After twelve years as frontman of folk festival behemoth Bellowhead, Jon Boden returned to solo performance with appearances at this Summer’s Cambridge and Sidmouth stages. Folk Radio UK caught up with him at the latter for a quick chat about the tenth-anniversary re-issue of his debut solo album Painted Lady (read our review here), and his forthcoming solo UK tour.
It’s ten years since the original release of your first solo album Painted Lady, so how does it feel to be revisiting those songs now?
“It’s really interesting going back to them after going through the whole Bellowed experience in the interim. In terms of my career it seems more logical to do it now – the fact that I actually did it ten years ago is something of an inconvenience, really! Ten years ago I was still quite new to performing my own stuff, and I was aware, as I was recording it that it’s very much an album written by somebody in their twenties and I was also very much aware of my thirties becoming imminent and I think I was just a bit uncomfortable about performing those songs I’d written when I was twenty-two. Now I’m so far away from my twenties it’s fine…
“Maybe I psyched myself out of doing it at the time. I think I was just nervous about singing my own songs on stage, having only ever performed traditional material. Then I did Songs From The Floodplain, which I was much more comfortable with as it was storytelling, and that got me more used to performing my own songs and now I’m really up for trying them all out on stage.”
One of the striking things about the album is the fact that you played all the instruments himself.
“Yes, though I didn’t quite plan it that way! I went up to Ben Ivitski’s place, up in the borders, and asked him to produce it. He sat in the control room and went ‘no! that’s rubbish!’ ‘Do something else!’ ‘Play that again!’ I thought I’d just demo them all to see what they were like with the intention of getting in other musicians, but something about the roughness of some of the instruments I can’t-play-but-did sounded just right. if you get in a really great drummer and ask them to play like someone who’s not very good, it’s not going to go down too well, but I genuinely can’t play the drums so therefore I was the best qualified person to do that! There is a particular dynamic that you get from musicians playing instruments that they’re not used to playing. There’s something exciting about having nothing to prove – it’s quite liberating.”
Video Premiere: Get A Little Something
The new edition of Painted Lady includes three bonus tracks, one of which will be very familiar to anyone who shook a leg on the nation’s dance floors in the late 80s!
“I’ve wanted to tackle I Want To Dance With Somebody for a few years. It’s such an anthemically cheesey 80s pop hit, and I’ve always loved Whitney Houston’s recording. I was listening to it randomly, really listening to the lyrics for the first time, and they’re just brilliant and quite dark and brooding. So yes, that’s my favourite song ever, now.”
Along, with every Tom Waits song?
“Yes! Along with those, of course!”
There’s a UK tour in November, looking forward to it?
“I’m really looking forward to it! It’s difficult to work out a set list because I want to do a bit of everything, really. There’s a few Painted Lady songs that I’m looking forward to doing – I guess more the ballady ones. The rockier songs are a bit tricky to do solo – I might save those for a band tour at some point. There’ll also be songs from Songs From The Floodplain and some from the Bellowhead repertoire.
Is there a new album on the way?
“Hopefully, yes. I’m aiming to get back into the swing of writing, so we’ll see what happens.” In the meantime, I’ve compiled and written the sleeve notes for The Ultimate English Folk Music, which is a double CD coming out in September on the Arc Music label.”
Painted Lady is released on 30th September by Navigator Records. Available as a CD, 180gm vinyl LP and a download with previously unavailable bonus tracks. Those pre-ordering from propermusic.com will also receive a limited edition signed A5 art card (while stocks last) and MP3 of an additional previously unreleased track. Jon Boden is on tour throughout the UK in November, performing entirely solo with voice, fiddle, guitar, concertina and stomp box. He’ll be playing a variety of traditional material (including a few Bellowhead favourites) alongside his own songs from Painted Lady and Songs from the Floodplain.