Having found our way to our seat in the upper gallery of the North Wall Arts Centre in Summertown, thanks to the volunteer staff, we waited for the former Bellowhead frontman and his “Genre busting folk” (to quote the Financial Times). The last time I came to this venue, there was a delay due to a technical error, and given that folk gigs exist in a different time-space continuum, I was pleasantly surprised when Jon Boden and his band ‘The Remnant Strings’ arrived on time. The crowd from the gallery was a mass of silver-haired 50-somethings, hailing from as far as Wolvercote (my friend’s mum was in the audience, so I know this to be true). My plus one and I perched on the bench and ate chocolate as Boden started up.
In the finest folk tradition, Jon Boden likes to tell a long yarn both in his songs and about his songs; about leaving the country for the city, leaving the factory line demoralised and poor, and, of course, thwarted romance between star-crossed lovers. The first bit of the gig featured songs from his new album 'Afterglow', as well as 19th-century folk-inspired tunes, drawn from his other solo album ‘Songs from the flood plains’.
I should mention at this point that a few made the mistake of leaving the gig after the first half; a mistake because, like the England rugby match earlier in the day, Boden warmed up in the second half. There were storytelling connections between the songs from a former album, which I got a bit lost in. Having Googled his songlist, it seemed that his Bellowhead songs were where his talents shone forth. Songs with American themes such as ‘Roll Alabama’ and ‘The Rose in June’ were all much more more inspiring. Its seems that both albums of his solo career have been concerned with an England of a post-apocalyptic future. Whether this theme just becomes a bit laboured, or whether it just doesn’t suit the style of trad folk which he is known for, is a moot point. This gig made me reflect that some musicians are better at music than performing. Or some, perhaps, just need to stick with the band.