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‘Wickedly-inventive’ folk duo Belshazzar’s Feast coming back to Cambridge

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Musicians Paul Sartin (oboe, violin, swanee whistle and vocals) and Paul Hutchinson (accordion) are notorious for their superlative ability, wit, rapport and depth of experience, creating a concert to remember.

Belshazzar's Feast. Picture: Sarah J Dow
Belshazzar's Feast. Picture: Sarah J Dow

Together, as Belshazzar’s Feast, they have entertained audiences across the UK, Australia and beyond with their eclectic and eccentric mix of tunes, songs and humour.

Live audiences can look forward to an inspired collection of tunes – stirred into the mix are classical, pop, music hall and traditional folk music, all laced with the duo’s wry humour – when the duo play the Junction next Tuesday (June 1).

As well as many previous appearances in Cambridge – including at the Folk Festival – Belshazzar’s Feast have released nine albums over the course of their 25-year career.

Their first winter-themed album, Frost Bites, earned them a nomination for Best Duo at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, while their most recent long-playing effort, The Whiting’s on the Wall (2014), was described by music magazine Songlines as “one of the most intimate and entertaining live albums I’ve heard”.

Hampshire-based Paul Sartin, who performs and records extensively with Belshazzar’s Feast, the trio Faustus, Jon Boden & the Remnant Kings – and with multi award-winning big band Bellowhead – said: “We’re returning to the Cambridge Junction. We’ve been there before but not for some time. So it’s nice to go back to a familiar venue, especially after this lockdown.”

Paul says that he and the other Paul, who were the best man at each other’s weddings, have managed to get together and rehearse. “We live locally and we’ve both been jabbed, so we’ve been rehearsing probably more than we’ve ever done before, because we’ve had the space in which to do it,” he noted.

“We’ve been working together for around 25 years and we just thought that this breathing space has given us the chance to develop some new material and dust off the back catalogue as well. So we’ve tried to turn it to our advantage.”

During the first lockdown, the pair communicated via Zoom and by text. “We had a huge hiatus and then we did a couple of online things,” explained Paul, a choral scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford. “We did an online gig for Christmas, which was great, and then we pre-recorded something for Christmas Day as well.”

On what the Junction audience can expect, Paul said: “We’re sort of rooted in traditional music, mainly of England, but we like to have fun with music. This all started many years ago when we were playing for a lot of cèilidhs – and in the cèilidhs you have to play the same tune a number of times.

“And we used to get a bit bored so to entertain ourselves, we put little snippets of silly tunes and famous tunes and things like that in to make each other laugh, and then gradually as we expanded to doing more concert work, we carried on in that vein.

“So there’s enough serious stuff but actually it’s more all-round entertainment really. That’s what we do, and we like to make people laugh and ourselves laugh as well.”

A BASCA-nominated composer, Paul’s commissions include works for the RSC, Choir of Somerville College, Oxford, Streetwise Opera, Aldeburgh Music, and the BBC Radio 4 series, Playing the Skyline.

He continues to work in education and has gained an MMus with distinction from the University of Newcastle. He is a recipient of a 75th Anniversary Award from the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Wiltshire-based Paul Hutchinson studied piano and church organ before taking up the accordion because the local Morris side needed a musician. Cecil Sharp House, Halsway Manor and Benslow Music, various summer schools (Dartington, Folkworks, Marlborough) and festivals including The Australia National have all employed Paul as a tutor because of his unique style.

He has more than a passing interest in English dance music and, following the publication of his book of 18th-century dance tunes by Faber Music in 2019, Paul composed and recorded variations of these tunes with The Maniacs.

Reviews of this album likened the sound to both Jethro Tull and Penguin Café Orchestra.

Catch Belshazzar’s Feast at the Junction’s J1 on Tuesday, June 1, in what will be two seated and socially distanced performances, each at 25 per cent capacity.

Tickets are £17 in advance. Visit junction.co.uk.

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