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  An American icon flying high over London, as a wrinkled

As the first tentative droplets of a light summer rain polka-dot the windscreen for the first time in at least two months, evaporating before their cohort can reach critical mass and even think about trickling, I’ve a moment to reflect on a truly sun-bronzed and balmy summer season so far. Endless thanks to the Djukella Orchestra, Rachael, Dean, Chezney and all those who made Priddy Folk Festival, and especially our Sunday morning Soul Service on the main stage such a pure joy, and to Zoë Moffat for some daemon fiddling at the blazing hot Devizes Beer Festival and the refreshingly shady Radford Mill Folk Festival. There’s a bit more about our mongrel musical exploits below, along with news of where we’ll be playing in the next few weeks, but first… (with apologies to Cam Neufeld.)

This past Sunday I was blessed to be one of the privileged many who crammed into Hyde Park to witness what purports to be the final European flourish of the great Paul Simon. Having documented the joys and sorrows of modern life since way before I was even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes, his song-writing and existential perspective have guided me through many a transition and remain a constant source of inspiration. Brought up on the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel, Gallagher and Lyle, The Beatles, The Wailers et al, it was truly a revelation (as an eight year-old, sent out daily in an anti-apartheid T-shirt to play with village boys who’d start a bike race with the immortal cry, “Last one there’s a nigger!”) when my dad came home from work with a brand new cassette of Graceland and all the magic therein. We danced in the kitchen and nothing was quite the same again.

Later on it was a cassette of Bridge Over Troubled Water in an old walkman that soothed our teenage dawn souls by the locks outside Oundle, realising, in some far flung corner of Asia exactly what the third verse of Call me Al is getting at, and later still, driving through the Rocky Mountains for the first time was infinitely enhanced by “Once Upon a Time it was an Ocean”.

Excluding rather more dynamic situations such as riots, or helping to pull the juggernaut at the marriage of Shiva and Parvati many years ago, I’ve never in my life been in such a crowd, and I truly can’t think of any other situation when I might want to do it again, but when my dear brother told me he’d got tickets to Paul Simon’s last ever European concert and was I free that weekend I was already there, and it was sublime. He opened with the erstwhile theme-tune to Bernie Sanders Presidential run, America, the ever prescient Boy in the Bubble and a couple more hits, before launching into a deeply nuanced and devastatingly beautiful set of versions, arrangements and derangements of his songs, accompanied by his incredible band of the past two decades (sans the dearly departed Vincent Nguini, and the jumped-ship-to-tour-with-James Taylor-legend that is Steve Gadd), with the help of the New York based ensemble Ymusic, who brought a tantalising ripple of chamber-music to the vast wide-open.

The 76-year-old dynamo little dude managed to give us lashings of lesser-known and deeply poignant pieces of work, sung from the heart, peppered with key chart-toppers to reel the fair-weather-fans back into the fold, but delivered with idiosyncratic phrasing that gently shook off the karaoke-heros and drew attention to lyrics long mis-heard, and half understood. After two and a half hours and an solid encore of Late in the Evening, American Tune and The Boxer, he returned alone to the vast stage, and left us with a solo rendition of The Sounds of Silence, the very first song I ever attempted to play, on an old electric organ at the Brown’s house outside Lazonby when I was four. “And the people bowed and prayed…”

I was as deeply impressed by three generations of Hellards and a rogue Zarrouk (from my septigenarian parents to two-year-old Anelie, and one in utero - Jo, you’re a legend) following me at speed through tens of thousands of people to the sweet-spot in front of the sound booth, as the five hundred or so people behind us were unimpressed with our neighbour who’d lost his girlfriend in the crowd, yet managed somehow to retain her dinner, phone and wallet, and proceeded to hold her hand-bag aloft for approaching two hours in an arm-wrenching and ultimately ineffective approximation of a beacon to his desperation. Eventually, security came and expertly talked him out of being lynched by those behind him, and had him back with her, replete with two steaming hot, overpriced new dinners in a jiffy. Top notch.

As the sated crowed began to surge towards the exits, Yaz and I bid farewell to the clan and slipped through the crowd with amazing fluidity in the circumstances, then stomped, jogged and finally sprinted down Grosvenor Place to Victoria Station, rounding the final corner panting in sweat-drenched clothes to see the doors close on the last train to Thanet. So close, yet so far. We headed back out onto the street and bumped into Yaz’s dear friend Adam, fresh in from Australia, quite by chance, so enjoyed a delightful pint in The Shakespeare before the inevitable mail-train to Faversham and £60 taxi to Thanet. All I can say is deepest thanks to all those who made it happen, not least my father for buying me a ticket I plainly couldn’t afford, and Mr. Simon himself for a lifetime of inspiration. (That’s surely enough of that. Ed)

I had intended to join the orange baby baiters in London for Friday’s protest, as following our epic weekend folk festival marathon, Nye and I were in Ashdown Forest on the Thursday night, not too far from Pooh Corner as it happens, performing for students of geomancy, and were perfectly willing to dice with Southern Rail on the off-chance of getting to London. As it happened, we ended up babysitting (and being taken on a tour of Forest Row by) our two-year-old buddy, Elspeth, which was infinitely more fun. Sometimes it’s best to just switch off from the news-cycle and hang out with toddlers. On that subject, if you’ve yet to hear the great Scott Cook’s song, Dogs and Kids, do yourself a favour and check out his new album Further Down the Line.

On Mati and Beth’s return from work, after some furious go-carting with Alfie, newly released from school, we headed down to The Hopyard Brewing Co. for a trio gig with the inimitable Mati Congas, playing for a host of friends old and new, filled to the brim with pizza and fine ale.

This coming weekend, The Djukella Orchestra are bound for a hidden bottom in the south downs for Bimble Banada, where there are rumours we may have quite a fiddle section, and will surely have a fine time basking on the chalk downs. After that we’re heading back to our favourite corner of Hampshire for The Cheriton Sessions on Friday, August 3rd, then lickety-split past the New Forest and round Bournemouth to Worth Matravers to open the Square Fair whilst gazing out to sea at the legendary Square & Compass on Saturday lunchtime. Later in the month, we’ll be back down that way with the Full Fat Djukella Orchestra to play the marvellous Purbeck Valley Folk Festival alongside an incredible line-up including TEYR and another of my all-time heroes, Richard Thompson. If you haven’t got your tickets yet, snap them up before they’re gone.

Right now, I need to get to work booking all the gigs for next year. If you know of a house-concert, church, village hall, festival or theatre we should play any where in the world, let me know, and tell me how to get in touch with them, or vice versa if you prefer. If you just tell one friend about our music, one radio producer to put us on the playlist, or one festival director to book us, it literally makes the difference between singing songs to all you lovely folks and sitting sullenly in the back of a post-office van listening to numpties rattle on about maximum facilitation.

Thanks again to James Patrick Gavin, Tommie Black-Roff, Dominic Henderson, Zoë Moffat and Nye Parsons for being such superlative mongrel magicians. Thoroughly looking forward to reassembling the orchestra and bringing some more Djukella music to the highways and byways of this rather yellowing and pleasant land. See you along the way.

Posted: 21st Jul 2018 | