Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra - Heavy Wood

Top  Upcoming Gigs
May 29th Mon
12:00am - 12:00am
Jez Hellard & The Djukella Orchestra
Small World Festival, Headcorn, Kent.
June 15th Thu
8:30pm - 10:30pm
Jez Hellard & The Djukella Orchestra
The Stable, Whitechapel, London.
June 17th Sat
2:00pm - 12:00am
Jez Hellard & The Djukella Orchestra
Gavfleadh, County Archway

Top  Quite a trip...

Many thanks to all of the fine people who’ve welcomed Yaz and me, fed us, sung along, bought CDs, and generally sustained us from Sagres to Seville, Tarifa to Almeria, Catalonia to Bordeaux, Cahors to Adinkerke. I’m still trying to get my head around being back in England, with the steady hum of political bickering in the background, but spring is in the air, and great things are afoot.

I’ve just been listening to some sneaky previews of fine new albums from fiddle-maestro/composer, James Gavin (whom many of you will know from The Djukella Orchestra), The Undercover Hippy, my old Balkan touring compadre Jamie MacDonald, harmonious psirens, Tell Tale Tusk and the world’s most exciting pseudo-philosophical anarchic ukelele-pop group, The Burning Glass. From James’ all-star celtic arrangements to Billy’s potent political reggae-hop and Ed’s slightly profane homage to the National Trust, there’s a lot of exciting and inspiring music coming your way over the next few months.

Talking of albums, the new Djukella Orchestra live album, is coming along nicely (since the resolution of a hard-drive hostage situation) and as soon as I can gather the lads together with their young and finely-tuned ears, we’ll get it mastered and ready to go. We also have a new studio album in the works, featuring a fine selection of powerful and prescient songs, dazzling violism and smoking harmonicas.

I’m looking for sponsors to help us make both records a reality. They are packed with inspiring, witty and above all, relevant songs which really want to be released into the world, but without a record label behind us it’s hard to get these things funded and out into the public eye (or indeed ear). Patrons of independent music, and anyone with the desire and means to invest in us, get in touch. You won’t be disappointed.

It’s been a while since I last wrote, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean from the very tip of Portugal. Many miles and songs have passed in the interim, and now I’m back at the computer searching for gigs, trying to communicate with vodafone (I wouldn’t recommend it) and catching up on all the office-work which in theory pays our wages. Birds are chattering away in the bushes, and I’m minded to spin a bit of a travelogue for any of you who may be interested.

After Atlantic storms finally caught up with us, we decided to make a run for Spain, and a much needed spell of basking in proper sunshine in the grand old city of Cadiz. Yasmine and I had a delightful wander through the endless alleyways and squares of the old town, took in a fascinating archaeological exhibition and a vast array of S&M Christs in the city’s museum and generally soaked up the atmosphere of fried fish and sea air. In looking for a quiet place to park up for the night, we happened upon San Fernando on La Isla de Leon, which provided a grand, if windswept Atlantic prospect. When morning came, howling a gale and drumming on the roof of the van, we found a cafe and were helped decipher the tapas menu by an old boy who’d worked in England years ago, and really helped out with our broken, if not totally dysfunctional Spanish.

He was there having a swift half with his mate and seemed chuffed to be able to chat away in English for a while. When I asked them where we might be able to find some decent Flamenco, his friend got very excited, and after a bit of translation I realised that San Fernando de la Isla is the hometown of Camaron de la Isla, the legendary and lamentably departed Flamenco singer, and this guy was a childhood friend of his and used to drive him to all his gigs.

I’d been worried all we’d be able to find was a Costa del Sol type of flamenco show with castanets and a backing-track for the tourists. We couldn’t have fallen into better hands. They sent us to the restaurant where Camaron and Paco de Lucia played their first gig back in 1968, bedecked with as many photos of wailing singers, strutting Toreadors and miscellaneous bull-fighting bling as you could fit on four walls, where the barman told us exactly where to find live flamenco, that very evening, a short walk away, and for free.

I love it when a plan comes together. The duo who’d been hired to play the concert were fantastic (as was the fried squid and stewed beef-cheeks) particularly when the singer got up from his chair and sang off-mic, howling and raging at the room as a song reached the climax, but the real magic came when the stragglers, the hard core connoisseurs and a single guitarist coalesced in the middle of the hall and began to take turns singing their hearts out until the small hours and beyond. They were sublime, particularly two slightly shy old-timers with beautifully tobacco-stained tenor voices, who had the most delightfully understated flamenco “throw-down”, and brought the house down in turn, over and over again.

