JOHN Spiers is to the squeezebox what Jimi Hendrix was to the electric guitar.

More than a virtuoso, he is a demon – a dynamic artist and an ambassador for the accordion in all its glorious forms.

Best known as a founder member of the multi award-winning prog-folk supergroup Bellowhead, 'Squeezy John' is now a free agent.

Last May Day, his band, which first convened to play the first Oxford Folk Festival 12 years before, called it a day, signing off at the scene of their first show – Oxford Town Hall.

Next weekend John is the star local turn at the folk festival's successor, Folk Weekend Oxford, of which he is a patron.

And, he says, he could not be happier, or more relaxed, to come back and do it alone.

"The weekend sees some of the best traditional music around being played right in the centre of Oxford," he says, speaking from his home in Wootton near Abingdon.

He has been planting potatoes out in the garden and is now sat in a room along with just some of his many melodeons and concertinas. He counts 16 of them.

"It is lovely to come back and get more intimately involved with the weekend this year.

"I've done my time trying to play five festivals in a single bank holiday weekend. Now I'm very much into being part of this wholeheartedly."

He joins one of the event's best ever line-ups, sharing the bill alongside Nancy Kerr, James Fagan, Emily Askew Band, Jim Moray, Dan Walsh,Melrose Ceilidh Band and Leveret.

It also includes ceilidhs, workshops, and unticketed pub, cafe, bookshop and museum sessions... and more morris dancing than you could shake a stick at.

And it has strong local roots, featuring the cream of Oxfordshire's folk artists – people like singer-songwriter and fellow patron Jackie Oates, Megan Henwood, cellist Duotone, Oxford University Ceilidh Band and the White Horse Whisperers.

"It's about Oxford showing off its folk culture to anyone who fancies coming along," says John – who's dad, David 'Stan' Spiers is a legendary figure on the Oxford and Abingdon Morris dancing scenes, his own melodeon refrains enlivening many a 'dance out'.

"This is such a great time of year," he adds. "Oxford comes alive in spring, life returns to its public spaces and the Folk Weekend brightens the place up.

"There is so much going on in Oxford – not just at this festival, but throughout the year. And the music is great.

"British folk music is in a very strong place at the moment, so all the acts, visiting and local, are brilliant."

A native Brummy, the father-of-two's links with the Oxford folk scene mushroomed when he met singer-songwriter Jon Boden at a folk session in the Fir Tree pub, in Iffley Road, in the late 90s. They began performing together as duo Spiers & Boden before expanding to the 11-piece Bellowhead at the request of Oxford Folk Festival's Tim Healey in 2004, for what was originally intended as a one-off show.

They went on to record five studio albums, selling more than 250,000 copies. Their third album, Hedonism, recorded for Island Records at Abbey Road studios, is still the highest selling independently released folk album of all time, while their last, Revival, was a top 12 hit.

They also picked up eight BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, spent eight years as Artists in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre, and graced stages everywhere from Truck and Cropredy festivals to Glastonbury and the Royal Albert Hall.

"When Bellowhead started we were asked to put a band together to headline the first Oxford Folk festival, so we are very much a part of the event's history," says John.

"We could have been a one-gig wonder but it took over our lives."

The band took the decision to split when de facto frontman Jon Boden announced he was leaving.

"It was horrible after that last gig in the Town Hall as I knew that was it," John recalls. "It hit home. It wasn't a celebratory atmosphere.

"I knew we wouldn't go on together, though. I have seen a lot of live bands and know what happens when you try to flog something to death. I felt we had taken it as far as we could without it becoming a chore. We weren't getting worse, but the longer you go on, the greater the demands of the industry, which can be a death knell.

"The whole band was about getting a good feeling from folk music, rather than getting away from it, and we faced settling down with a major label which seemed to only care about selling records and nothing else – and which, when it realised how many they were going to sell, was less supportive than it had been.

"We didn't want to compromise with the record industry, to take the middle of the road and become inoffensive – but to go any further we would have had to do that."

He laughs: "Our diehard fans are still upset, though, and haven't forgiven us yet though."

Still, he says, he is grateful for the success the band achieved. "I spend my entire time as a musician thinking I'm lucky to be doing this," he says.

"To have a living as a musician is a bonus. Any success we have had is amazing and I don't regret anything.

"We all miss each other quiet a lot but it wasn't an acrimonious split so there's no reason not to get together."

He confesses to a partial reunion just a few days ago, with he, Jon and former bandmate Paul Sartin getting together for a session in Oxford's Half Moon, in St Clement's.

And, he insists, he is enjoying the independence which comes of turning up at a show alone with just a pocket full of self-penned tunes and a selection of his 20-odd squeezeboxes for company.

"After Bellowhead I took a long sigh and concentrated on doing solo stuff," he says. "It's a much more natural way of playing the music I do, in more intimate spaces.

"I had always gone out as at least a part of a duo before, with some hiding space. Now there is no hiding space and it's the scariest thing in the world.

"It has taken me a while to get on top of it. I can put so much more of myself into a gig as I don't need to formulate my music for a band to keep up with me. I am practicing more than ever and finding out more about my instruments."

He describes his music as a mix of Morris tunes 'furious reels' and more contemplative numbers.

"I'm solo so I never play the same thing twice – and now I can see the whites of your eyes – so dance if I tell you too!"

John Spiers plays the Oxford Deaf & Hard of Hearing Centre, in St Ebbe's, on Sunday April 23.

Folk Weekend Oxford events take place from April 21-23. Go to