It was a slightly subdued East Neuk audience that welcomed Spiers & Boden and Saltfishforty to the stage at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews on Friday, perhaps that was due to the heat of the warm July night. The boys, however, didn’t take long to rouse the audience and by the end of the night the quartet had the normally reserved St Andrew’s audience taping and clapping away they way they knew they wanted to.
The boys were here as part of the Scottish Arts Council’s Tune Up scheme which plans to bring “high quality live music to communities the length and breadth of the country” and, with the excellent collaboration of these two duos, Tune Up has certainly achieved and surpassed this aim.
As a longtime fan of Spiers & Boden and a growing Saltfishforty one I was looking forward to this gig for some time but, having not seen the two work together before, there was still a fear that the partnership wouldn’t quite work – just how could two lads from Orkney and two from the South East of England possible gel? Surely their musical styles and backgrounds would prove too idiosyncratic to be successful? As it turned out, I needn’t have worried…
Spiers & Boden kicked off their set with a spirited version of Louis Killen’s “Tom Paget” followed by a fine version of “The Birth of Robin Hood” from one of Jon’s multiple copies of the Oxford Book of Ballads.
Highlights of their set included the vigorous medley of “Jiggery Pokerwork/Haul Away/Seven Stars” and the touching concertina solo by John in “Horn Fair” whilst “Sloe Gin Set” saw him move to his more familiar diatonic melodeon for a foot-stomping performance. The set finished with zesty renditions of “The Sportsman’s Hornpipe” and “Captain Ward”.
Following a short break Saltfishforty took to the stage to deliver an equally energetic set. Kick started by the plaintive “Svecia” the boys picked up the pace with a feisty “Highland Park”. The boys have a new album out in August – Netherbow, a review of which will appear on FolkRadio soon – and they treated the audience to a few new jigs and reels as well as the lively “Cock o’Byam”. Other highlights included the Saltfishforty favourite “Breadbin Blues” and the lullaby “Sleepyheid”.
Throughout their set the Saltfishforty boy’s banter was a welcome touch of informality – Douglas admitted that their short tours usually only consist of three nights so they felt they were coming to the end even though they had only just started whilst Brian was worried he was running out of clean socks.
The final third of the set saw Spiers & Boden and Saltfishforty combine their efforts for a series of sea shanties, jigs and reels including a rendition of “Dennis Crowther’s No. 2/The Old Polka” (dedicated cheekily to Douglas’s mother-in-law, who also happens to be Brian’s mum), the sea shanty “Rolling Down to Old Maui” and the Morris tune “Swaggering Boney” seamlessly blending into a few Orkney reels.
The set concluded with a fine version of “The Bride’s Lament” and a cracking set of Burray Strathspeys and Reels (Burray of course, in case you didn’t know, is the centre of the universe according to Douglas).
It would be a real shame if the boys don’t make this collaboration a regular event, it was clear that they were getting as much a kick out of the relationship as the audience, Spiers & Boden haven’t toured Scotland for a good five years so let’s hope we don’t have to wait that long again to see another team up between the boys. This is a great chance to see both acts at the height of their game, but the added bonus of seeing them work together is equally impossible to resist. This is undoubtedly one of the most successful, and most enjoyable, collaborations I’ve seen in a long time. It’s amazing that four guys can get such a sound out of two fiddles, a melodeon and a mandola (with some help from Jon’s stomp-board). The sound system at the Byre was excellent and the boys rightly thanked the theatre’s engineer.
There are only a few nights left on the tour so best to get your skates on if you want to catch them. The tour kicked off in Stirling on the 1st of July and finishes in Stornoway on Thursday the 8th. Oh and take some carrot cake for the guys if you can (even better still – take enough for the audience too).
Spiers & Boden/Saltfishforty July 2010 Tour
remaining tour dates:
• Wednesday 7th July, Eden Court, Inverness
• Thursday 8th July, An Lanntair, Stornoway