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Arriving in Thorganby this evening provided the perfect preface to tonight's concert by English folk duo Ninebarrow. The picturesque little village, nestled in the North Yorkshire countryside, welcomes its visitors with such quintessentially English features as an old country pub, a twelfth century church tower, twitching St George's flag and traditional red telephone box which, rather splendidly, has been turned into a tiny library. The roadsides and gardens were glowing with the colours of late Spring, tempting this fan to recall the lyrics to Ninebarrow's Weave Her a Garland with its "roses and lilies and daffadowndillies", a song that would soon inspire a singalong at the village hall. Indeed, at a time when England and Englishness is being hijacked for questionable political reasons, it is both refreshing and encouraging to spend an evening proudly entangled in the roots of this country's delicious heritage and folklore. And there are few more suitable musicians to provide the soundtrack to such an evening than Ninebarrow.
Hailing from Dorset and steeped in local lore, Jon Whitley and Jay Labouchardiere delivered two note-perfect sets this evening, both infused with charismatic stage patter and captivating introductions to songs that explored the rich history and mythology of this land, most of which cherry picked from their two albums, WHILE THE BLACKTHORN BURNS and RELEASING THE LEAVES. The large audience that packed out the village hall was easily absorbed by such songs as For A Time, which told the heart wrenching tale of the 1943 compulsory purchase order placed upon Tyneham on the Dorset coast and Halsewell, a new song about the ill-fated East Indiaman ship that was wrecked off the Isle of Purbeck in 1876. And whilst history provided the subject matter for some of tonight's finest performances, the remainder of the two sets was imbued with the many enchanting curiosities of English folklore.
Like musical archaeologists, Ninebarrow have an impeccable knack of reaching deep into the soil of their subject matter to reveal glimmering treasures from the past. In doing so, they awaken the ghosts of this country's most ancient beliefs, revelling, as Jon admits, in a penchant for the darker side of the English folk tradition. Summer Fires opened the second set with its flickering scenes of ritual bonfire leaping whilst The Waters and The Wild summoned the fairy folk from their barrows via the immortal lines of WB Yeats's The Stolen Child. Perhaps the most evocative of all, however, were the exquisitely dark Blood on the Hillside, a song inspired by a sighting of seven crows at Corfe Castle and featuring lines from that well known traditional nursery rhyme One For Sorrow, and its sister song which further traversed the volatile terrain of the sixteenth century witch trials.
Whilst countless artists have visited the well of folklore for their music, few have succeeded in imparting such tales with the perpetual seduction of Ninebarrow. This is no doubt due to the musicianship that this constantly compelling duo deliver. The stage may be strewn with harmoniums, ukuleles, mandolas and a plethora of gizmos and gadgets to amplify, sustain and loop their instruments, but Ninebarrow's approach remains delicately subtle throughout. Their dexterity is undeniably impressive, especially during Jon’s occasional bouts of looping, but the duo's gentle control over their music means that each performance refuses to stumble towards flamboyance. Such sensitivity is mirrored in Jon's honey-sweet vocals and the emotive vibrato of Jay's softly elegant harmonies.
Heartfelt thanks must be extended to the organisers at Thorganby Folk. This relatively young folk club is set to serve up further delights this year with The Rheingans Sisters on October 14th and O'Hooley & Tidow on December 22nd.