Jon Boden, former frontman of progressive folk eleven-piece Bellowhead, will release his new solo album ‘Afterglow’, via Hudson Recordson October 6, 2017. ‘Afterglow’ is Boden’s first studio release since calling an end to Bellowhead, a 12-year project which sold over a quarter of a million albums, with worldwide sell-out shows including the Royal Albert Hall. Boden will be performing material from the new album – both solo and with his band The Remnant Kings – across an extensive winter tour, taking in a date at Scala, London on November 22, 2017.
The second instalment of a solo album trilogy from Boden, ’Afterglow’ is a companion release to the 12-time BBC Folk Award winner’s post-apocalyptic 2009 release ‘Songs From The Floodplain’, which lead the BBC to name him Folk Singer Of The Year. Whilst ‘Floodplain’ traced the story of a rural post peak-oil community, ‘Afterglow’ relocates Boden’s narrative to an urban street festival – a scene of decaying buildings, burning oil drums and homemade fireworks, in which two lovers are trying to find one another. Speaking about the ideas behind the record, Boden says: “Like my previous album, ‘Afterglow’ imagines a near-future world where the luxuries and comfort of 21st-century life have become scarce, and a harder, simpler existence now prevails.”
Recorded in Sheffield with the help of The Remnant Kings, & with Andy Bell in the producer’s chair, the new album finds Boden drawing both from traditions of the past and his own experiences of present society, as heavily as it does an imagined near-future. It is to the credit of Bodenand his band’s intuitive performances that these themes of unease are explored with such nuanced sleight of hand. ‘Afterglow’ variously features the playing of former Bellowhead members Sam Sweeney (drums) and Paul Sartin (oboe and fiddle), alongside the bass playing of Ben Nicholls (Seth Lakeman, Martin Carthy, Cara Dillon). Look no further than the exquisite sweeps of strings and nimble fingerpicking which backdrop ‘Bee Sting’ (which draws to a close with the sound of an owl’s hoots), which belie Jon’s lyrics actually written part referencing the eye-opening experience of coastal town Lewes’ now notorious annual Bonfire Night free-for-all. “It is an extraordinary, if slightly frightening experience,” says Boden; “There is a wildness about it that is often hinted at in large bonfire night celebrations, but Lewes really takes it a lot further, with barrels of burning tar being dragged along the streets. And then there is the sheer weight of numbers – the streets are rammed and it’s not possible to move against the tide of the crowd.”
As the night captured by the record unfolds and Boden’s lovers go astray amidst the crowds, the gift for assimilating contemporary elements into folk music which made Bellowhead such a crossover success remains front & centre of Boden’s songwriting. The offbeat stomp of ‘Dancing In The Ruin’ is punctuated by blasts of electric guitar, the swelling chorus of ‘Burning Streets’ (in which the central characters manage to slip away together from the gathered masses of the bonfires) tips as equally into tropes of classic rock as it does folk, whilst Boden imbues the elegiac ‘Yellow Light’ – which signals the end of both the night’s revelry and the lovers’ transitory encounter – with a classic 70s song-writerly quality. Album closer ‘Aubade’ captures this artful balance in microcosm – Boden uses a medieval lyrical form for a farewell between lovers as a vehicle for his hero & heroine’s separation, as the dystopian city of the near future returns to its dimmed, regressed state.
That ‘Afterglow’ questions the plausible prospect of a society transformed by climate change with such honesty, is due in part to Boden’s interest in & involvement with the Dark Mountain Project. This collective of thinkers and creatives – who have also recently influenced the music of Susanne Sundfør – produce contemporary art & literature which reflects the current upheaval in ecological, economic and sociopolitical issues. Speaking about the project – which Jon encountered shortly after releasing ‘Floodplain’, later performing for their festival – Boden says; “I guess it influences ‘Afterglow’ so far as I’ve tried to approach it in a non didactic, non cautionary way. The point is the love story, the post-oil ‘regressed future’ setting underpins it all but is not there to make a cautionary point, it is simply there as a likely eventuality.”
For Boden, the ethos of Dark Mountain formed a counterpoint to his reading of various futurist writings from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Richard Jeffries and Cormac McCarthy. Jon recalls; “McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ is an example of a speculative vision that I found too bleak to be able to engage with. I read it in one sitting on a plane journey and cried through most of it! The Road is more ‘apocalyptic’ than ‘post-apocalyptic’ and it’s the ‘post’ bit that really interested me – particularly focusing on the positives of what might remain and what things we might regain that have been lost in the melee of contemporary life”.
And so whilst Boden has re-emerged on ‘Afterglow’ with an album which is unmistakably of the here and now – and one which engages unflinchingly with an unsettling future which is all too close at hand – it is charged nonetheless with vivid imagery, as emotive as the thoroughly human story it tells.