Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra - Direct from the Shire

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Top  Upcoming Gigs
August 18th Sat
12:00am - 12:00am
Jez Hellard & The Full Fat Djukella Orchestra
Purbeck Valley Folk Festival
August 19th Sun
3:00pm - 4:00pm
Jez Hellard & The Full-Fat Djukella Orchestra
Purbeck Valley Folk Festival
August 24th Fri
12:00am - 12:00am
Jez Hellard & The Djukella Orchestra
Small World Festival, Headcorn

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