- more than anything else, it was that week that got me interested in going to live folk gigs. One of the bands I heard there was Spiers and Boden, just before the stars aligned and Bellowhead started to sweep all before them.
It is an ill-wind which blows no-one any good. While a hundred and fifty thousand fatalities is, in its way, a drawback, one positive thing to come out of the pandemic was Spiers and Boden's decision to start performing again as a duo. In the eight years since they appeared without a brass section, relatively little seems to have changed. John Spiers still has an astonishing collection of squeezeboxes, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Morris dance tunes, and he is not afraid to use them. Jon Boden is still one of the nimblest fingered fiddle players in the business, with an interesting voice and a natural gift for folk story telling.
There is a certain amount of balladry -- including a tale of a jilted bride and magic colour changing ring; but a merciful lack of treks through post-climate collapse dystopias. Largely, they play it safe, with hornpipes and morris dances in the tune sections, and a certain "greatest hits" feel to vocal material. Afficiandados could have fun trying to remember which extended introduction leads into which song. There's a full-on Haul Away To Johnny Oh; an appropriately mad Prickle-Eye Bush; all the verses of Bold Sir Rylas and a more or less inevitable New York Dolls to end the evening. Everyone knows all the words and sings along without being encouraged. Down in woods where the wildflower go and the green leaves fall all around. Oh hangman, stay your hand. You'll have to get up early to be smarter than a whore. There is surprisingly little chat; and the boys are sufficiently worried about covid that they pre-sign CDs but don't emerge from back-stage to talk to the audience. There wouldn't have been much space in that tiny bar.
Next weekend, there is going to be an entire day of their music at Cecil Sharp House. I cannot deny that having spent eight years enjoying Bellowhead but wishing we could go back to Jon and John on their own I spent the a goodly part of this evening wondering what had happened to their backing band. We did indeed call on you sing, and you done good.