Ninebarrow (Jon Whitley and Jay Labouchardiere) are a duo who are certainly attracting attention, as a host of nominations including the 2017 Horizon Award will testify. With an easy manner and beautifully balanced harmonies they produce music that is gentle of the ear and soothes the soul, even if the topics of their songs can explore the darker and sadder sides of human nature.
Friday 13th turned out to be anything other than unlucky for them as they chose this day to launch an UK tour of over 50 dates, stretching out to next April, on home territory in Dorset. The setting was The Barrington Theatre which is very good venue, being purpose built in 1986 and seating just over 250, although that meant the rows were close together. There's ample free parking and a good, and reasonably priced, bar although drinks are not allowed in the auditorium to avoid damaging the very high standard floor. Everyone gets a good view of the well lit stage. There was a slight issue with a new ticketing system but the mainly volunteer staff dealt with the problems both calmly and cheerfully and all was resolved. It probably helped that most of the audience were fans of the band, and local, so with a sincere apology from the manager from the stage we were ready to go.
The not quite sell out audience gave Ninebarrow a warm and genuine welcome and the first half got underway with "Gather It In", a harvest home song suitable for the time of year, before they were joined by Lee Cuff , from another excellent Dorset band Kadia. His cello accompaniment, used as a condiment rather than a sauce, underlined and gave depth to the music whilst allowing the duo to maintain their own sound.
The second song of the night, "The Pinner" drew on Ninebarrow's Dorset heritage, being inspired by the nearby St Aldhelm' Chapel and tells the story of a pin maker growing old over time and no longer being able to make pins good enough to use as an offering in the church, this being a particular custom in the building. Following shortly on from that came the story of the dreadful wreck of the "Halsewell", a East Indiaman which ran aground not that far from St Aldhelms in 1786 with both a dreadful loss of life and great examples of bravery.
This is what Ninebarrow do so well. They tie people to the landscape in a way that shows we are transitory and although we may leave our monuments behind the landscape will outlive them all. Ninebarrow will also go further back, to a time when different gods were worshipped. "The Sea" is a story of some of the last Roman soldiers garrisoned in Britannia, in a hill fort that was probably old when they arrived, and hoping they can get home as the Empire collapses around them. "Overthrown" goes back even further, to the settlers on the Ridgeway path whose monuments and settlements have been reclaimed by nature. These settings give their songs a timeless quality and remind present day listeners we are just part of a chain which stretches both back and forward.
They managed to raise some smiles as well, being one of the very few bands who have two songs with the same name - although very different stories. "Coming Home" is either based on a poem by Dorset poet William Barnes, or a story of Magellan's circumnavigation of the world that is actually written by Jon's father Bob, who is a well respected singer and writer and was in the audience.
The evening was a mix of both old a new songs, the new ones proving to be a good addition to their repertoire. The themes remain constant, inspired by their native landscapes and sounds and the audience loved it. "The Hour of the Blackbird" was particularly effective for its simple charm and evocation of nature. Charm is a word that is very applicable to Ninebarrow and there are very few musicians or bands that inspire such affection from their audiences.
As mentioned earlier the duo are embarking on an extensive tour over the coming months, details can be found on either their website or facebook page and you should go to at least one if you get the chance. It will be, on this evidence, an uplifting and very welcoming experience. Also to look forward is a new album, "The Waters and The Wild", which will be officially launched at another home concert in Poole on the 21st April 2018. My ticket is already booked.
Words & photos: Tony Birch
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