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  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