Two of the many great things about Howard Assembly Room is that it is both intimate and versatile. The first of these qualities was utilised, before the brilliant performance by the ex-Bellowheads, Spiers and Boden, by Jon Boden who held a Free Singing Workshop for those who wanted to exercise their vocal chords. Obviously I was in!
It is quite a while since my last rendition of Mustang Sally at the karaoke bar so I was worried that I might be a bit rusty but need not have been concerned as the workshop was aimed at everyone. The idea was that we would be split into three groups to perform in harmony using a method devised by the affable Mr Boden during lockdown.
The system uses colour coding, rather than orthodox notation, to indicate which notes to sing. He said that there were only three major keys and so we were divided into sections each given a colour; orange, green and purple. The words were printed in black, red and blue. I was in the orange group so once given a tuning note we used this as a base to be sung when the words were printed in black, when we came to a syllable or word printed in blue we still kept to this note but when we saw a red one we dropped. Other groups changed note when they came across the blue print so there was only need for one version of the score. It worked incredibly well and in no time we had Amazing Grace absolutely nailed. Just for clarification, Amazing Grace was the song, not a lady!
It is incredible how singing can make you feel so good, especially when surrounded by others of the same mindset, and tutored by someone as pleasant, and patient, as Jon Boden He was an inspiration.
Fortunately we then had half an hour to wallow in our success before we returned to the main room to have our self-satisfaction totally shattered by a couple of guys who showed us what singing was really all about. Not only that but they were superb musicians to boot. Speaking of boots, they put theirs to good use during the performance.
When the first piece began I was marvelling at the fancy footwork of Jon Boden which was very much in keeping with the music. I then saw that he was standing on a small wooden platform, which I hadn’t noticed as it was behind the monitor speaker but it was wired up and acted as a bass drum.
A lot of the songs were taken from the duo’s new album, Fallow Ground, named after the agricultural (or in this case, just cultural) practice of leaving fields without crops for a year in order that their nutrients can regenerate and provide a larger yield in years to come. It is very appropriate as, not only are they now touring again after lockdown with new songs, but there is a one-off Bellowhead tour planned for November.
I loved the variety of songs included in the programme which covered the more plaintive ones to full-on reels and hornpipes. The thing which impressed most of all was the chemistry between the two blokes who were obviously having as good a time as we in the audience were. There were humorous, nay, hilarious narratives between tunes with Jon Boden outlining the stories of the songs and John Spiers explaining how he names his instrumental compositions after nothing in particular because it doesn’t really matter, hence The Ironingboard Hornpipe which came about after he was contemplating his list of chores.
My favourite piece of the evening was the encore, for two reasons; firstly it was a rollicking tune and a perfect way to leave us in a great mood, and secondly, because it was a track, the name of which had been shouted out by a fan in the audience. Jon Boden said that it was five years since they had played it but would give it a go, and give it a go they did. It was performed brilliantly with not a false step, showing just how accomplished they are. The techniques used in both the fiddling and concertina (sorry if it was an accordion) playing were amazing.
This was the happiest evening I have spent in a while and I left for home in a much better mood than I had arrived, even stopping for a pint of hand pulled ale so as to make the most of it. Cheers Gentlemen!
For more details of Colour Chord please go to http://colourchord.org/
The dates of the rest of the tour are at https://spiersandboden.com/live-dates?calendar_page=1
Bellowhead’s tour dates are at https://bellowhead.co.uk/blogs/news/posts/november-2022-tour
Other artists at Howard Assembly Room https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/
Photographs by Stan Graham