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  Stranzenbach to Glenbuchat and other unlikely journeys.

After a few days catching up on sleep and trying to reconcile news of protesters shot in the back by snipers from 200 yards away in self-defence, political corruption of the clumsiest variety in our government’s handling of the Empire Windrush scandal and the classical tragedy of incompetence and apathy surrounding last year’s Grenfell inferno with the clearly more important news that Meghan’s father might not make it to the royal wedding (!?), I’m taking a break from filling my ears with olive-oil to recount a little of our recent Djukella adventures.

…but before I do, just a quick reminder that I’ll be playing a special intimate show, this Saturday, May 26th with the fabulous songstress Stacey Cohen, at a gourmet cafe on a farm in central London, right on the bank of the river Thames. There will be some seriously fine dining, and beautiful music up close and personal. Air B n’B were supposed to be funding the concert series, but have now left us in a bit of a bind, so if you, or anyone you know are in London this weekend, get yourself a ticket and help to keep Stacey from bankruptcy. You’ll love the show, and the food comes highly recommended.

Roughly 3800 miles ago, after several days of thorough van-maintenance, I managed to wake Nye at 5:30am (no mean feat), pick up the withered husk of James Patrick Gavin; over-tired, underpaid and malnourished, fresh (if that is indeed the word) from a stint on board a cruise-ship full of punks in Florida, and harbouring a case of ‘swamp-flu’ or perhaps Trump-fever, (which initially seemed likely to initiate a pandemic and signal the beginning of the end of European civilisation) and hit the road by 7, Dover bound.

We just about beat rush-hour, save a bit of a crawl crossing the river, and were making excellent time in a bright and breezy morning mood when one of my brand new-second hand tyres blew out at speed on the M20. Luckily I was able to guide Red, The Wonderhorse to a safe stop on the hard-shoulder and then experience the majesty of the mechanical behemoth that is The Djukella Orchestra snap into action with such skill and gusto as to put any Formula 1 pit-stop team to shame (just picture it), and we made it on to the required ferry with one whole minute to spare, ready for soggy fish and chips and overpriced Belgian lager… ahhhh.

Our first show was at the delightful Djazz Bierkellar in Duisburg, at the heart of the Ruhrgebiet, which google-maps assured us is a mere three and a half hours’ drive from Dunkirk, but perhaps google has yet to be informed of the existence of Antwerp.

After five and a half hours, ten minutes past showtime, James had the unenviable task of trying to explain (via text tennis) to our friend Christine who was standing by the central station waiting for us to hove into view, that we were still 69km away. By some miracle, not only had most of our audience waited patiently for us to arrive, but after anticipating a noisy plug-in and turn-it-up type of show in a venue more used to hard-core punk than folk, they all sat in rows, rapt and silent, and we played to them totally acoustically.

It’s also a great advantage, when arriving late to your own concert, to have a dramatically exploded and shredded tyre in the van, even if it wasn’t actually the reason you were late. A photograph of Antwerp, though possibly more truthful, couldn’t be expected to have such a directly communicable effect. Thanks for Christian for being so understanding, and for being the host with the most, and to Christine, Melissa, Günter and the Esperanto gang for yet another warm welcome.

The morning was spent chasing round Duisburg for a spare tyre to an English specification, which ended up costing more than all of the other five tyres put together, but I got it, and we made our way to a corner of Köln I’ve never been to before, called Indianersiedlung (the indian camp). Tucked in behind various Deutschebahn yards on the wrong side of the tracks is a little oasis of the 1970s, self-built houses and myriad wagons, tiny meandering lanes barely wide enough for the van, and beautiful gardens in full spring-bloom. We were welcomed by a fine song-writer called Matthew Robb, and our old mate Sascha for a fantastic concert followed by a roaring fire. Thanks to Matt for having us at such short notice, and for drumming up such a fine crowd.

Next morning we headed south, down the Rhein and up the Neckar, to the dreaming spires of Heidelberg, and a long overdue reunion with my dear friends Sara Cvetanovska and Wolfe Wilke who I haven’t seen for so long they’ve managed to produce two bilingual children in the interim. They’ve just moved to Heidelberg after several years in Skopje and somehow managed to buy themselves a house fit for millionaires, south-facing, with the most spectacular view of the Neckar Valley (a feat which I discover later is wont to evoke a chorus of disbelieving groans and exasperated sighs from an audience of local aspirant home-owners) and are starting to settle in. After a glorious afternoon catching up and meeting the the kids, we made our way up and across the river to Dilsberg, a fortified village perched atop a gloriously steep hill, all cobbles and castle-views, to the former Cafe Pippifax, re-opened specially for the concert.

It’s always a joy to arrive in Dilsberg, though carrying the instruments the last hundred yards up the hill can be challenging, and this was no exception. We have the great Mitja Reinhardt to thank for guiding us to it in the first place, and for badgering Gerd until he finally booked us for a concert three years ago. I’d seen Mitja for a tantalisingly brief hour on Westgate seafront the week before after a wonderful series of coincidences (but that’s another story), so it was a great joy to be able to actually hang out for a little bit longer. Thanks to Michael and the gang for setting everything up for us, and to Gerd for allowing us to abuse his house in his absence. So glad I got to see you, however briefly, in the morning. Next time we’ll sing to you too.

