If you went to Ibiza a short while ago you could have experienced a bizarre sight. The Dorset folk duo Ninebarrow – fresh from winning the accolade ‘Best Emerging Act’ at the 2017 BBC Folk Awards – were wowing the crowds at the Costa Del Folk.
It’s worth a YouTube – this most English of bands playing Prickle Eye Bush in the soaring sunshine in a Mediterranean setting. All the band’s songs are inspired by Dorset countryside and people.
‘It was an intriguing experience,’ Jon Whitley told the digital Blackmore Vale Magazine. Jon and Jay LaBouchardiere, a working GP, are Ninebarrow.
‘The day before it was a thunderstorm and the organisers planned to bring everything under cover, but next day as we were about to come on – the sun came out.’
They played a blinding set, receiving deserved applause and left the stage exhausted but elated.
Famous for their poetic lyrics and tight, clean harmony Ninebarrow are set to become big names following a string of successful albums, concerts and awards. They explain their songwriting process.
‘There’s no basic formula,’ says Jon. ‘Our sitting room is full of books on Dorset, our favourite poet is William Barnes, and we’ll get an idea and build it from there. Or, being keen walkers, we’ll get inspiration from the landscape, a lyric will come, a melody will emerge and we’ll develop it.’
The duo describe their song writing process as ‘constructive argument.’ Similar to the rock band Queen, one will have the germ of a song, the other would take it further, suggest new lyrics and enhance the melody. Sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the lyrics. The vital ingredient is collaboration.
‘It’s a tug of war,’ says Jon. ‘You need somebody to push you further than you’d go yourself. To go beyond where you’re comfortable. You won’t develop as an artist unless you’re pushed like that.’
Studio recording is famously nerve-wracking for bands. One can play a song perfectly in your sitting room, but get in front of a microphone and when the green light goes on you freeze.
‘It’s been easier since Covid,’ says Jon, ‘as there’s only me or Jay there and we find it easier. The really nervous time is when the early mixes are sent through a month later. Has the producer really understood what we’re aiming for?’
The couple, who also run Ninebarrow Walking Tours – for an enchanting mixture of living nature and fine live music – have just released their new album, ‘A Pocket Full of Acorns.’
It is well known that Jon and Jay are responsible for planting 1,000 native British broadleaved trees and 200 shrubs in a three acre site near Gillingham called the Ninebarrow Woodland. Less well-known is the story behind it.
‘We were concerned about the impact our touring had on the environment. In a normal year we’d drive more than 10,000 miles and that alone is frightening in terms of the carbon footprint. And it’s not only our footprint but that of the audiences who travel to see us.’
Being a self-confessed ‘spreadsheet geek,’ Jon calculated that they generated more than 2.5 tons of Co2 annually. Audience travel added a further half ton of Co2.
The inspiration for the woodland came when the band learnt an astounding story while on tour in the Newcastle-on-Tyne.
They found a tribute to vice-admiral Collingwood, who famously took over command at the battle of Trafalgar after Lord Nelson was killed. The admiral was concerned about the future of Britain’s oak forests – which provided the Royal Navy with timber for its ships.
‘Collingwood took to carrying acorns in his pockets, planting them in suitable places as he went on his rambles,’ says Jay.
Hence the title track of the duo’s latest CD A Pocket Full of Acorns.
What they planted
- 500 oaks
- 125 silver birch
- 125 hornbeam
- 75 wild cherries
- 50 field maples
- 25 alder
- 25 crab apple
- 25 walnut
- 25 rowan
- 25 sweet chestnut
- 100 hazel
- 75 hawthorn
- 25 spindle bushes