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.
Damon AlbarnA very special performance by one of the world's leading contemporary musicians was given to a small festival crowd in near-freezing conditions in a muddy field outside Marlborough at the weekend.
OneFest – billed as the UK's first music festival of the year, and the successor to last year's community pub-related HoneyFest – was headlined by Damon Albarn, the maestro behind Britpop champions Blur, cartoon band Gorillaz and more leftfield works like 2007's Oriental pop-opera Monkey, Journey to the West.
Before arriving at the festival site, at Rockley on the Marlborough Downs, Albarn was seen in Marlborough shopping for thermal clothing – and with good reason: by the time he took to the stage at 8.30pm the temperature had dipped to a positively chilly five degrees.
Albarn was at OneFest to play songs from his new concept opera, Dr Dee, based on the rise and fall of the Elizabethan mathematician, scientist, alchemist, occultist and inspiration for Marlowe's Faustus, which premiered at last year's Manchester International Festival.
Populist it wasn't, and anyone up for a warming jump-around to jaunty numbers from the singer's back catalogue was in for a shock.
Albarn brought with him a gaggle of seven classical musicians playing 16th century instruments, including the recorder and the lute, instruments from West Arica, including the kora, and three vocalists, including some wonderfully haunting falsetto from Christopher Robson.
Name-checking nearby Silbury Hill in the sublime Apple Carts
, the star himself delivered vocals, guitar and keyboards from behind a harmonium. The first half of the set was performed without introduction or explanation, before he broke into his trademark grin to gently mock the crowd: “Is everyone getting a little cold? Well, you did turn up in a field in April.”
He then insisted on playing the lively Watching the Fire That Waltzed Away – the only upbeat song in the set – twice “because it will help us get warm again” and warning the crowd that “that's as much excitement as you'll get – it kind of goes back in on itself now.”
The performance was a teaser for the release of the album, which comes out in May, followed by the London premiere with the English National Opera this summer, and was probably the only time an outdoor festival crowd will get to hear the set.
It was a demonstration of how seriously Albarn took the performance that he had brought along his parents and his daughter, whom he welcomed from the stage.
As the set finished – with Albarn playing an old 78 vinyl record on a vintage portable turntable – he thanked the audience and the organisers of the festival, and later took to Twitter to say “OneFest was a brilliant experience, a lovely festival and there for all the right reasons, I'll be back."
If he does return, he'll be in good company. Michele Stodart, who performed at HoneyFest last year as one quarter of harmonic pop rock band the Magic Numbers, was back again as a solo artist to perform a reflective folksy set.
And folk rock band Dry the River were back too. Canny Marlborough music lovers will have caught their intimate live set at Azuza back in March, courtesy of record shop Sound Knowledge
And when the five piece played at Honeystreet last year they performed as relative newcomers, having only just released their first single.
This year they took second place on the main stage, having just returned from a 9,000 mile slog across America to promote their debut album, Shallow Bed.
“We did it in an RV,” vocalist Peter Liddle told the crowd. “We did all the tourist stuff – Niagara Falls, giant redwoods...”
“... but to be honest it doesn't get better than this,” interrupted bassist Scott Miller, who had chosen to maintain his rock god image by wearing a sleeveless vest. “I thought it might make us all feel warmer,” he joked.
Dry the River played a blinding set worthy of a headline slot; an eclectic mix of folk and heavy rock. The penultimate song, Bible Belt, was – said one Marlborough festival-goer – worth the entry fee alone, while their final song, Lion's Den – also the last track on the album – swelled from a pastoral ballad to an ear-splitting wall of sound which left the crowd baying for more, and looking forward to OneFest 2013.