From San Fernando we made our way through the rolling hills and silhouetted bulls of deepest Andalucia to Tarifa, with its tantalising views of the Moroccan coast a mere 10 miles across the water, and ample park-ups for the world’s snowbirds, windsurfers and van-dwellers to look out to sea and dream of Africa. Being situated at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the place is dominated by the winds, which the locals insist will drive you insane after a while, but we managed to stay relatively sane, busking on the street for pennies, but warmly welcomed by the locals.

After a few days soaking up the atmosphere but fast running out of money, we decided to make a dash for the deserts of Almeria, up the full length of the Costa del Sol, replete with endless leather-faced ex-pats and curry-houses, then snaking for a hundred miles between the “plasticos” from whence our supermarket vegetables originate, to be welcomed, wined, dined, thoroughly laundered and taken on various jaunts up mountains and down dry river beds by Frank and Sheena in Lucainena de los Torres. It’s not a journey I would do again in a hurry, as Granada and the Sierra Nevada look rather more tempting, but I’ll try anything once.

On the Saturday we were taken up to a jam session the other side of Sorbas, where I realised that despite the paucity of busking in off-season southern Spain, ex-pat music fans are hungry for music and in this time of deep uncertainty over their status in Europe, my most recent album, Heavy Wood, including our Djukella derangements of The Undercover Hippy’s “Borders” and Scott Cooks “Pass it Along” would sell like hot-cakes. After a few demoralising days putting in 3 hours of busking to earn 12 euros, it was reassuring to sing to a keen audience, and even make enough money to see us through the next leg of the journey. Thanks to Frank and Sheena for suggesting it and to Joe and the Johns for welcoming us into the fold.

From Lucainena, we only had a short jaunt to the village of Gafarillos to meet up with our old friends Turtle and Leigh, for a week of r & r, swinging in hammocks, and pottering about the desert, picking wild herbs and managing to avoid meeting any wild boars. Thanks to the folks at Almeria Strings Old Time and Bluegrass society for letting me play a couple of songs and replenish the coffers at their monthly acoustic night, to Turtle and Leigh for entertaining us and to Carol and John for putting up with yet more van-dwelling hippies in their home.

Next, after a good deal more winding roads, was a brief stop in Valencia to meet up with Johnny, Pilar and the family for paella and fiddle-tunes with their budding violinist son, on our way to Catalonia for gigs amongst the blooming almond groves of Ginestar, the carnival mayhem of Sant Feliu de Guixols and the golf-based lifeforms of Platja de Pals.

Thanks to a sublime twist of fate, on our way to Ginestar, we stopped for internet at a sweet little fishing village by the river Ebro, and not only found out that our hosts were all struck down with a stomach-bug and were under quarantine, but were simultaneously rescued by Lorenzo the Scouse farmer who took us up to his house on the Baranc de la Caramellos which was without a doubt the most beautiful place we saw on the whole journey. Swimming in the icy spring water pool of a waterfall, a short climb up the most glorious red-rock canyon, and basking on his deck, with a gorgeous view of mountains and plain, feasting on the finest gourmet eggs and beans I’ve had the pleasure of eating. By the time we made it Ginestar the next evening, Rob, Selina and the boys were all recovered and we managed to avoid the lurgy. Many thanks to all the folks who came out to hear me in the local bar, and to Rob for organising the whole thing and providing some sweet guitar accompaniment for my gob-irons.

From Catalonia, we made our way past Andorra, over the very top of the Pyrenees, where we managed to lounge in sulphurous hot-springs in the snow, with the whole mountain range laid out before us, on our way to see my old friend Mark, with whom I walked some 280km in the Himalayas 17 years ago, to be fed gourmet delights in his restaurant in Le Mas d’Azil, before heading onwards to play a fantastic gig at a folk-club outside Bordeaux. Thanks to Josh, Agus, Xavi and Xavi in Sant Feliu, Xavi (very popular name in Catalan) in Planoles, Mark and his kitchen crew, and Deborah and the whole gang at the Floc n’ Tea in Lauzun for the warm welcome and for sending us on our way in such style.

