John Jones of Oysterband fame walks the White Horse Trail – with three local folk gigs

Written by Tony Millett on .

John Jones, who sings with the award-winning folk-rock Oysterband, is taking to the White Horse Trail in July with a series of five gigs in five days – and a hundred miles of walking with his dogs and with his fans.  Joining him are his band, the Reluctant Ramblers - they’ll be performing gigs in Marlborough and Devizes and a session in a Pewsey pub.

John will be accompanied by his two dogs – deerhound-lurcher crosses with the length of leg that makes them anything but reluctant ramblers.  The darker one (in the photo) is Tarn and the lighter one, Celt. John Jones has already been on several summer walking-and-performing tours – including the Welsh Borders, Dorset and the Peak District. 

Why did John decide to mix walking with his folk singing? “I had the crazy idea of walking to gigs a few years ago and somehow managed to persuade reluctant musicians and a smiling but sceptical agency to help.” “Rushing from gig to gig, crowded motorways, increased stress levels and time wasted staring out of tour bus windows at inviting hills rolling by just made me think: walking 20 miles, setting up in a pub, church, canal-side…anywhere…was worth trying as a much-needed alternative. It caught people’s imagination.”

This year’s tour starts at Goring-on-Thames on July 16 and takes in gigs at Nettlebed, Wantage, Marlborough and Devizes and an informal session at The Crown in Pewsey, ending on Saturday, July 22 with a gig at  Westbury’s Village Pump Folk Festival.  He’s played in Marlborough before – an acoustic gig about two years ago at the Town Hall for Marlborough Folk Roots.

John and the band want as many people as possible to join them walking, listening and taking a pint or two of real ale or cider: “This year’s tour includes exhilarating walking by day and fun gigs at night. I hope as many people as possible will join me, for a short walk or a longer stretch, to say hello over a pint at lunchtime or evening, or just for a gig.” John stresses that it’s not an outward-bound experience or a route march – not more than twenty miles a day: “Once up on The Ridgeway the walking is easy under foot and the views tremendous...a chance for a really unique shared experience. And I will be debuting new songs especially written for the occasion!" Details of the route and how to join in are on the tour’s website.

However, for those with sore feet cars are allowed: once John and the walkers arrive in Avebury and have had some refreshment in the Red Lion, they’ll be driven in a small fleet of cars to the gig in Marlborough – full details below.

The Oysterband are on something of a roll this year.  Joined by June Tabor, the band won Best Group in the 2012 BBC Folk Awards – also taking Best Album (for Ragged Kingdom) and Best Traditional Track (for Bonny Bunch of Roses.)  And they are a top featured band for the Great British Folk Festival at Butlins Skegness at the end of November – currently being advertised with a prominent picture of the band and June Tabor.

They’ve just finished hosting a major festival at Catton Hall in Derbyshire.  It rained and rained and rained, but over two thousand fans sat through the rain: “They were really stoical – and enjoyed themselves.”  John is certainly hoping for a dry and sunny July.

What exactly is the Oysterband sound?  The shorter version runs: “Oysterband make a modern, folk-based British music, acoustic at heart, sometimes intense, sometimes rocking. Since 1978 they've toured in 35 countries - festivals, concerts, bars, rallies, jails, bring 'em on! - and made 12 studio albums. Music for the head, the heart & the trousers. And still improving in the bottle.” You can find the full, unabridged official history as well as a slightly more objective view on their website.

The day after John’s White Horses tour ends at Westbury, John and Dil will be re-joining Oysterband on the main stage for the final day of the Village Pump Folk Festival. This is the fourth year John Jones has led his fellow musicians on a walking tour.  He will be supported by his band the Reluctant Ramblers: Dil Davies is Oysterband’s drummer; Al Scott who produces for Oysterband, plays guitar and bouzouki; and Tim Cotterell who plays with bands including McDermott’s 2 Hours and with Martha Tilston and the Woods, will be playing fiddle, guitar and mandolin. Then there are the guests who’ll be joining along the way: in Nettlebed and Marlborough the Ramblers will be joined by Benji Kirkpatrick of Bellowhead.  And there’s the promise of a secret “special guest” as well – watch this space for details.

Monday, July 16: Nettlebed Folk Club -The Village Club, High Street, Nettlebed, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon RG9 5DD. 8pm. Tickets £13 - 01628 636620 (evenings before 9pm and weekends).

Tuesday, July 17: Wantage  - The Swan, 28 Market Place, Wantage OX12 8AE. 8pm. (Buffet before the gig at The Shoulder of Mutton - call Peter 07870 577742 to book a meal).

Wednesday, July 18: Marlborough - Marlborough Folk Roots - St Mary’s Church Hall, Silverless Street, Marlborough SN8 1JQ. 8pm.  Tickets £13 available from Marlborough Folk Roots, 2/3 Silverless Street Marlborough SN8 1JQ  tel 01672 512465 and from Sound Knowledge, Hughenden Yard, Marlborough.

Thursday, July 19: Pewsey - The Crown, 60 Wilcot Road, Pewsey SN9 5EL. 8pm.

Friday, July 20: Devizes - The Southgate, Potterne Road, Devizes SN10 5BY. 8pm.

Saturday, July 21: Westbury - The Village Pump Folk Festival, main stage, Saturday evening.

Photo credits:  black and white photos of John and his dogs by Alex Ramsay. Colour photo of John singing with the Oysterband by Michael Pohl.

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