The morning found Mitja and me under the van, trying to diagnose the frightening rattle which started somewhere between Antwerp and Eindhoven and was steadily developing into an “oh no the wheel might fall off” kind of noise; knocking incessantly under the heel of my accelerator-foot. Black-handed, breakfasted and satisfied that the wheel was unlikely to fall off for the next little while, we bid farewell to the oh-so-delightful Laughing Tree Clan, and headed toward the autobahn for the fahn fahn fahn of driving a vehicle whose wheels sound like they’re about to fall off for five and a half hours.

We made it to Göttingen in plenty of time and were immediately welcomed into the bosom of the Bloech Clan. In this instance, “welcomed into the bosom” has more to do with having a wild eight-year-old leap on your head frantically blowing a harmonica, while four other kids of various sizes try to lead you in several directions and show you all the screen-based gadgets they deem suitable for impressing foreign dignitaries, while you try to quietly drink a beer and chat with their parents. As ever, it’s great fun to see everyone and catch up on all the news, and even better to hear the latest from our favourite opening act, Amy and The Others. Thanks so much to Amy, Henning, Dietmar, Karin and the whole horde for bringing such a fantastic crowd and really knowing what house-concerts are all about.

The following day saw yet another several-hour-slog along Germany’s famous autobahns (which ardent ukippers may be happy to know are now just about as pot-holed, lumpy and overcrowded as ours) desperately praying for the wheels to remain attached to the van all the way to Hamburg. The cobbled streets of St Pauli at once worried and reassured me as we rounded the corner by the police station on Kalscheurerweg to find we had made it, in one piece and on time, to Sinan’s Capoeira studio and the warm embrace of the Schmeling-Kludas clan. Having never played a concert in a martial-arts establishment, we were struck by just how huge, and how empty it was. A vast beautiful space on the first floor, with smooth wooden floors, views out over the trees and a handsome collection of drums and berimbao (the bow-like gourd-powered instrument of the capoeiristas), the reverb was immense, yet ten minutes to showtime the audience numbered about five and we prepared ourselves for a rather echoey show.

Then all of a sudden, with stereotypical German precision, the place began to fill. Amongst the gathering crowd was our friend Steffi, who we’d last seen at James’ Chewing the Fat album launch at Union Chapel, and uncannily, our dear friends Sam and Amelia (whose wedding we played some years ago in Somerset) with a gang of twelve groupies (Amelia’s entire family) come to surprise us. They were over for an 80th birthday party and knew we were on tour. Chuffed to find that we were playing in Hamburg the only day they were there, they frantically searched for the address all day, only to find that we were playing three minutes’ walk from their Air B n’B. What delightful synchronicity. As it was, we got 71 people in and had them singing fit to lift the roof by halfway through, as children galavanted and twirled amongst the gym paraphernalia and all seemed well with the world.

Sinan and Lineke not only let the lads sleep on crash mats in the palatial splendour of the studio, but spent the next morning calling round all of central Hamburg’s mechanical fraternity to find us someone who could squeeze us in to look at the van. They managed to persuade an extremely busy garage to have a quick look, so we high-tailed it over to be asked “What is LDV?”, then told that we might have to order in a new axle. I wondered quietly to myself about the DHL bill for sending an axle to Hamburg, but we had no time for this and set off, rattling away, back across the Elbe and out into the depths of Lower Saxony to perform in the chapel of a psychiatric hospital for our dear friend Christoph, assorted villagers, patients and a deeply enthusiastic pastor called Ann.

After a delightful show, and a sunset overflowing with magnolia and cherry blossom in the beautiful hospital grounds, James and I sprawled about on the ground under the van getting black hands for a while, whilst Christoph took some rather unflattering photos and giggled. I called Mark at Higgins in Luffenham, who’ve been looking after the van for years, told him our woes and he said “it sounds like the bolt’s loose on your shock absorber.” We then discovered that Christoph’s wife, Christiane is a fully equipped mechanic, having learned by single-handedly disassembling and rebuilding a camper van as a girl, she brought us spanners, and we had it sorted within about two minutes. Marvellous. We had a fine meal of local asparagus delicacies before bidding our hosts farewell and speeding off into the night, back across the Elbe, towards Bargteheide. After a little detour or two (I got lost) we were rescued from the dark of the night at the side of the A21 by the inimitable Silke and Jörn Singer, and back to their yellow wooden house for a well needed rest.

After days of long drives straight into concerts and back into long drives, we relished the thought of five long days in the Schleswig-Holstein spring sunshine, with barely an hour’s drive between shows. The first was a
set at the Kolonistenhof Mayday Festival, where the whole of the Schleswig-Holstein folk scene gather on the site of an ancient Angle settlement to share songs, beers and barbecue. Everyone assured us that the last several years have been delightfully sunny, but we were graced with a mini-typhoon, so all plans were hastily re-written, and everyone clubbed together to make a fantastic (if slightly soggy) day of it, crammed into the two actual buildings on the site after the dance tent blew away. We had a fine time singing a few songs to the assembled company. Thanks to all involved, and to all of you who bought CDs. You made our day.