Realising that we had overtaken the spring and feeling monetarily replenished from the folk-club gig, we decided to spend another week in France, first with my cousin Harriet in Maryinhagues, then with the assembled crew at Cahors’ coolest bar, La Poule aux Potes, who rescued us in so many ways and sent us up the Lot to the River Célé for a few days amongst the crumbling cliff-houses and limestone canyons of Les Causses de Quercy. From there it was a fairly gruelling drive across the main body of France to Dunkerque and back into the bosom of the Kentish countryside where we happened upon a whole gang of our friends barbecuing in the hazy sunshine.

For any of you who’ve managed to get all the way down here, well done, your literary stamina is notable. My apologies for the speed of the last couple of thousand miles of travelogue, but right now, I must pack up the van and head to Hampshire. I have a few gigs coming up in the coming weeks (check the gigs page for details), and look forward to seeing some of your friendly faces along the way, but I’m in desperate need of more gigs, so anyone with any ideas, please get in touch.

Many thanks to all of the kind souls who’ve helped us on our way through Europe, but most of all, endless thanks to Yasmine, for being the best companion one could wish for. See you soon.

Posted: 1st Apr 2017 | Contact


Top  Verging on the Atlantic

As the sea mist gradually crawls up the valley, revealing thickly shrubbed hills in the morning sunlight, to the gentle chirp and twitter of birds about their business, I realise that I`ve come about as far south and west as I can go right now.

It`s been many miles since I last wrote, making our meandering way across a continent in search of spring, and it seems we may well have found a sliver of it, way down at the tip of Portugal, nestled between hippies and surfers, having left the top of the range Hymers, resplendent and bedecked with satellite dishes and lawn-chairs at the other end of an enduringly bumpy track. The cold winds of January are behind us and it`s time to swap the steering wheel for the laptop and organise some gigs.

After years of knowing exactly where I have to be by simply looking at my website, it was a daunting prospect to let the list run dry at the end of last year, but after months spent mesmerised by flickering news bulletins, listening to unhealthy doses of talk-radio whilst racing between gigs, agog at the seemingly endless procession of contradictory "information" and daily "earth-shattering" events, I really needed a bit of space to take a few deep breaths and see a bit more of this beautiful continent while my passport still permits it. It turns out that the earth is indeed still here, and holding together for the moment though George Michael isn`t, but we`ll have to make do.

To quote the great Herman Melville, as I am wont to do (repeatedly, as I`m sure some of you know only too well),

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people`s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

And that we did.

In the ink-black pre-dawn of January 3rd, after a beautiful evening spent lolling around the fire with dear friends, angelic children and a surly Bengal wild-cat, Yaz and I crunched our way across the thick haw-frost of Ashdown Forest and set out for Portsmouth. Generations of my dad`s family have sailed out of there, and as a child, I revelled in every single word of information on HMS Victory, prancing up and down to The Sailor`s Hornpipe as my siblings undoubtedly asked when we could go back outside, but I must admit, I was more than a little nervous as we boarded the economy class ferry to Bilbao, dreading the lurch and rumble of the Bay of Biscay and the wild winds of Cap Finnistere.

Another thing I always remember from Melville is his assertion that you never forget the first time you see the horizon in the round, unblemished by the merest hint of land. In all my years of wandering, on boats, trains, planes, buses and various motor vehicles, I`d never had this pleasure, and the prospect of 28 hours at sea on a famously rough voyage was somewhat daunting. When I first mentioned to my eminently well-travelled and multi-storied mate, Keith that I`d booked to sail on January 3rd, the look he gave me, couched in a muted smirk, sent shivers up my spine.

As it was, we were blessed with a glorious sunny day to peruse the headlands from Wight to Purbeck and Portland before the sea swallowed them up and we were left with the stars of a cloudless January new moon, a single lurch round Cap Finnistere, and a dawn that had even the crew craning their necks for a selfie or two, Biscay like a millpond. It wasn`t until I commented to a crew-member what a lovely morning it was, and saw him green around the gills when he said "it`s not always like this" that I realised quite how lucky we`d been.

