In our Tour Diary finale Blowzabella are in southern Austria for their final performance before making the long journey back home which will see them accumulate 2000 road miles on this current tour. The one thing that stood out for us with the recordings Paul James sent us was the great sense of camaraderie not just between band members but also with the incredibly supportive audience whom they engaged with so well.
Footage of the last gig of the tour
Blowzabella History (continued)
Since 1978 the band has developed an enormous repertoire of traditional and self composed dance tunes. Despite making many albums most of their earliest repertoire never made it onto record although much of it is published in their first tune book – The Encyclopaedia Blowzabellica – a new edition of the book is now available from the band. In the early days the band borrowed traditional tunes from all over England, Europe and the Balkans and adapted them to their needs and instrumentation. Although the band are known for popularising European dance music in the UK – they are equally well known for popularising English traditional dance music and dances in Europe. As the band progressed the ability of band members to compose and arrange their own material grew in importance and started to define what the band was about. In 2004 the band published a book of their own compositions called New Tunes for Dancing Blowzabella tune and dance book.
British and European traditional dance rhythms are pan-European. The local and regional differences are akin to accents and dialects of the same basic language. These differences are best expressed through local variations in instrumentation, tuning, phrasing, tempo and the style of tunes. A polka from Poland and a polka from Ireland sound far apart in character but they obey the same basic rules of time signature and rhythmic emphasis. From the outset the band realised that there were far more similarities than differences in the music across Europe and it partly explains why they became equally popular in all the European countries where they played. They had a knack of sounding familiar enough to be accessible and foreign enough to be interesting to audiences both at home and abroad. Possibly because they concentrated on dance music – the most basic language and one which needs no explanation or translation – they were able to build an audience of people of all ages with very different musical tastes.
The band’s whole approach – independence and self-sufficiency, strong performances, unusual instrumentation, interesting arrangements and choice of dances, and above all, their ability to write many new tunes that have become “standards” in the folk repertoire in Britain, Europe and beyond – has proved to be influential and many musicians in the UK, Europe and further afeld, who experiment beyond the boundaries of “folk” music, cite Blowzabella as a major influence.
The line-up has always included musicians who are also good dancers and dance teachers Dave Armitage, Chris Gunstone, Jo Freya, Bill O’Toole, Dave Roberts and Dave Shepherd. They showed the audience how the dances went and because they were also musicians in the band, rather than a guest, they were able to influence the way the band played in terms of tune structure, tempo and the inner rhythms that make dance music work.
In addition, the band made a conscious effort to engage with their audience by staging an annual Blowzabella Workshop Festival (1984 to 1990) which introduced large numbers of people to playing and dancing and that contributed to the formation of bands in several countries. The band still do Blowzabella Day events which feature workshops on dance, instrument technique and arranging music as a band.
From 2006 the line-up of Blowzabella is Andy Cutting – diatonic button accordion. Jo Freya – clarinet, saxophones. Paul James – bagpipes, saxophones. Gregory Jolivet – hurdy-gurdy. David Shepherd – violins. Barn Stradling – bass guitar. Jon Swayne – bagpipes, saxophones. The band released the album Octomento in July 2007 and the live album Dance in 2010. They plan to keep on playing, composing and recording.
A taster of Blowzabella
But it’s not all over for fans. Blowzabella are doing some gigs in the autumn to celebrate their 35 years together which will include a show at Cecil Sharp House in London on 12th October which will include a number of special guests!
Band website www.blowzabella.com