Spiers and Boden
No matter what you call it, this English folk duo's sound is likely to get you moving
John Spiers and Jon Boden have been described as an English punk-folk duo, who are supposed to have 'made folk trendy'. But if there is anything radical or anarchic contained in this evening of jaunty songs from two quiet and unassuming fellows, it is kept well hidden.
For all the talk of trendiness, there is a refreshing lack of gimmickry too. If their music isn't overtly punk, though, neither is it tediously, tweedily folk.
Between Spiers squeezing away on the melodeon or concertina – those things have a stretch as long as a heron's wing – and Boden on fiddle and stomp-box, the pair kick up a fabulous storm of sound at the Black Box at this Moving on Music Festival gig.
I'm surprised that the audience can resist getting up and dancing their socks off. This is the kind of blood-quickening music that gets into your fingers and toes and instructs them to get moving.
In honour of their Northern Ireland tour, sponsored by Moving on Music, Spiers and Boden came up with two new songs. The first, 'Giant's Waltz', is inspired by the Giant's Causeway, which they found to be 'foggy, slippery and occupied by 3000 French schoolchildren'. But amazing, nonetheless, they insisted. The other is called 'Tractor Hornpipe' - possibly a reference to all the traffic jams they'd had to put up with as they travelled around the countryside?
There are plenty of jigs and morris tunes too, drawn from English, Irish and Basque traditions. What is impressive is the sheer body and the surprising complexity of the sound.
The voice of the fiddle is sweet and springy, and the melodeon provides ballast and depth. The sudden changes in tempo are exhilarating, not jarring, switching from an uproarious, stomping canter to a dreamy meditation in an instant, and Boden's vocals are full of vigour and verve.
Several songs come from the duo's 2008 album Vagabond, and perhaps it is here that the punk ethos makes a (relatively polite) appearance. Because these songs are all about outsiders – beggars and pirates and itinerants - people who live outside the normal boundaries of society.
'The Rain It Rains', which originates from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, where it is sung by a wandering jester named Feste, turns up here as a deceptively straightforward melody underpinned by a strange, tripping rhythm that the ear struggles to understand.
At the interval, Spiers and Boden perch on the edge of the stage, sell a few CDs and chat with fans, before getting back up for another whirl through their repertoire. When the music is this simple and lively and good, it really doesn't matter what you call it.