Spiers & Boden: Fallow land
Spiers & Boden – Fallow GrounD
Hudson Records – September 17, 2021
Was it really thirteen years since one of the most exciting duos in the mainstream music scene last released an album of new material – the Superb Release of 2008 Vagabond? Hard to believe but true. Spiers & Boden released a rework of their ‘greatest hits’ titled The works in 2011, which featured folk luminaries such as Martin and Eliza Carthy, Andy Cutting, Maddy Prior and Martin Simpson. While there has been a long wait for new material it was worth it as they make a triumphant return with the sublime and much anticipated Fallow land.
The album opens with “Bluey Brink,” a stunning Australian folk song from Peter Bellamy’s repertoire. It tells the heroic story of the toughest shearer in the Australian outback, the infamous Bluey, who shears five hundred sheep a day and can drink sulfuric acid without harmful effects (except catching his beard on fire when he cough).
The song and the album have caught on. It’s a catchy, ambitious and confident opening that recalls the energy and verve of “Captain Ward” or even “Tom Padget” from both of the above. Vagabond. It’s a perfectly balanced and arranged track, the melodeon of Spiers and the sweep of Boden’s violin, twirl and flirt throughout, and has the immediate feel of a new fan favorite.
‘Butter & Cheese & All’ follows with a playful and dashing vibe. It’s a happy little adventure, a farce telling the story of a chancellor escaping an illicit rendezvous by hiding in a fireplace, his pockets loaded with butter and cheese. It’s a funny song; the word frolic was coined for this song – you can almost see Boden smile while singing.
The first two tracks provide the perfect introduction to what is a truly warm, exuberant and life-affirming album. In FallowIn Boden’s press release, Boden notes: “I guess we’re looking for fun songs” and an absence of “death songs” could get the duo banned from the English Folk Dance and Song Society. And it is in this sense of fun, pleasure and hope that the album was born. For obvious reasons, it’s been a rough time for all of us lately, and Fallow Ground offers a very welcome feeling of liberation. It’s always a pleasure to listen to Spiers & Boden, and on this album, the sheer pleasure they revel in playing together is contagious and palpable.
After The works, it’s a bare bones affair, but frankly you don’t need much else with two experts. By combining Spiers on melodeon and accordion as well as occasional vocals, and Boden on lead vocals and violin, with the occasional stomp added for good measure, you have the makings of quite a treat. captivating and enticing.
The songs give way to tunes with ‘Cuckoo’s Nest / Saltash / William Irwin’s Modal Hornpipe’ showcasing their musicality. The set may be familiar to those who participated in Spiers’ inspiring isolation sessions during the lockdown. It is a beautiful set of dance tunes; the sweet sweetness of ‘Saltash’ bubbles well for a fiery hornpipe, all from Oxfordshire, Cornwall and Lakeland, celebrating the best traditions of English folk.
The set of playful melodies is quickly followed by “The Fog”, a tune self-written by Spiers. It’s a more thoughtful and contemplative tune, perfect for fall nights.
‘The Mallard / Valentine / The Procession’ is a fine collection of Morris tunes and jigs, while ‘Goddess / Red House’, both by Playford’s Dancing Master (1651), is another vigorous, somewhat more dark and grainy than the elegance of ‘Le Canard colvert’.
Another set to savor is ‘Funney Eye / Cheshire Hornpipe’. The first air comes from the 19e manuscript of the century of William Henry Giles. Unfinished, it was completed with sensitivity at the 21st century by Spiers.
The title track came to the singing duo of Louis Killen via their alternate title “The Cock”. It is an unusual song in the traditional folk repertoire, a love song without morals, without betrayal or abandonment; in fact, it’s basically a song about the thrill of love and even has a happy ending. It’s a beautifully romantic song, tenderly and kindly performed by the duo.
‘Reynardine’ gets the Spiers & Boden touch with a moody performance that removes the theatricality that other performers may be guilty of. The duo take the song back to the purity of its uplifting narrative – the warning of this most mysterious fox-like outlaw and his prowess of seduction. The feeling of apprehension is threatened with atmospheric effects by Boden’s piercing violin.
Fallow ends with two self-written tracks, “Bailey Hill / Wittenham Clumps”. Both locations have a connection to Spiers & Boden, ensuring the album ends on a very personal note for the duo. The tunes provide a lively and energetic climax, with Boden and Spiers bouncing off each other as they dive and sway. It’s a nice conclusion, leaving listeners eager to learn more. ‘Wittenham Clumps’ also features the four-set one-row melodeon of Spiers in D, a star in its own right!
Spiers & Boden have always had a knack for thoughtful, thought-provoking and deeply fresh arrangements, and despite the time apart, it certainly hasn’t wavered. Traditional songs and tunes are given the signature Spiers & Boden touch, ensuring a juicy flavor to some familiar favorites and a sense of timelessness to new favorites. The thirteen tracks of the album (thirteen years since Vagabond and thirteen tracks on Fallow, one for each year the ground has set aside, maybe?) range from Morris tunes, jigs, folk songs, bagpipes, waltzes, and a few self-written pieces of magic. With pinches of Australian, Scottish ballads, French-Canadian melodies but with an emphasis on the best of English folk music tradition, it’s hard not to be wowed by Fallow land.
At the heart of the album, however, is the absolute joy of two friends making music together. Throughout, the melodeon of Spiers and the violin of Boden dance with delight. It is a rare indulgence to hear new songs and tunes from Spiers and Boden and join them as they revel in the fun of their duo. Fallow is a joyful, exciting and beautifully produced release. It’s great to find them.
Spiers and Boden’s Fallow is released by Hudson Records on the 17the September 2021, with a return on tour from September 5 to 26e October 2021.
Spiers & Boden Fallow Ground Tour 2021
With special guest except * Lady Nade
Sunday September 5 – Gate to Southwell Festival
Tuesday September 28 – St David’s Hall, Cardiff
Wednesday September 29 – Mwldan, Cardigan
Thursday September 30 – Redgrave Theater, Bristol
Friday October 1 – The Regal, Tenbury Wells
Saturday October 2 – Midlands Arts Center, Birmingham
Sunday October 3 – Exeter Phoenix, Exeter
Monday October 4 – Cheese and cereals, Frome
Tuesday 5 October – Komedia, Brighton
Wednesday October 6 – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
Friday October 8 – Apocalypse, Ashford
Saturday October 9 at 11:00 am – The Spiers & Boden Festival (full day), Cecil Sharp House, London
Sunday October 10 – Chipping Norton Theater, Chipping Norton
Monday October 11 – Nettlebed Village Club, Nr Henley on Thames
Tuesday October 12 – La Halle aux Maïs, Diss
Saturday 16 October – Hartlepool Folk Festival, Hartlepool *
Monday October 18 – Colchester Arts Center, Colchester
Tuesday October 19 – Cambridge Junction, Cambridge
Wednesday October 20 – Pocklington Arts Center, Pocklington
Thursday 21 October – Manchester Folk Festival, Manchester
Friday October 22 – The Live Room, Saltaire
Sunday 24 October – Music Room, Liverpool Philharmonic (Matinee & Evening Show)
Monday October 25 – Rheolwr Neuadd Ogwen, Bethesda, Bangor
Tuesday October 26 – Canolfan Y Celfyddydau, Aberystwyth
Pre-order Fallow Ground via Hudson Records: https://hudsonrecords.co.uk/product/spiers-boden-fallow-ground
Ticket links and more information via https://spiersandboden.com/
Spiers & Boden are our artists of the month. Keep an eye out for our next interview.
Photo credit: Elly Lucas