In part two of their tour diary Blowzabella head to Eisenach, Germany where they perform in stone cellar…Andy Cutting gives a sneak preview of the performance, Paul James catches up with a German bagpipe maker at the bar and Jon Swayne greets us the following morning for a guided tour of the Bach Museum by the museum director.
In the beginning ….
Blowzabella was formed in Whitechapel, London in 1978 by Bill O’Toole (bagpipes, flutes) from Sydney, Australia and Jon Swayne (bagpipes, flutes) from Glastonbury, Somerset. The first musicians they invited to join them either came from London or were living there at the time – Chris Gunstone (bouzouki, tapan); Juan Wijngaard (hurdy-gurdy, flemish bagpipes) who taught the band some of the first tunes they played; Sam Palmer (hurdy-gurdy) who took over from Juan in 1978, and Dave Armitage (melodeon, bombard, percussion). Dave Roberts (melodeon, percussion) joined in late 1979 when Bill returned to Australia. When the band began Jon, Bill and Dave were studying woodwind instrument making and Sam had just finished studying fretted instrument making at the London College of Furniture in Commercial Road, Whitechapel E1. Jon and Sam lived in an area of run down tenements rather optimistically called Fieldgate Mansions near the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the East London Mosque and the men’s hostel where Joseph Stalin once stayed. When Jon returned to Somerset he passed on to Dave Armitage his flat at 14 Fieldgate Mansions, Myrdle Street, Whitechapel, London E1 which was Blowzabella HQ for the next five years or so. Chris lived in Blackheath and was heavily involved in balkan music and dance. This led to there being a Macedonian “wing” of the band called Izvoren who played with Balkan dance groups around London. Australian multi-cultural music guru Linsey Pollak (macedonian gaida, kaval, saxophone) was in London around that time and played balkan music with some of the band and Peter Lees, a wonderful hammered dulcimer player who they met at the College, did a few gigs with Blowzabella in the very early days.
Blowzabella is the name of an English jig tune from the late 17th or early 18th centuries. The band came across it in Wrights “Complete Collection of Celebrated Country Dancing” while serching in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House for one octave English tunes to play on the bagpipes. The “blow” and the “bella” seemed to describe the sound they made and the name stuck. There is also a bawdy song of the same period “Blowzabella my bouncing doxy” (using the same tune). “Blowzabella” being one of many 17th century slang words for a woman who made her living on the streets.
Other tour highlights, courtesy of Jo Freya
Best story so far. Night before last we stayed in a pension. They tend to be converted apartments I.e. all rooms made into bedrooms, one bathroom and one extra toilet. Clean but basic and big enough for a band.
Gregory (main photo) went in the shower without his towel and saw one tucked away so used it. He also saw some spray stuff that he thought might be deodorant so he used that too.Turns out it was the dogs towel and some spray for the dog too.
I only found that out when we got to the next town and were about to leave the hotel for the sound check and Greg was late. He was in the shower as he had started to itch! I decided I only need to worry when he starts scratching behind his ear with his foot.
The dog gags have been coming thick and fast ever since.
A Taster of Blowzabella
Band website www.blowzabella.com