Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra - Heavy Wood

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Top  Upcoming Gigs
July 7th Fri
8:30pm - 11:00pm
Jez Hellard & The Djukella Orchestra
The Little Albion, St. Peters in Thanet
July 8th Sat
8:30pm - 11:00pm
Jez Hellard & The Djukella Orchestra
The Anchor, Wingham
July 9th Sun
3:00pm - 5:30pm
Jez Hellard & The Djukella Orchestra
Kipp`s Ale House, 11-15 The Old High Street, Folkestone.

Top  D`rect from the Shire for your listening pleasure...

As the sun starts to burn steam off the trees and and the funk of this sweltering summer begins to rise once more, I find my self ready, at last, to send the new Djukella Orchestra album on its merry way to the factory. Resplendently swaddled in jars of the finest King`s Cliffe jam, chutney and home-grown chillies, and packed to the gills with the musical wizardry of Messrs Caplin, Gavin, Henderson, Parsons, Coulthard and Black-Roff, it really is the best thing we`ve ever crafted.

Recorded live in concert on consecutive nights last year, and entitled "D`rect from the Shire" it captures The Djukella Orchestra in majestic form, performing a repertoire described by one happy audient as "wall to wall bangers", and featuring amongst other wonders, the most incredible recordings of Nye Parsons caressing his double-bass we`ve ever managed to preserve.

We`ll be releasing the album to press and public with a run of shows in the first week of November, followed by a tour of Scotland in early December, but for those of you who are keen to get your hands on a copy, you can order one right away via the link above and help us pay the huge bill which will be on it`s way to us imminently.

I know it`s coming out a little later than promised, but it`s always worth getting everything just right, and between my endless ramblings on country roads near and far, I have found myself in recent months (even more so than usual) gawking aghast at the endlessly unfolding tragicomic pantomime of our news-cycle, and losing whole days to wondering just what on earth is going on.

To think that just a month ago, we were being promised a repetitive and tautological hard breakfast by a strong and stable answering-machine seemingly conceived in an unholy union between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a handbag, marching ever onward towards a total man date...

How things change. I must offer my sincerest thanks to all the people (and indeed unseen forces) who`ve contrived to reinvigorate our national political consciousness over the past few weeks. While our understanding of the world seems to crumble all around us, buffeted this way and that by outrageous fortune and increasingly mind-numbing and senseless tragedy, some are left agog, rocking backwards and forwards muttering "strong and stable...strong and stable...sarong and table...thong and sable...", but others are thinking.

For the first time in my adult life, it seems that people everywhere are actually starting to discuss really important issues. On the bus, in restaurants, in the pub, walking along the street, I keep overhearing people in lively debate about a host of issues, instead of the usual celebrity gossip and inanity, however hard the red-tops try to distract us. Sometimes filled with the old bile and vitriol, from whichever political angle, but often much more interesting than the mindless shouting which for so long has passed as debate.

As a performing musician, particularly in the less salubrious venues, I`m well practiced at singing meaningful songs whilst selectively tuning out "So Frank said to Helen, that Sue had been on the phone to Mike, and he said..." or that guy who insists on giving detail directions to the recycling centre centre round the back of the station in Basingstoke, "you know, the one down the lane just past that phone-box with the broken door, where John used to..." I still listen to it all, but have managed to train myself not to join in. So after years of developing this inanity filter, I find my ears constantly pricking up at actual snippets of real conversation. It`s often a little bleak, but so refreshing for these old ears.

Much has been made of the remarkable rise in young people`s engagement with the democratic process, but it`s not just confined to the young. I have been deeply inspired to find people of all ages, and from all walks of life, who`ve spent the past decade and more totally disillusioned and increasingly apathetic, develop a new-found engagement with their community and a distinct twinkle in the eye.

As Mr. Trump throws all of Obama`s toys out of the pram in a puce-faced septuagenarian tantrum across the pond, and our continental cousins look on in bewilderment and the strength and stability of our leadership, it seems increasingly apparent that we`d better just get on with sorting things out ourselves. The incredible community response to the wanton sacrifice of countless souls in Grenfell Tower last week may contrast starkly with the official response, but is testament to the resourcefulness and compassion of our citizenry. Admittedly there are some nutters out there, but the vast majority of us are more than happy to help out where help is needed.

Thanks to all the people who`ve come out to listen to us in London over the past few days, and to Seamus and Clan Gavin for hosting the best GavFleadh to date. At some points it has been so hot that I`ve been worried I`d melt into a puddle, but it`s been a joy to be surrounded by such abundant musical talent. Alastair Caplin and Nick Hart down at the Magic Garden, Johnny Cage and the Voodoo Olive appearing (as if by magic) from Cardiff, Amadis, Tell Tale Tusk and the Freddy-Stitz Rock n` Soul Collective at Jam in a Jar, and Hugh O`Neill jetting in from Armagh with his banjo, we`ve been inundated with music of the highest calibre.

The Djukella Orchestra will be back on the road for a few shows in July, first down in Kent, in Broadstairs, Wingham and Folkestone respectively, then a rare London show at our favourite bohemian hideaway, Jamboree, at Cable Street Studios in Limehouse, before heading to the south coast to Worth Matravers and Cheriton. All the dates and details are on the gigs page of the website. Looking forward to seeing many of you along the way.

Posted: 20th Jun 2017 | Contact


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