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March 10, 2009

Jon Boden and the Remnant Kings at the Luminaire

Songs from the FloodplainJon Boden is a busy lad. He fronts folk big band Bellowhead, and has a regular partnership with squeezebox player John Spiers. But tonight, we're over at The Luminaire for one spot in the short launch tour of his new solo album, Songs From The Floodplain.

The last time I visited the Luminaire, I castigated it for being totally cut off from civilisation. I think that must have been a special TFL train-free night, because this time we had no trouble either getting to Kilburn, or getting home. In all other respects the Luminaire is a venue of utter stonkingness; small, with great sound, and with splendid signs on the wall saying things like "This is a live venue, not a pub. If you want to chat to your mates, you're in the wrong place. Please leave." I have rarely wanted to hug a wall so much.

Jon Boden has brought a band with him, the Remnant Kings; I googled it and so should you. On the album he plays all the instruments himself; tonight he has teen multi-instrumentalist Sam Sweeney, this time mostly on drums, ace concertina player Rob Harbron on concertina, Dave "not the chap who takes the photos" Angel on guitar, and Matt Grime on double bass. Boden plays guitar, concertina, melodeon, and, yes, fiddle a bit. But this is nothing like Bellowhead. The live sound is not quite like the album; less brooding, with little dribbles of folk melodies slipping in here and there. The livelier tunes are rocked up considerably in the live set; the album is very restrained by comparison.

Songs From The Floodplain is a linked set of folksongs from the future. They're all set in a world with no oil; or rather, there's a very little petrol, which we are led to believe is hoarded by the Government for unspecified purposes. Instead we have village life, and the necessary foreshortening of outlook caused by restrictions on travel. There's a new religion, the making of music, a new set of folk traditions. The little remaining plastic becomes the precious jewellery of a new age. The songs on the album do not form a coherent narrative; instead they are snapshots sung by the characters living in the world, at different times. We see people gradually coming to terms with the new world in which they live, and hear their tales of doing the ordinary things that people do, but in a different environment.

SF fans will recognise the world we are inhabiting. This is a peculiarly English vision of the future; Boden is a sublime interpreter of English folk song, and this infuses his future England. "Songs from the Floodplain" sits firmly in that favourite English subgenre of science fiction known as the "cosy catastrophe". Disaster has befallen us, but our essential Englishness survives. This is one of those worlds described by John Wyndham, or, especially, Richard Cowper. They're not so commonly written these days; SF readers are suspicious of post-apocolyptic futures where people live simply but comfortably.

Tim Chipping buys his coats at the same charity shop as Jon BodenMusically, it all succeeds terribly well. It's compelling, thoughtful but not bleak or sombre. I think it will be claimed for filk, though I am unsure whether Boden has any awareness that there's a whole genre of science fiction music out there. It is, without question, far better than most filk music. The underlying material is very well thought through, and it's performed by one of our finest folk singers at the peak of his game. The world-building is relentless, the incluing subtle, and nothing is extraneous. Boden does not join all the dots for you; he drops you in the world and leaves you to make sense of it. I just wish that there was tons of filk out there as good as this.

Back at the Luminaire, the evening was filled out with songs from Painted Lady, Jon Boden's first, very low key, solo release. Oddly, these songs felt less polished than the new ones. It was still lovely to hear favourites like "Blue Dress". Support came from Lauren McCormick with James Delarre and Roz Gladstone; a varied and assured set that ranged from Edward Lear to Marie Lloyd by way of some of the bloodiest ballads of all.

I bought the album from Jon Boden at the concert, but was far too tongue-tied to ask for a photo, or query whether he had ever heard of filk music. Luckily, heading back to Walthamstow, we made the happy discovery that Tim Chipping has the identical post-apocalyptic coat to the one that Boden wears on the album. How cool is that? Must be some special case of wearing the band t-shirt to the gig.

Posted by Alison Scott at March 10, 2009 12:50 AM


Oh good grief. I'd completely forgotten about this.

Posted by: Tim Chipping at June 5, 2009 12:41 AM

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