As soon as the festival was done, normal weather service resumed and we were blessed with the days of sun for which we’d hoped. We spent a day lolling about at the house of our friend Suse Notrott, and her horde of foster-children, catching up on email and being told to “shhhhhhhhhh” during Peppa Pig, before heading up to Kiel for a great show at Marlies and Rolf’s place, back down to Bargteheide to play to a packed yellow house concert for Silke and Jörn, then back to Suse’s (via a cheeky dip in an ice-cold lake) for a Saturday afternoon garden concert followed by a proper party with the heavy metal crew. Schleswig Holstein, you are so good to us. Thanks to all.

By this stage, Nye had succumbed to James’ swamp flu (zumpf grippe - a new dubious German word for my small but surreal lexicon), so they were both mostly spluttering and grunting, but somehow I’d managed to avoid it and was feeling pretty much recharged, before the full toll of our seven hour drive south into the blazing sunshine all the way to the Ruhr Valley hit me. Barefoot, and several pounds lighter from dehydration, I somehow managed to get us to the Flotmannkneipe and play our first amplified show of the tour, through a state of the art HK system, to an audience of seven fine souls. Thanks to Jens for paying us, and to Rick for coming down and making my night.

Well hosted, and fed to the gills by the fantastic Jens, we were left with a brief jaunt into the rolling hills of the Rheinland for our final two shows, but a stone’s-throw away from each other in one of the most beautiful corners of Germany, playing to the best house-concert audiences in the world in two 17th Century farm houses (one of them with a view and indeed a rope-swing to take your breath away). Who could ask for more? Deepest thanks and buckets of love to Caspar, Lise, Lotta (and the siblings whose names I can’t spell), Helga, Anna and indeed Sascha for welcoming us into this corner of the world and always showing us such a good time.

Our ludicrously talented aforementioned friend Sascha had us up on the last morning, making a music video in Helga’s ancient barn (soon to grace your screens - if you fancy a look) then we were blessed with a bit of time to lounge in the sunlit meadow and relax before the show, the after-party fiddle session and the morning’s big journey to the glens of deepest Aberdeenshire.

I’m fully aware that this has been going on for ages, so I’m sure the few of you who’re still reading this/awake will be happy to hear I’ll skip the details, but I managed to get James back to London, Nye to Wellingborough and myself to Luffenham, and was in bed by the time the national anthem came on the radio. In the morning I got the break-pads changed, picked up the lads, and we made it to Biggar by nightfall for a Chinese feast and a pit-stop with the leg end that is Michael “Badger” Mackenzie, and were over Glenshee and safely ensconced in Glenbuchat by sound-check the following afternoon.

After meeting Steve and Kirsty, and sound-checking with Graham the itinerant sound man, we were housed in the incredible surrounds of The House of Newes, replete with antique artefacts, mounted heads, stuffed anacondas, halberds, cutlasses and myriad armaments, in the capable hands of Johnny and Kym, fed lavishly and generally spoiled before being driven down to Glenbuchat Hall for the show. We’d been told they’re a fine crew up in Strathdon, and they did us proud, both at the show, and at the session back at the castle after hours. Thanks to Gav R Cook (AKA Old Semeil) for the opening set, and for keeping the jam going despite my snoring (I had been driving for quite some time).

We somehow managed to prise ourselves away from the luxury of hot Scottish sunshine on the lawn, and by lunchtime we made our way “o’er high-high hill, and down yon dowy den” several times, in the glorious sunshine, from the north east glens, down the Tay, through the bit with all the people and all the way to the hills of Dumfriesshire and the Moniaive Folk Festival, just in time to catch the end of Jarlath Henderson’s set and Ross Ainslie’s Sanctuary Band, which was a treat. Our first show was something of a rude awakening after two solid weeks of rapt concert audiences, it being 11pm on a Saturday night and at least several of the audience (if that is indeed the word) being lubricated to the point of riot, but we made a good fist of it, before setting about a good 12 hours of sleep.

Sunday was a pure delight. I managed to spend a lovely lunchtime with The Bookshop Band (Bethany Porter and Ben Please, who`ve recently moved up to Scotland to breed) and their daughter, which was an absolute joy, then we got to close the show whole show with a real proper tear-jerker set for the die-hards, the crew and the ever-ready Tim O`Sullivan, who`d lured us up there in the first place, before a deeply gratifying after-hours jam with the inimitable Greg and Pete from Moishe`s Bagel. All in all a deeply satisfying tour. Thanks to all who made it happen.

As always, we`re all ears for new gig suggestions, and have a fine range of albums for sale at www.jezhellard.com, and any recommendations you can make to your favorite radio-show, magazine or festival will be invaluable. You may not be aware of your power yet, but you are the customer, and the customer is always right. Much love from the depths of Thanet. See you in a field sometime soon.

Posted: 23rd May 2018 | Contact