John Spiers – review

Cecil Sharp House, London
A low-key and lyrical performance, including many of his own compositions, set the tone for the Bellowhead member's new solo route

"I hope you like squeezeboxes," said John Spiers, and it was as well that his audience did. This was a brave, remarkably low-key solo show from Britain's best-known exponent of the melodeon and concertina. Spiers first became a folk scene celebrity working alongside Jon Boden in Spiers & Boden, but that was eclipsed by the huge commercial success they have enjoyed with their folk big-band, Bellowhead.

But changes are coming. Bellowhead will continue, featuring both Spiers and Boden, of course, but the pair have announced that after 14 years of working as a duo, their next tour will be their last. Spiers clearly wants to explore new projects. He'll be appearing at the Albert Hall in April, when Bellowhead celebrate their 10th anniversary, but this was a very different venture, playing in a basement room that seated no more than 60 people. There was no amplification, and he made it clear from the start that he wasn't even going to sing. Instead, he stuck to traditional instrumentals and his own compositions.

An uncompromising approach, maybe, but it worked, thanks to his blend of elegant, rhythmic and virtuoso playing and easygoing folk club banter. He started with hornpipes, some self-penned songs ("This is called Hyena because it's got a high 'e' in it"), and moved on to elegant slower tunes and morris dances. Many of the best pieces were his own compositions, fitting easily with the traditional material. There was a stomping treatment of Bellowhead favourite Frozen Gin, while the more lyrical work included the charming Red Kite. Spiers could have been even more adventurous – the last time I saw him he was playing furious Cajun music with Mama Rosin– but for a first solo outing this was a quiet triumph.

• Did you catch this gig – or any other recently? Tell us about it using #Iwasthere


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Towersey festival – review

One of the most bravely adventurous festivals in the folk and world music calendar didn't disappoint, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

26, Aug, 2013 @11:23 AM

Raghu Dixit – review
This evening saw Raghu Dixit and his band team up with Bellowhead for some folk-rock with an Indian (and at times Celtic) edge, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

19, Apr, 2012 @4:32 PM

Bellowhead/Baghdaddies – review
At this circus-themed lock-in, the lesser-known Baghdaddies held their own against the big-band theatrics of the rousing Bellowhead, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

04, Jan, 2011 @11:00 PM

Article image
The Full English – review

Folk stars combine for a joyful celebration of traditional songs, on a tour that springs from a digital music archive project, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

25, Oct, 2013 @2:28 PM

Article image
Bellowhead/Mama Rosin – review

Bellowhead showcased their elaborate new album in a brave and rousing set that was the biggest performance of their career so far, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

08, Nov, 2012 @12:06 PM

Article image
Bellowhead review – folk's big band wave goodbye in style
This was a night of celebration in front of a whooping full house as English trad’s flagship act continue their farewell tour

Colin Irwin

25, Apr, 2016 @12:49 PM

Spiers and Boden – review
The distinctive Bellowhead founders were joined in this magnificent show by a horde of fellow folk musicians, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

12, May, 2011 @4:42 PM

Folk review, Bellowhead, Koko, London

Koko, London: They have always sounded better live than on record, and have now achieved a fine balance between Boden's deadpan, theatrical vocals and a dash of Kurt Weill

Robin Denselow

04, Nov, 2008 @12:52 PM

Article image
John Murry – review

Murry's sadness embraces rage and beauty in music of tremendous warmth, writes Kate Mossman

Kate Mossman

09, May, 2013 @4:41 PM

Bellowhead: Broadside – review
Bellowhead's second album with producer John Leckie is another full-tilt treat, albeit not one for folk purists, writes Robin Denselow

Robin Denselow

11, Oct, 2012 @8:00 PM