9:00pm - 11:00pm
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
As the dawn creeps reluctantly over the moist and dapple-hued October skyline, I realise (somewhat sheepishly) that it has been a full three months since I deigned to update this `ere travelogue. My apologies for my tardiness, but I must admit that I`ve been rather mesmerised (some might say twat-baffled) by the seemingly constant mill of media buzz, frenzied ranting, shifting goalposts and apocalyptic tone of the past few months.
Since our return from the sunlit liberal uplands of western Canada, it truly has been a delightful late summer of coastal exploration, punctuated by bursts of deeply gratifying gigs with The Djukella Orchestra, who seem to become more virtuosic with every performance. My endless gratitude to all of our mongrel members for your time, your timing, and above all your mellifluous magic.
In three days time, the venerable Scott Cook, Canada`s caramel-voiced Prairie Balladeer will be arriving at Gatwick to commence our 2016 UK Tour. We`ll be playing 21 shows and various corners of the country, from Sussex to Fife, Merseyside to Dorset and various in-betweens. Those of you who`ve heard some of Scott`s songs or seen him in action will know exactly why he`s not to be missed. If you can each be so kind as to convey this to a friend, it`ll help immensely to spread those songs ever further. No matter how much time, money and effort we put into advertising, word of mouth is still the most powerful force promoting music and song. For those of you who`ve never heard of him, why not take a chance. You`ll thank me.
Amongst many highlights of the summer`s Djukella shows, the one that really stays with me is being asked by an eight-year-old boy to sing "Borders" (Billy Salisbury`s incredible poetic diatribe on migration, both human and mineral - if you don`t know the song, you really should - check the videos page on my website) at Broadstairs Folk Week, to an audience dominated by silver-haired Thanetians, five weeks after the EU referendum.
I had thought long and hard about our setlist, as we only had 33 minutes on the main-stage to make ourselves heard, and had planned to spare them that song, preferring to keep the tone gentle in such a setting, but how could I refuse? Friends on the Folk-Week Crew admitted to me afterwards that they`d stood aghast, fist-in-mouth, thinking "what`s he doing singing this song here?!", but it went down a storm with everyone, as far as I could see. To witness the looks in myriad eyes as the rhetorical flourish of the second verse comes full-circle is truly an honour, and that six of those eyes belonged to Sid Goldsmith, Ewan Mclennan and Kim Headley is doubly so. To the boy, whose name I`m afraid I can`t recall, I salute you. You can write my set lists any time.
In the past couple of weeks I`ve been lucky enough to see Autumn colours turn across vast swathes of southern England, frantically postering all around Bristol, mixing a new (and frankly deeply exciting) live album featuring the Full Fat Djukella Orchestra, with Sam Welbourne in Glastonbury, catching the release of TEYR`s mighty new album, sampling the apple-harvest on the downs above Brighton, hearing the inimitable Liane Carroll sing her heart (and indeed throat) out at Porters in Hastings, just missing the Russian flotilla passing the Straights of Dover from one of our country`s finest vantage-points, having my windscreen shattered by an air-gun (or perhaps a bird carrying a rock?) on an otherwise uninhabited Kentish lane, and most recently experiencing the peculiar joys of an MRI scan, which is best described as being trussed up like Hannibal Lecter and put in a washing machine for forty minute with two plumbers having a fight with power-drills. Fascinating, in its own way.
Before I sign off, I must add a brief advertorial coda. Of all the many shows on the Scott Cook & Jez Hellard UK Tour, if you`re after something particularly special, we will be playing, accompanied by my esteemed Djukella Orchestra at Kings Weston House, a truly stunning Georgian mansion just outside Bristol, on Saturday, November 26th. The place is so grand, it`s just fun to have a nose around. We perform acoustically in an oak-panelled room which really sings. There`s a delightful bar and lounge for those who do. There`s plenty of parking, and views across the Severn Estuary to Wales. Tickets are available from http://www.bristolticketshop.co.uk/?/161126KINJEZH1
And for those of you who`ve moved on from CD culture, the technophilic, youthful and downright smartphone-addicted, I`m pleased to announce that all of our albums are now available to buy as digital downloads, either as full albums or individual songs, so if you`ve yet to get your hands on a physical copy, have a friend or family member who you think might be in need of a Christmas present, or have a particular song you`d like to own, or share with someone, all you need to do is click on the link at jezhellard.com and you`re away.
I have various gems from Djukella recording sessions old and new in the vaults, so as soon as I`ve got the new live album ready for release, I`ll be starting to add a few digital only bonus tracks for those of you who like the rare steak. If you (like the aforementioned eight-year-old) are fans of the songs of Billy Salisbury (AKA The Undercover Hippy), he`s currently crowdfunding his latest album of incisive, and deeply funky political folk hop, so pre-order your copy now, and if you`ve yet to hear TEYR`s new album, Far from the Tree, or catch them in concert, they`re on tour for the rest of this month. Find them at www.teyr.co.uk
Very much looking forward to seeing many of you over the next few weeks. All the tour dates and details are listed on the website. Much love to all corners of the world.
Posted: 23rd Oct 2016 | Contact