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A night of folk music at the Proms

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Ariane Todes: The BBC Proms are well underway and on Sunday I went to my first this year, to see Bellowhead, one of my favourite bands.

I saw Bellowhead for the first time in 2006, a gig which drove me to my current folk music obsession. The passion and engagement with which they put across historical songs of innocent maidens, evil knights and lonely sailors, not to mention their darn-fine musicianship, are irresistible. It’s not surprising that the Proms director, Roger Wright, chose them to spearhead his campaign to make the festival more ‘inclusive’, although I’m not sure what he means by it. There were plenty of folkies there, which is great, but the audience was smaller than for most classical Proms, which made me wonder whether it’s possible to make classical music audiences drink once you’ve led them to folk music. And will the folkies come back for the classical concerts? I’ve always been optimistic about the boundaries between music types falling away, but this did make me wonder.

It was a great gig, though. I hadn’t heard singer-fiddler Bella Hardy before, but she has a beautifully pure voice, accompanying herself on the fiddle at the same time, a skill at which I always marvel: whenever I try, one or other or both of the lines go wrong. She was followed by guitarist Martin Simpson, and both of them managed to turn the cavernous Albert Hall into an intimate space for their songs.

But, of course, it was eleven-piece Bellowhead that got the hall buzzing and stamping with their big-band orchestrations and fiddling furies. Jon Boden, the lead singer-fiddler – who wrote an article on the English folk fiddle tradition for us last October – was on fine form, although the acoustics did no one any favours, as usual. I don’t know if the gig did anything to reconcile classical boffins with folky types, but it was a great night out.

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