Live: Jon Boden @ The Southbank Centre, London


Photo: David Angel

As well as the four members of The Remnant Kings, two Edison phonographs with their brass horns accompany Jon Boden at either side of the stage at the Purcell Room.

They help to “preserve memories of what’s gone before,” says Boden as he takes to the stage to the sound of eerie Victorian recordings, reminiscent of a bygone era.

He might be harking back to the past, but Jon Boden heralds a new way forward for folk music. One with sound effects and voice-overs and distorted concertinas.

After establishing himself at the forefront of English folk revival, working with John Spiers and the award winning folk collective Bellowhead, Jon Boden’s 2009 concept album, Songs from the Floodplain seemed to come out of a very different place. Set in an apocalyptic future, and with irregular rhythms and distorted vocals plenty, this isn’t what you’d expect from a two-time winner of the BBC 2 Folk Musician of the Year award.

There is a new restraint in certain parts of the album, especially for someone who was previously well known for his rousing singing style. But he cranks things up a gear in this performance: ‘Penny for the Preacher’ is belted out with attitude, and ‘Whistling Britannia’ is a rough and ready folk jam, with Boden letting himself go.

Tonight’s set reflects Boden’s musical and emotional virtuosity and there’s a huge variety of instrumentation and change of pace throughout the evening. Some traditional songs are thrown into the mix, as well as a bit of unaccompanied Bach, played by the amazing Sam Sweeney who throughout the set shows his skills on violin, drums, concertina and ‘plays’ wine glasses filled with water. Sometimes even simultaneously.

The Southbank’s Purcell Room is a fairly formal venue. Yours truly even got told off for writing notes on her phone. But it lends a quiet authority to the whole evening. During one of the more nostalgic tracks the audience are united with Boden, singing the lilting refrain; “Don’t wake me up till tomorrow,” and a beautiful stillness descends.

An encore is definitely called for and they finish with a powerful performance of ‘Get a Little Something’. With all the references to traditional song lyrics turned upside down, the almost funky, percussive bass and those distorted, growling vocals, John Boden signs himself off on the opening night of his tour, as the Tom Waits figure of English folk.

Words: Meabh Ritchie

If you enjoy Meabh’s stylish scribblings, head over to her blog, Heart of Noise