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not only the aforementioned Mr Sweeney and other familiar figures from the original Remnant Kings, Paul Sartin and Rob Harbron, but a vigorous string section, oodles of brass, bass, drums, electric guitars… and a couple of kitchen sinks thrown in for good measure.

“I was thinking ‘I need synths!’ And then, after I’d lived with it for a while, I start- ed hearing strings and brass lines and that’s kinda what I do, so I thought maybe trying to do an electro-pop album was one step too far and I’d be doing it for my own self- interest and decided on strings and brass and concertina and things I knew about.”

Which makes it very different from the modest minimalism of Floodplain.

quickly. Sometimes I think of Afterglow as a sequel to Floodplain, sometimes as a pre- quel and sometimes I think it isn’t directly related at all in literal terms.”

The essential premise of Afterglow is again a world devoid of oil where a Bonfire Night party in an abandoned city of indeter- minate provenance (but very possibly Sheffield) provides the colourful, dramatic backdrop for two lovers trying to find one another in the mayhem. It turns out then to be a concept album of sorts full of joy and hope to balance the darkness and despair.

“I think of it as post-peak oil rather than post-apocalypse. It’s not necessarily dystopian, it’s more of a regressed future. Floodplain was an overview of a communi- ty but this is about one particular night, Bonfire Night basically. I was interested in the idea of how folk customs evolve and keen to combine world music influences and the idea that festivals can combine and congeal, like Diwali and Lohri, the Indian bonfire celebration and the Lewes Bonfire Night with burning barrels and all that stuff, a mash-up of different bonfire night celebrations in my head to make a crazy street party. And this chap comes down from outside the city to be a part of this mayhem because he wants to find a girl he’d met at a previous carnival.”

He accepts none of this may be immedi- ately apparent from a cursory listen to Afterglow and that’s deliberate – he doesn’t like to spell things out, believing personal interpretations are so much more potent than obvious storylines. Indeed, he wonders even if he should be telling me any of this now, as he reflects on one of his favourite current bands Arcade Fire.

“They write concept albums but don’t

tell anyone it’s a concept album so you have to listen to it and work it out for yourself and it becomes a real journey for the listener. But I’m not really at that stage and I feel I need to give people a way into it. From the compositional point of view I try not to be too specific because I don’t want to get too bogged down and I don’t want to end up writing a musical… just leave narrative space with cinematic images to drive it.”

It is a musical spectacular – an outra- geously ambitious one at that, featuring

“I was very much in the middle of Bello… er…” Move on Jon, let it go… “Well, with Floodplain I was trying not to make it sound like Bellowhead so I made a point of doing it without orchestration and I think that worked on its own terms, but I did think I maybe should have made it more cin- ematic. With Afterglow I felt more freedom to do what the album wanted without the need to define it from Bellowhead. It’s cer- tainly less of a folk album and melodically it has more pop melodies, which I think came naturally out of the story. It’s a fun street party so the choruses came out of that.”

The premise stems, of course, from his deeply-held beliefs that oil will inevitably run out at some point and his fascination for the effect this will have on society and culture. He’s read plenty of literature on the subject, notably Cormac McCarthy’s caution- ary post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, which he read with heavy heart and tearful eyes in one sitting without necessarily subscribing to its doom-laden scenarios.

doing something that says ‘if we don’t mend our ways, this is how we’ll end up’. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do but I’m personally not interested in doing that. I’m as big an oil addict as anyone. I’m interested in saying that in whatever sce- nario we end up there will be good things as well as bad things.”


“I believe oil will cease to be available a long time before we run out of it because as soon as we reach peak oil, governments will stockpile it because you can’t do anything in military terms without oil. You can’t grow enough bio-diesel for the military, let alone all of us, so as soon as that happens civilisa- tion will face a big challenge.

“The best case scenario is that we’ll be sensible about it and think it’s important for people to be safe and happy and say we don’t all need cars, we don’t need to be fly- ing around the world. The more likely sce- nario is that we’ll all behave like drug addicts who’ve run out of their fix and to some extent it will go bad. At the time of Floodplain in 2009 I was feeling pretty depressed about the chances of us dealing with this sort of thing in a sensible way but funnily enough, even though the world is far more dystopian now than in 2009, I feel far more optimistic about it. I’ve got no real reason to think this but I feel fairly positive that communities are fairly resilient and people are pretty good at looking after their neighbours and stuff.”

ost people accept the life we lead now is not sustainable on its current terms, but I’m not interested in

“From a folkie point of view, as soon as cars get taken out of the mix, you immedi- ately get communities based on geography rather than Facebook and that’s when folk customs and dance and song and the whole thing becomes real again. I do think that’s a powerful force for making people happy. The idea of social music-making is a great source of happiness – something that’s been lost since the Second World War. The West- ern world in general doesn’t realise we have lost it but the folk scene does and that’s what we’re trying to cling on to. That’s the celebratory side – the thought of regaining that way of making each other happy and I think this album puts quite a positive slant on the whole thing.”

The community aspect of the music has long been dear to Boden’s heart, as evi- denced by his involvement in a monthly folk club in South Yorkshire, where guests per- form a set in the main pub and not a func- tion room and are then invited to join a general singaround, thus restoring the music to its community context.

His current big production shows with the greatly expanded Remnant Kings are a far cry from that (though he makes a per- suasive argument why they can perfectly complement one another) and you can only watch them on stage in awe and admira- tion. Showcased at this summer’s Cam- bridge Folk Festival there were one or two scratched heads and furrowed brows at the barrage of unfamiliar material from such a familiar figure and you feel there must be a few morsels of self-doubt and nervousness about his ability to successfully pull off this colossally ambitious latest trick.

“It’s ambitious trying to tell a story on

stage. It’s difficult knowing how far to go the- atricalising it. I could just play the whole album with no talking and lots of visuals or go the whole hog and get in actors but I’ve no interest in doing that. So how do you pitch the gig? I do think it needs to be a gig, to tell the story through the gig and not turn it into a theatre show. As far as the band is con- cerned I do have some experience working with a big band, so that was fine. It was really nice being able to start a band that ambitious and kinda know I knew what I was doing.”

But this is a whole new chapter. This is it… your immediate future, new band, new project, new audience maybe… a leap into uncharted waters. That’s got to make you nervous? “No I’m not nervous. What I’ve come to realise about myself is that I hate missed opportunities. What worries me is not making the most of stuff. I’ve been so lucky with opportunities over the years and I don’t want to squander any of them. So we’ve done it. We haven’t cut any corners with the album or the band and I’m very confident that whatever happens, however successful it is, I know I will have done my best. If audi- ences get it and want to be part of it, then great, it will work. If not, then that’s fine. I’ve been uncompromising about it as a project and it has to work on its own terms, so no, I’m not nervous about it. It is what it is.”

Indeed, he’s already talking in terms of the next one to complete the trilogy.

He tours it with the big band through November and it’s the first half of the show – when he plays solo – that he’s more wor- ried about. In all those years with Spiers & Boden, Eliza Carthy’s Ratcatchers and Bel- lowhead, he’s rarely performed solo.

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