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Pete Lawrence - 24 Mar 2018
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As well as the sound, it's the motion - the Blowzabella whirlwind that sweeps the dance floor. The ceilidh as triumphant sweaty celebration of life, of release, abandon. The buzz of joyous human interaction.

I first encountered Blowzabella in 1983 when I started working at a small music distribution company called Making Waves in East London and one of the cottage industry labels we handled delighted in the name of Plant Life. Their best selling album at the time had the unlikely title of 'Bobbityshooty' and the band's name was even more exotic and rather Italian sounding - Blowzabella. It sounded promising.

I immediately put on said vinyl record the wasn't quite prepared for the sound that I heard. 'Shave The Monkey' - another title to conjure with. It was an Irish jig but sounded a lot more exotic, with its melange of bagpipes, fiddles and, crucially the weirdest of all instruments, the hurdy gurdy taking it somewhere else altogether - possibly into the stratosphere. Shortly after that, I trekked across town to see the band play at The Chestnuts folk club in Walthamstow and I was immediately hooked.  The music was compelling. As well as a nod to Celtic roots, it very much looked south and east for inspiration - not just towards France and Italy but to the Balkans and beyond. It pre-dated the world music tag.

Blowzabella on the Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury 1985 : photo Pete Lawrence

I became friendly with their leader Paul James around that time and renewed acquaintances at a very wet Glastonbury in 1985 when amazingly they turned up to open the Pyramid stage and did a great job rousing the sleepy-eyed and great unwashed into action. My relationship with Paul and band led us to release a spin-off project of the band on my Cooking Vinyl label in 1989 under the name of Ancient Beatbox, which featured Sheila Chandra (band mate of Paul's in Monsoon) on lead vocals on 'Raining (My Eyes Are Filled With Clouds) which was instantly celebrated in 'indie' circles and had a rather good video made for it by the producers of Snub TV.

So what is it about Blowzabella? It's certainly the case that many bands who experiment with the boundaries of folk music often cite Blowzabella as a major influence, due to the originality of their sound. For me, it is the intensity of the sound, the haunting drone-like quality of their unusual instrumentation that wins out. "A glorious racket" as my late, departed friend Dave Roberts used to say. We used to describe it as 'The Blowzabella wall of sound' which is actually the title they used for one of their formative albums. Their choice of material ranges from obscure mazurkas to a tidy cover of The Violent Femmes 'Hallowed Ground'.

As well as the sound, it's the motion - the Blowzabella whirlwind that sweeps the dance floor. The ceilidh as triumphant sweaty celebration of life, of release, abandon. The buzz of joyous human interaction.

The cult of Blowzabella continues to get stronger as they celebrate their 40th anniversary this year and tonight play a celebratory gig at Cecil Sharp House in Camden, arguably the home of folk music in England. I saw them last night at David Hall, South Petherton in deepest Somserset and they were on top of their game. It was a joyous night.

Take some time out to check out their extraordinary music... 



 

 

2 Comments

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Josie Kemp

Wow! So many good friends featured in this video Pete. What a great festival that was. Thanks for posting this footage. Good memories 😘👌🏻X

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satkartar Kennedy

Im up for jig/celidlh anyday!! ha ha . ....reminds me of the green gathering festival...also when i volunteered on the low impact communities eg stewardwood community near moretonhamstead, & lammas in Wales.

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