Thanks to the venerable Gavinator, I started off with a delightful gig at the legendary Bar Residence in Bilbao, run by the redoubtable, luxuriantly moustachioed Manu, and thanks to the unexpected absence of the following day`s band, it soon became two, giving us a couple of days to explore a bit of the Basque Country and feast on a smorgasbord of local delights. Since then, we`ve made our way, via the rolling hills of La Riocha, across the vast plain of Castilla in into the hills of Portugal for gigs in Sertã, the beautifully named Cernache do Bom Jardim, and Vincent McCallum`s Jardim das Oliveiras outside Tomar, with a brief sojourn up to the high mountains of the Serra D`Estrella to really remind ourselves that this is January, and though the sun is out, it doesn`t mean it`ll be warm.

Thanks to Candi, Maria, Mohamed, Vincent, Rose, Jody, Clover, Paul, and above all Amadis for welcoming us and showing us places we`d otherwise have missed, and thanks to my dear van, Red the Wonderhorse for putting up with all the loops, wiggles, hills and valleys.

I`m in the process of finishing the new Djukella Orchestra live album, featuring new gems and old favourites performed by the full fat crew, and it`s sounding fantastic. We also have a sizzling new studio album on the way, which will resume as soon as I manage to catch up with the lads again. Now to get the artwork together and start fashioning it into a tangible object to sell to people. I`m loathe to get involved in another "hipster begging" campaign on indiegogo, kickstart or any other corporate organ, but I`ll be taking pre-orders for those of you who`re keen to get your hands on a copy, and anyone with the means and the inclination to help us fund the printing/publicity of the album, please get in touch. Patronage for the arts seems a rare thing, unless we`re willing to hawk sunglasses or car-insurance, but if you happen to be independently wealthy, inclined towards artistic patronage, or just three sheets to the wind, the only thing stopping us from releasing two albums of poignant, powerful songs and virtuoso orchestral derangements is the absence of a few thousand pounds. If you feel you can help, let us know.

For those of you music lovers who want a new album which already exists, Scott Cook`s brand new CD (and book) Further Down The Line was released in Canada at the weekend and is surely available to buy from scottcook.net. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I`ve yet to actually hold a copy in my hands, but I was lucky enough to hear it before it was released and if you`re wanting to try to make sense of what`s going on in the world, this is a fine place to start. Ten slices of the finest poetic pie, with the songs stripped back to the wood for all to hear. Get yours now.

Just before we left old Blighty, I was honoured to be asked to appear on James Gavin`s debut solo album, which is currently in the capable hands of Gerry Diver in the poignantly named Palestine Grove. I eagerly await the finished product, which should be with us sometime in the spring.

As always, I`m frantically applying to all the folk festivals and piecing together tours for the coming year. Any suggestions of people I should talk to, agents who`d like to book some gigs for us or places we should play are always appreciated.

As I finish this I`d like to send out my love to all the assembled family who`ve gathered today to bid farewell to my great-aunt Anne Raby, who passed away some days ago, a couple of months shy of her one hundred and first birthday. Now that was a fine innings if there ever was one.

Posted: 26th Jan 2017 | Contact


Top  Hag-ridden through the land of the hard breakfast...

Well, it seems that many months (years?) of interminable hype and fever-pitched, infantile name-calling (occasionally passing as "debate", we`re told), have finally come to a shuddering climax, leaving ashen-faced pundits, (looking rather like they`d been repeatedly slapped about the face with a decomposing trout), grasping at straws, whilst Farage struts before gilt doors, and Boris tries to pretend that it was everyone else but him making disrespectful remarks about the "leader" (elect) of the "free" world. It truly has been a fascinating (and simultaneously mind-numbing) couple of weeks/years, depending on how you look at it.

Whilst all this has been merrily rumbling on, Canada`s Prairie Balladeer, Scott Cook and I have been merrily trundling on, thanks to the redoubtable glories of Red, The Wonder-Horse, to Scotland and back on the first leg of our 2016 "U"K Tour, singing our hearts (and in some cases throats out) and encountering myriad beautiful faces, friends old and new, young and indeed slightly matured. Thanks to all of the fine folks who`ve hosted us, fed us, housed us and travelled over hill and dale to listen to us. It`s been special.

