Sheffield hometown date for Bellowhead folk star Jon Boden on solo tour

Musician Jon Boden is touring solo these days, but the former leader of 11-piece band Bellowhead still manages to fill the stage with equipment.
Jon Boden is performing a solo show at The Leadmill, SheffieldJon Boden is performing a solo show at The Leadmill, Sheffield
Jon Boden is performing a solo show at The Leadmill, Sheffield

The Sheffield-based multi-instrumentalist said: “The stage is still full of bits and bobs.”

He plays the fiddle, various guitars, concertina, his trademark foot-operated percussion instrument the stomp box and the shruti box, a type of drone that he can operate with a foot pedal.

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“I’ve somehow managed to fill the stage up despite it being just me,” Jon admitted.

He has to drive the tour van himself and do a lot of the lugging around, so it must be worth it.

Actually, he has a lot of help from his sound engineer Andy Bell in that department.

Jon is best known as the lead singer and main arranger of the progressive folk act Bellowhead, who called it a day five years ago after 12 years, a quarter of a million album sales, seven singles on the Radio 2 playlist and selling out hundreds of venues.

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Since then Jon has been touring successfully with his solo show, his band The Remnant Kings and a scaled-down version, The Remnant Strings.

He has also had a long-standing and successful collaboration, Spiers & Boden, with melodeon and concertina player and fellow Bellowhead member, John Spiers.

Jon said his solo shows, including the one coming up at The Leadmill on Saturday, March 14, include “quite a lot of traditional stuff and a fair few things from the Bellowhead back catalogue I’m doing in a stripped-down form.

“There are quite a few traditional songs on the new album, so I’m doing them, and songs from the last two solo albums.

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“It’s a very different thing playing solo. I really love doing it. You have a much more direct relationship with the audience, even compared to playing with a duo. There’s a lot of choruses for the audience to join in with.”

The albums he refers to are his latest, Rose in June, released last November, which is full of the sort of traditional songs you’d expect.

The title track is a case in point, the story of a real-life maritime disaster when the Scottish fishing vessel of the same name capsized in December 1872, with the loss of its master and a crew member.

It was featured in Jon’s year-long A Folk Song a Day project.

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His preceding album, Afterglow, was a little more left field.

Jon said: “As a songwriter, I’m two-thirds of the way through a trilogy of post-apocalyptic concept albums. I’m quite intrigued by the idea of trying to imagine one’s way into a regressed future.

“I'm intrigued because it seems relevant, and probable that we are going to start living in a simpler lifestyle. It may be by choice or design or forced upon us.

“It’s exciting creatively as I sing traditional songs from 200 years ago, where they had that more simple existence.

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“It is quite a complex web of interests. It just makes sense in my head and comes together with the songs.”

He continued: “I guess that’s why it fires me up. It makes sense of my whole career in a way. It’s always that sense of why are we looking back?

“What’s the benefit, other than escapism, of taking an audience back 200 years? You find you can learn from doing that and from reading novels and history. Actually, people were perfectly happy for a long time.

“It was hard for a lot of people but the things that made them unhappy were not the absence of Netflix or iPads. It was a lack of healthcare and a lack of food.

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“We’re pretty well designed to be happy with each other’s company. That’s a positive thing you can take from looking far and then looking forward through that prism.”

Jon confirmed that Bellowhead is definitely something of the past as well. “It was a very special, magical journey.

“We finished it particularly well with a lovely final tour and I think it’s important to finish things well.

“That means it’s finished because it would be a shame to revisit it in a half-arsed way, having finished it so well.

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“We’re still friends and working and will carry that through in what we do next. The music is still being played and it’s still current in that sense.

“I put 15 years of arranging and writing into it. I’m very proud of a lot of material I wrote for Bellowhead.”

Jon said he will definitely work with John Spiers again at some point, when the time's right for both of them.

He said he moved to Sheffield when his partner, fellow star folk performer Fay Hield, did her PhD here 13 years ago. They live in Dungworth in the north of the city.

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“We moved here for that and had kids. It does feel as though the folk scene has gradually gravitated towards Sheffield! It worked out very well.”

Jon said there’s a reason he hasn’t done much work on traditional north Sheffield songs - he sounds too posh!

“A lot of that core Sheffield repertoire has to be sung in the right accent. It’s a bit of a handicap coming from Hampshire with an RP voice. I was rather hoping I’d pick up a Sheffield accent.”

He’s leaving the northern twang to Fay, who’s from Keighley, and the children.

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Jon said that, as well as touring, he’s trying to get the third album in his trilogy written.

“I’m not someone who just writes songs out of the blue. I have to say this is what I’m doing and I have to treat it a bit as a job and sit down and try and write.”

Then he’s off on the road again, appearing at five summer festivals and going on a shorter band tour in the autumn.

His tour dates are on his website,

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