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+ {Ancient Beatbox}

The brainchild of Jon Swayne and Bill O’Toole, who were studying in Whitechapel, London, late in 1978, BLOWZABELLA (the name lifted from an 18th century bawdy English jig, `Blowzabella, My Bouncing Doxie’) were a combination of all things folk music: generally trad/dance, world/eastern and Celtic/ceilidh.
Made up from various London college students from all over the country and beyond (original bagpipe player Bill O’Toole was from Sydney, Australia), the embryonic line-up soon settled into place by 1980. Comprising Swayne, Paul James, Chris Gunstone, Cliff Stapleton, Sam Palmer and Dave Roberts; both instrument makers themselves, Juan Wijngaard and Dave Armitage duly left to take up that worthy profession.
The eponymous BLOWZABELLA (1982) {*7} saw the band’s strengths go from colourful live festival attraction to establishing a tight and structured BLOWZABELLA sound. The line-up however was never stable too long: Dave Shepherd (ex-DR. COSGILL’S DELIGHT’s fiddler) and the returning Dave Armitage (melodeon, bombarde) replaced Gunstone before a second instalment, IN COLOUR (1983) {*7}. Featuring Terry Chimes (ex-CLASH), Max Johnson, Dave Mitchell and John Spires (of the Dead Sea Surfers), it dug deeper into the annuls of English, European and Balkan folk heritage, marking them out as masters-noir similar in some respects to 70s/80s… Morris pioneers The ALBION DANCE BAND.
Striking up a long-lasting friendship with folk-singing stalwart FRANKIE ARMSTRONG (plus Brian Pearson and Jon Gillaspie), the Blowz featured on the collaborative LP, `Tam Lin’ (1984). Another feather in the boa for the widely travelled ‘Zabella, BOBBITYSHOOTY (1984) {*6}, THE BLOWZABELLA WALL OF SOUND (1986) {*6} and THE B TO A OF BLOWZABELLA (1987) {*6}, danced a pretty tune around their rivals; the latter two introduced Nigel Eaton and Ian Luff to take over from the outgoing Stapleton and Armitage.
Adding the returning Swayne (who’d been off-duty on the “live in Brazil” LP, PINGHA FRENZY (1988) {*6}, A RICHER DUST (1988) {*7} grew from music the group had penned marking the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Stoke Field; they had now added Jo Fraser (ex-OLD SWANN BAND and soon-to-be, Jo Freya). To mark Eaton and James’ moonlighting project, an eponymous album was released in 1989. ANCIENT BEATBOX (1989) {*5} – featuring special guest vocals of SHEILA CHANDRA – highlighted a one-off single `Raining (My Eyes Are Filled With Clouds)’.
The inclusion of young Andy Cutting on BLOWZABELLA’s VANILLA (1990) {*6} was short-lived (as was Roberts who sadly died in 1996) when the ensemble split. Although they periodically reunited for the odd gig, most became involved with other projects: Cutting joined forces with CHRIS WOOD, Freya went solo and formed Tanteeka for one set (with said Andy).
However, not all was lost as Paul James got the band together for a 25th anniversary shindig (in 2003), resulting in himself, Swayne, Shepherd, Freya and Cutting re-grouping in 2006 with newcomers Gregory Jolivet (hurdy-gurdy) and Barn Stradling (bass) for the recording of comeback set, OCTOMENTO {*6}; a live concert set DANCE (2010) {*6} kept the long-serving BLOWZABELLA in good stead with their ever-growing folk-dance fanbase.
Collecting traditional tunes and schottisches from southern England in the early 20th century (plus others o’er frae France), the same septet produced 2013’s STRANGE NEWS {*8}. Ever so avant-garde folk and step-dance/waltz continental, music once marked out by Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams (`Nelly Was A Milkmaid’ and `All Things Are Quite Silent’ respectively) are resurrected by the team and their angelic chanter Jo Freya; the title track and the wind-driven instrumental `Falco’ were other obvious earworms.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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