The northernmost point of our travels so far were at the absolutely delightful Perthshire Amber Festival, run by the inimitable Dougie Maclean and peopled (to bursting) by fans of song and tune from far and wide. We got to sing to Mercans, Canajuns, Swedes, Danes, Antipodans, Podans, and even the odd Scot (including several of the finest young musicians I`ve met in time), all bathed in warm sheen of Perthshire in autumn, where the trees, rivers, drams, pints and angled sunshine all glow the deepest amber. Thanks to Dougie and Jenny for inviting us, and to everyone for such a warm welcome. After a couple of the most beautiful drives to be had on these fair isles on a crisp November morn, from Dunkeld to Falkland, Ladybank to Bridge of Allan (where I was lucky enough to meet Magnus Mackenzie, the latest of my maternal clan) and Stirling to Leith, for a delightful house-concert and a proper feed (thanks Marianne and John!), it was time to bite the bullet and head back across the border, bound for the land of the hard breakfast.

As we left our last radio interview, I received a message from The Gavinator (one of The Djukella Orchestra`s esteemed fiddlers) who`d just been on tour through the Highlands with TEYR, admitting that he`d had trouble bringing himself to leave Scotland at all, and another from Yaz, saying, "I`d forgotten the world basically ends tomorrow, can`t you come before then?" So I bit the bullet, raced the frost and slapped myself around the face for alertness, finally arriving in Thanet about 45 minutes before the results came in from the "U".S.A...

Since then I have attempted to holiday, but having found, as always, that there`s no point delegating publicity, unless you don`t want it done, I`ve been in and out of print-shops and taking advantage of every available sliver of internet to promote the second half of our tour, between mixing sessions for the rather exciting Djukella Orchestra Live album, which is currently in the pipeline, in the capable hands of the Rt. Hon Samuel Welbourne Msc, Ma, LLB, PCP, DVLA and Bar.

So on the subject of publicity... you have eleven more chances to catch Scott Cook before he takes an extended sabbatical from these shores. The one I`m most excited about is in the palatial splendour of Kings Weston House, near Bristol, an incredible Georgian mansion commanding stunning views over the Severn to Wales (junction 18a of the M5 to be precise) on Saturday November 26th, featuring my very own Djukella Orchestra. Tickets are available from Bristol Ticket Shop, Kings Weston House Tea Rooms, or online at http://www.bristolticketshop.co.uk/eventdetails.aspx?e=13505

For those of you who`re more amenable to a night out near Bath, than one near Bristol, Scott and I will be playing the night before, Friday November 25th, at Priston Village Hall (a perfect hall for an intimate gig) thanks to Owain and Sue of Village Hall Gigs. Tickets available from https://villagehallgigs.wordpress.com/

For those of you in and around the midlands, or acquainted with the legendary Sofa Sessions concert series run by the great Rachel Chadwick, we have the singular (though slightly melancholic) honour of playing the last ever Sofa Session, at least for the immediately foreseeable, on Friday November 18th, at The Yards in Kettering. Anyone who`s ever been to a Sofa Session will certainly know why it`s not to be missed, the rest of you`d better get your tickets soon so you can find out before Northamptonshire`s best kept secret becomes a legend. Email thesofasessions@live.ie for tickets.

Anyone on the South Coast who likes ale, cider, pasties and music will have to come to the Square and Compass, probably my favourite pub in the world, on Sunday November 27th, 2pm, for the very last show of the tour, before I drop Scott off at Gatwick.

Thanks to his burgeoning fame in Australia and the States, not to mention his hectic schedule of festivals and concert-halls, it`s going to be a long while before Scott`s able to come back to play for you (or indeed any of us), so this really is not the time to email me on the morning of a gig saying, "thanks for letting us know, we`ll come and see you next time you`re in town".

If you know anyone in any of the aforementioned areas who likes songs, stories, laughs, tunes, poesy, and a pervasive positivity in uncertain times, let them know, buy them tickets, buy yourself tickets, buy your mum tickets, drive halfway across the kingdom if you must, but come and join us. You will thank me. It`d be such a shame to see him on telly in a couple of years and have to tell everyone "I ALMOST went to see him before he was famous"... there are better tales to tell, and he knows several of them.

To come full-circle and end where I started, an (almost) unforgivable paraphrase of a greater (and weirder, if that`s possible) man than I, William Butler Yeats...

"That twenty centuries of stony sleep,
Were vexed to nightmare by the tweet of a trump on a golden potty,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born."

Right, now for a few hours of driving, a funeral, an electrical system, a rehearsal and perhaps a wee bit of rest. Much love to all. See you somewhere along the way. All details on the Gigs page... tickets please!

Posted: 14th Nov 2016 | Contact