Jon Boden & The Remnant Kings, Scala, London, 22nd November 2017

Those who still pine for the folk excesses of Bellowhead can take some comfort from Jon Boden’s latest outfit. After a solo tour Jon Boden has got the old band back together and is taking new album Afterglow out on tour with The Remnant Kings, backed up by the string trio that is the Remnant Strings. This makes the stage at the Scala impressively full with eleven musicians, and since most of them are also multi-instrumentalists an almost excessive number of instrument stands and microphone setups. Too many, perhaps, as Jon Boden came close to stamping on a fallen guitar on a couple of occasions, before trying the same trick on his fiddle. It’s a tough life in the musical post-apocalypse world that Boden has conjured up for Afterglow.

Before hitting the material from the new album, the night kicked off with some traditional songs starting – fittingly enough – with Rosin The Bow and following on with the long shipwreck ballad Rose in June. With the full band taking the stage the main part of the evening began – a narrated run through of the Afterglow album – with the odd addition along the way. Afterglow is a folk-rock album with the emphasis on rock, but with a powerful string section and the addition of squeezboxes and a small brass section, there’s a real grounding in a more acoustic sound as well. It’s the second volume of Boden’s post-apocalyptic trilogy set sometime in the near future after the oil has run out and people have had to go back to simpler entertainments – like folk singing and dancing. In Afterglow we experience the sights an sounds of a one-night fire festival played out in the streets and ruins of a city as the disparate new tribes come together to party and two lovers separated by fate seek to find each other once more.

The first addition was Going Down to the Wasteland which comes from the preceding album – Songs from the Floodplain – which effectively paints a picture of this new world and acts as a travelling song for Afterglow‘s protagonist as he makes his way to the festival “going down to the wasteland / going down where the wild dogs go” until eventually he can “smell the fires of the city / where dreamers like like burnt out cars”. It’s made even more effective by Richard Warren’s lead guitar, which is a marvel and a joy throughout the gig. There’s a lovely delicacy to the gently grooving Moths in the Gas Light, the interplay of Paul Sartin’s oboe with Warren’s guitar, the whole lifted by the string and brass section captures an optimistic mood at the end of the world “it feels so funny to be walking down the street again / I don’t know how but I know we’re going to meet again”. Gentle songs like the lovely acoustic guitar led Bee Sting use this same blend of the acoustic and the electric to great effect – allowing Jon Boden to effectively stretch out his softer vocals, with the chance meeting with a girl – with the girl – adding a moment of bliss.

The two songs immediately after the interval are the catchiest on Afterglow, All the Stars are Coming out Tonight has an insistent drumbeat whilst Dancing in the Ruin captures the height of the fire festival – celebrating youth “running wild”, taking their chances – a little theft, a little drunkenness, a little abandon in the face of a bleak existence “god only knows what they are doing / jumping through the flame / laughing through the pain / dancing in the ruin”.  And whilst Jon Boden speculates that it’s quite likely that some form of Morris dance is going on, he hopes they find time for the odd waltz – which is by way of an introduction to a slowed down I Want to Dance with Someone.  Although this does get a level of audience participation it’s hard for anyone to shake off the shadow of Whitney Houston. It adds a link though into Yellow Lights which sees Jon Boden’s pair of star-crossed lovers finally escape the tumult and find solace in each other, if only for one night. The contrast of tenderness and the bleakness of the rubble strewn city – “and now I see you in the ember glow / no time for words no time for games / we deep dive into the undertow / whilst the world out side goes up in flames ” – is made even more melancholic by the strings at their most orchestral and Paul Sartin’s elegent oboe. It’s a beautiful song that the band do full justice to.

The final part of the set goes down a storm – Roll the Woodpile Down is a shanty done Bellowhead style, Beating the Bounds is another song from the Flood Plains but is blessed with a spirited near Morris tune which gets the crowd bopping and a raucous chorus line to roar along to, and then closing out with a pair of dance tunes couldn’t fail to be a crowdpleaser. It almost seemed as if that was it – but there was a two song encore featuring a four squeezebox arrangement of Hounds of Love which really works, evoking something of the weirdness of Kate Bush’s storytelling, and an all throats roaring rendition of folk club singalong favourite All Hang Down. A perfect finish to a finely balanced gig – the new material with a full band is exciting in itself, but it is Jon Boden at his most rock band, however there’s just enough of his other side to keep the die-hard folkies happy. If you’ve missed this leg, there’s another tour in March next year.

Set List

Rosin the Bow
Rose In June
Going Down to the Wasteland
Moths in the Gas Light
Afterglow
Bee Sting
Fires of Midnight
Wrong Side of Town

(Interval)

All the Stars Are Coming out Tonight
Dancing in the Ruin
I Want To Dance With Somebody
Burning Streets
Yellow Lights
Aubade
Roll the Woodpile Down
Beating the Bounds
Leviathan / Tombola

Encore

Hounds of Love
All Hang Down

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan’s music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That’s not much to ask, is it?

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