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Origin London
Genres folk, world
Years active 1978–1990, 1996–present
Labels Blowzabella
Website [1]
Members Dave Shepherd (fiddle)
Andy Cutting (melodeon)
Jo Freya (clarinet, saxophone)
Paul James (bagpipes, saxophones)
Gregory Jolivet (hurdy-gurdy)
Barn Stradling (bass guitar)
Jon Swayne (bagpipes, saxophones)
Past members Dave Armitage (melodeon)
Nigel Eaton (hurdy-gurdy)
Chris Gunstone (bouzouki, tapan)
Ian Luff (cittern, bass guitar)
Bill O'Toole (bagpipes, flutes)
Sam Palmer (hurdy-gurdy)
Dave Roberts (melodeon)
Cliff Stapleton (hurdy-gurdy)
Juan Wijngaard (hurdy-gurdy)

Blowzabella is an English band who play bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy and an array of acoustic instruments to produce a driving, drone-based sound influenced by British and European traditional dance music. Many of their tunes have become standards in the modern folk repertoire. Bands who experiment with the boundaries of folk music often cite Blowzabella as a major influence.


The band was formed in Whitechapel, east London in 1978 by Bill O'Toole (bagpipes, flutes) from Sydney and Jon Swayne (bagpipes, flutes) from Glastonbury, both students in London. They invited to join them Chris Gunstone (bouzouki, tapan), Dave Armitage (melodeon, bombarde, percussion) and Juan Wijngaard (hurdy-gurdy, Flemish bagpipes) who was soon replaced by Sam Palmer (hurdy-gurdy). In late 1979 Bill O'Toole returned to Australia and was replaced by Dave Roberts (melodeon, percussion).

The band's name was taken from an English jig (and bawdy drinking song), "Blowzabella My Bouncing Doxie", popular in the late 17th century and early 18th century. Founder-member Bill O'Toole discovered the tune while researching potential bagpipe repertoire in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. The name, with its combination of "blow" and "bella", summed up the band's sound.

In 1980 Dave Armitage left the band, to be replaced by Paul James (bagpipes, woodwind) and Cliff Stapleton (hurdy-gurdy). In 1982 Chris Gunstone left and Dave Armitage rejoined the band for a brief period. Early in 1983 Dave Shepherd (fiddle, five-string fiddle, viola d'amore) became part of the line-up. Later, in 1983 (after the Winnipeg, Vancouver tour), Samuel Palmer left.

After the recording of the album Tam Lin with Frankie Armstrong in 1984, Dave Armitage, Cliff Stapleton left Blowzabella and were replaced by Nigel Eaton (hurdy-gurdy) and Ian Luff (bass guitar, cittern, mandola, darabuka). For the recording of The Blowzabella Wall of Sound (1986) the line-up consisted of Nigel Eaton, Paul James, Ian Luff, Dave Roberts, Dave Shepherd and Jon Swayne.

Jo Freya (vocals, saxophone, clarinet) joined Blowzabella before the recording of A Richer Dust in 1988 (although she is credited as Jo Fraser in the album sleeve, as that was before she changed her name). Andy Cutting (diatonic button accordion) also became part of the band's line-up before 1990s album Vanilla. The pressure of constant touring caused the band to split in December 1990, and each band member took on individual projects, and some continued to play together in duos and trios. In 1996 Dave Roberts died. In 1995 the line-up of Ian Luff, Andy Cutting, Jon Swayne, Nigel Eaton and Dave Shepherd played a concert together in Bath, and from 1996 they continued to play a few concerts a year.

In 2002 Paul James contacted band members with the idea of a reunion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Blowzabella in 2003. The line-up of Andy Cutting, Nigel Eaton, Jo Freya, Paul James, Ian Luff, Dave Shepherd, and Jon Swayne played several festivals. They also performed together at a special reunion concert in Bath in September 2003 with guest appearances by Dave Armitage, Bill O'Toole and Sam Palmer. Renewed enthusiasm combined with lots of new self-composed material encouraged the band to continue. At the end of 2004 Nigel Eaton left the band and was replaced with Gregory Jolivet, from Bourges in France. At the end of 2005 Ian Luff left to be replaced by Barnaby Stradling on bass guitar.

Since January 2006 the line-up of Blowzabella is Andy Cutting, Jo Freya, Paul James, Gregory Jolivet, Dave Shepherd. Barn Stradling and Jon Swayne. In July 2007 they released Octomento – the first album of new material since 1990; and in June 2010 the live album, Dance. They have performed at many festivals in Britain and Europe and staged their own small festival event, called "Blowzabella Day", several times between 2007 and 2012. Blowzabella Day is a learning event of workshops in music and dance with a guest band from Europe who have never before performed in the UK. In 2013 the band staged their Blowzabella Day event in France.


  • Blowzabella (1982) Plant Life Records PLR 038
  • Blowzabella In Colour (1983) Plant Life Records PLR 051
  • Bobbityshooty (1984) Plant Life Records PLR 064 (reissued 1998) Osmosys Records OSMO CD015
  • Tam Lin (Frankie Armstrong and Blowzabella) (1984) Plant Life Records PLR 063
  • The Blowzabella Wall of Sound (1986) Plant Life Records PLR 074 (reissued 1996) Osmosys Records OSMO CD005
  • The B to A of Blowzabella (1986) BZB01
  • A Richer Dust (1988) (reissued 1996) Plant Life Records PLCD 080 (reissued 1996) Osmosys Records OSMO CD010
  • Pingha Frenzy (live on tour in Brazil) (1988) Some Bizarre GHCD 1
  • Vanilla (1990) Special Delivery SPDCD 1028
  • Compilation (1982-1990) (1995) Osmosys Records OSMO CD001
  • Octomento (2007) Blowzabella 1
  • Dance (2010) Blowzabella 2
  • Strange News (2013) Blowzabella 3

In 2009 Fulmine from Vanilla was included in Topic Records 70 year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten as track twenty one on the seventh CD.


  • Encyclopedia Blowzabellica - The Blowzabella Tune & Dance Book (1987) Dragonfly Music
  • Encyclopedia Blowzabellica - The Blowzabella Tune & Dance Book (second edition 2010) ISBN 0-9549013-1-2. ISMN M-9002107-1-5
  • Blowzabella. New Tunes for Dancing. (2004) Blowzabella, Glastonbury, UK. ISBN 0-9549013-0-4

External links[edit]