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Blowzabella at Folkiri 2018 in Le Mans
|Past members||Dave Armitage|
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[which?] have become standards in the modern folk repertoire.
Since the band formed in the Autumn of 1978, Blowzabella’s music has evolved from simple performances of traditional English and European dance tunes to more complex arrangements of tunes composed by themselves that is based on British and European folk music traditions. Over the years the line-up of the band has changed, and the signature wall of sound has evolved too, while staying true to a set of basic principles that were there from the start - the use of drones and unusual instruments, memorable tunes, an emphasis on strong rhythmic playing and improvisation around the melody, harmonies and rhythms so that every piece can develop over time through live performance.
Blowzabella was formed in Whitechapel, London in the autumn of 1978 by Bill O’Toole (bagpipes, flutes) from Sydney, Australia; Jon Swayne (bagpipes, flutes) from Glastonbury, Somerset; Sam Palmer (hurdy-gurdy), Chris Gunstone (bouzouki, tapan) and Dave Armitage (melodeon, percussion, bass curtal) who are all from London. Dave Roberts (melodeon, percussion) joined in late 1979 when Bill returned to Australia. Before the band was named Blowzabella some of them played occasionally with Paul James (bagpipes, woodwinds), Juan Wijngaard (hurdy-gurdy), Peter Lees (Hammered dulcimer) and Cliff Stapleton (recorder, hurdy-gurdy).
The band's name was taken from an English jig "Blowzabella" and bawdy drinking song "Blowzabella My Bouncing Doxie", popular in the late 17th century and early 18th century. The band discovered the tune while researching for bagpipe repertoire in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. The name, with its combination of "blow" and "bella", summed up the band's sound.
In late 1979, Bill O'Toole returned to Australia and Dave Roberts (melodeon, percussion) joined the group. In 1980, Dave Armitage left the band and Paul James (bagpipes, woodwind) and Cliff Stapleton (hurdy-gurdy) joined. Paul James became the band's manager, organising their live performances and recordings. The band recorded their first album Blowzabella in 1982 with Chris Gunstone, Paul James, Dave Roberts, Sam Palmer, Cliff Stapleton and Jon Swayne. Chris Gunstone left soon after and Dave Armitage rejoined the band for a brief period. In 1982, Dave Shepherd (fiddle, five-string fiddle, viola d'amore) joined. He had previously played in bands with Dave Roberts and Paul James. The band recorded the album In Colour in 1983 with Dave Armitage, Paul James, Sam Palmer, Dave Roberts, Dave Shepherd, Cliff Stapleton and Jon Swayne and guests Max Johnson, Dave Mitchell, John Spires (of the Dead Sea Surfers) and Clash and Generation X drummer Terry Chimes. Later that year, after a tour that included a trip to play at Vancouver and Winnipeg folk festivals, Samuel Palmer left. In 1984, the band recorded album Tam Lin with Frankie Armstrong and Brian Pearson, and the album Bobbityshooty with Dave Armitage, Paul James, Dave Roberts, Dave Shepherd, Cliff Stapleton and Jon Swayne. In 1985, Dave Armitage and Cliff Stapleton left and Nigel Eaton (hurdy-gurdy) and Ian Luff (bass guitar, cittern, mandola, darabuka) joined the band and they recorded the album The Blowzabella Wall of Sound in 1986 with Nigel Eaton, Paul James, Ian Luff, Dave Roberts, Dave Shepherd and Jon Swayne.
In 1987, they recorded the live album Pingha Frenzy while on tour in Brazil for the British Council with Nigel Eaton, Paul James, Ian Luff, Dave Roberts and Dave Shepherd. Jo Freya (vocals, saxophone, clarinet) joined Blowzabella before the recording of the album A Richer Dust in 1988 (credited as Jo Fraser on the album, as this was before she assumed her stage name Jo Freya) which also saw the return of founder member Jon Swayne to the line-up. Andy Cutting (diatonic button accordion) joined in 1989 and appears on the album Vanilla recorded in 1990 with Andy Cutting, Nigel Eaton, Jo Freya, Paul James, Ian Luff and Jon Swayne. This line-up toured frequently in Britain and Europe and made many festival appearances.
The pressure of constant touring led to the decision to take a break from December 1990. In 1996, Dave Roberts died. The line-up of Ian Luff, Andy Cutting, Jon Swayne, Nigel Eaton and Dave Shepherd played a small number of performances from 1995 to 2001. In 2002, Paul James proposed the band reform and organised performances to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Blowzabella in 2003. Andy Cutting, Nigel Eaton, Jo Freya, Paul James, Ian Luff, Dave Shepherd and Jon Swayne played several festivals and performed together at a special reunion concert in Bath in September 2003, with guest appearances by Dave Armitage, Bill O'Toole and Sam Palmer. At the end of 2004, Nigel Eaton left the band and was replaced by Gregory Jolivet, from Bourges, France. In December 2005 Ian Luff left and was replaced by Barnaby Stradling on bass guitar.
Since January 2006, the line-up has remained the same. In July 2007, the band released the album Octomento, their first album of new material since 1990. This was followed in June 2010 by the live album, Dance and an album of new and traditional material Strange News in October 2013 and Two Score in 2018. Gregory Jolivet left the band in August 2020 due to the problems for musicians caused by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. The band continues to compose, record and perform live.
- 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
- Pingha Frenzy (live on tour in Brazil) (1987) Some Bizarre GHCD 1
- A Richer Dust (1988) (reissued 1996) Plant Life Records PLCD 080 (reissued 1996) Osmosys Records OSMO CD010
- 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
- Two Score (2018) Blowzabella 4
- Encyclopedia Blowzabellica - The Blowzabella Tune & Dance Book (1987) Dragonfly Music
- Encyclopedia Blowzabellica - The Blowzabella Tune & Dance Book (Second edition 2010. Published by Blowzabella) ISBN 0-9549013-1-2. ISMN M-9002107-1-5
- Blowzabella. New Tunes for Dancing. (2004) Published by Blowzabella. ISBN 0-9549013-0-4