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Michelle Holloway and Katie Stevens of Bonfire Radicals sit back to back playing their woodwind instruments

The Space Between, Bonfire Radicals – a review

As Birmingham-based band, Bonfire Radicals, prepare to release their second album, 'The Space Between', Alex Hurr tells us which tracks to look out for.

Release Date
30 September 2022
Bonfire Radicals, The Space Between
The Brummie prog-folkers and World Music maestros return with an album that promises to break hearts and crack floorboards in equal measure. Whether they're plying you with 19th-century murder ballads or demanding that you cut a rug, Bonfire Radicals keep things interesting and entirely unique with The Space Between.

The Space Between, the second album from the 6-piece band Bonfire Radicals, is an album with a huge amount to offer from start to finish. It’s a gleeful listen from a band that touts themselves as “(un)tradtional folk” – something I find intriguing. Though they perform a number of traditional songs on this album, they do not shy away from exploring the boundaries of the genre, incorporating unique instrumentation and influences from around the world. 

The album starts with ‘Brenda Stubbert’s Reel’, a fiddle tune written by Jerry Holland in 1982 that has since become part of the fiddle players’ repertoire. This rendition is an excellent opener for an album of this nature. The performance, lead by Sarah Farmer on violin, is fiery and full of passion, preparing the listener for the journey Bonfire Radicals are about to take them on. 

It’s not all thumping rhythms and fast fingers, however. The album also features a rendition of a 19th-century murder ballad that, like the band, hails from Birmingham. Here the Radicals take on a noticeably different style from the previous songs and engage a more sinister atmosphere with their version of ‘Mary Ashford’ (‘Mary Ashford’s Tragedy’ [Roud V9975]). With gripping vocals from Michelle Holloway, the rendition takes on an extremely sensitive and dark tone, and it’s reminiscent of a Gothic Victorian tale of woe that would fit right into the next season of Peaky Blinders (had the series not finished earlier this year). 

The album then takes another radical twist into the world of traditional klezmer with the tracks ‘Sha, Sha, Di Shviger Kumt’ and ‘Freilacher Nashele’. What is quite striking is how effectively Bonfire Radicals pull off such a diverse range of styles on a single album, the songs tied together by the impeccable clarinet playing of Katie Stevens, Pete Churchill’s bass, and Michelle Holloway’s extraordinary recorder playing. These three constantly play off each other, creating a mesmerising polyphony that, no matter the style, draws the listener in. 

With the release of this album, Bonfire Radicals have proven themselves to be an exciting band to keep an eye (and an ear) on. Fans of groups such as Balkan Paradise Orchestra and Sheelanagig will be wanting a copy of this fine album and tickets for their upcoming tour.

To pre-order The Space Between, our on September 30th, head to the Bonfire Radicals Bandcamp page.

Bonfire Radicals on tour

You’ll find Bonfire Radicals at the following places…

1st Nov – Crofters Rights – Bristol