Fay Hield with Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron + Jon Boden @ Red Lion Folk Club, Kings Heath, 13th February 2010


I’d never been to the Red Lion Folk Club before, although I had heard lots of good things about it. My first impressions were excellent — nice friendly pub with the club on Saturday nights in the upstairs room.

The support act for the evening was Jon Boden , it says something when the support act has just won Folksinger of the Year in the national Radio 2 Folk Awards! Jon plays fiddle, guitar and duet concertina as part of the folk duo Spiers and Boden and is in the eleven-piece band Bellowhead. Although he’s made a couple of solo albums — ‘Painted Lady’ (2006) and the recent concept album, ‘Songs from the Flood Plain’ (2009), he rarely performs alone — in fact, part way through the set he announced that it was only his fourth solo gig. While the music was always excellent, he sometimes seemed a bit diffident in chatting with the audience between songs, which may stem from being used to sharing the stage.


Jon’s roots are in traditional folk and he sang and played a number of traditional songs and tunes during the evening, mostly English but including a stunning rendition of the white American spiritual ‘Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel’ and the fascinating Anglo-Celtic ballad, ‘I Will Put My Ship in Order’. Many of the songs were his own, however. Jon’s own songs are dark and urban; ‘Songs from the Flood Plain’ comes with a 32-page booklet of photographs of derelict factories and broken windows. They depict a post-apocalyptic world after the oil has run out. He sings of factories and false prophets, of motorways and of ‘people from the government, burning sacrificial gasoline to keep the dogs at bay’; he brings gifts of plastic bags and broken glass to his ‘April Queen’.
And yet the vision isn’t totally bleak — throughout the songs there were glimpses of possibility, of community — and some stonkingly good tunes!


Fay Hield comes originally from Keighley, Yorkshire and was originally part of the four woman a capella group The Witches of Elswick. (She is also, by the by, Jon Boden’s partner and handed their two small children over to Jon at the interval between the sets for him to take off and put to bed!)

Fay and her music were an absolute joy. She sang predominantly traditional songs — gruesome murder ballads, sea shanties, love songs, millworkers’ satirical songs. There was a delightfully awful lullaby from the early nineteenth century which warns the child that if it doesn’t go to sleep instantly Napoleon will come and eat him up, bit by bit. The traditional material was interspersed with other relatively more recent material, including a number of poems set to music by Peter Bellamy and some songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the early nineteenth century. Her own enthusiasm for the songs and the stories they tell was obvious and added to the pleasure.

She was accompanied by two equally fine musicians. Sam Sweeney (also of Bellowhead) played the fiddle and the Swedish nyckelharpe, a keyed bowed instrument that looked a bit like a psaltery with knobs! It was certainly the first time I had come across one and it has a lovely delicate sound. Rob Harbron (of the English Acoustic Collective) played fiddle and guitar but most of all English concertina. He was definitely impressive — his solo bits during ‘Harris Mill’ had me holding my breath with delight and the instrumental ‘White Joak, Black Joak’ was great.

The set was well-paced and varied. Fay was comfortable chatting with the crowd who responded appreciatively. It was a pity, however, that the audience wasn’t bigger. The room was only half-full. With such substantial performers at a bargain price (less than half of what you’d have to pay at a town centre venue), I was surprised that they hadn’t managed to fill the entire pub!

Review and photos Betty Hagglund

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