THIS must be the fourth or maybe even fifth time that I have heard Ninebarrow in concert and they just seem to get better and better.
Take Art together with Bruton Festival of Arts brought Dorset’s multi-award-winning duo to Bruton’s Unionist Club as part of their latest national tour. It would appear to be quite a gruelling schedule too, not that you would have picked up even the slightest hint of that at last night’s gig. With their eclectic assortment of musical instruments, a wonderful mixture of original and traditional songs, some beautifully crafted arrangements and, of course, their inimitable soaring vocal harmonies, last night’s performance was as fresh and as bright as ever.
Their spoken introductions were as much a part of the performance as the music itself and showed us just how much background research goes into creating each of the songs they sing. Often given over the fine-tuning of one of their array of instruments, which actually gave them a remarkable sort of intimacy, we were taken through the stories and introduced to the landscapes, the seasons, and everything else that lay at the heart of the music. “The Hour of the Blackbird”, for example, a five-star song if ever there was one, was not only musically delightful but cerebrally quite fascinating too. And they make it all sound so effortless.
Much if not most of Ninebarrow’s repertoire is rooted in Dorset and the surrounding countryside and Jon Whitley and Jay Labouchardiere, who together make up the duo, clearly relish their researches into local history and folklore. The importance of the corn dolly is celebrated in “Gathering In”, “All’s Well” commemorates what was probably Dorset’s worst shipping disaster, while “Siege” (complete with horse hoof effects) tells the story of Lady Bankes and the siege of Corfe Castle during the time of the English Civil War. Not all is so English though, and, further from home, I particularly liked the hauntingly beautiful “Coming Home”, a song which whilst filled with optimism was nevertheless a heart-felt lament for the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
Don’t let Ninebarrow’s air of geniality mislead you; Whitley and Labouchardiere enjoy the brutal and the macabre too, and a number of their songs came with something akin to a government health warning, none more so than the tale of the witches and the crows, where the subtle, controlled accompaniment added significantly to the general spookiness of the story. Later in the programme, the extended instrumental break in the thirteen turns of the hangman’s noose gave us the opportunity to reflect on the significance of what we had just heard.
Just a handful of last night’s songs were unaccompanied of which “While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping” was particularly entrancing. Here we could bathe in Ninebarrow’s glorious singing and simply enjoy what is surely one of the best acts on the English folk scene today.
Immaculate … stunning … spellbinding … incredible … inspirational … stellar … these are just a few of the words that have been used to describe Ninebarrow’s performance since the duo got together just over five ago. What more can I add? They are consummate musicians who weave such magic over their audiences that we are held completely enthralled.
Ninebarrow have several fairly local gigs over the coming months or you can catch them at the Lighthouse in Poole on Saturday 21st April when they will be launching their new CD.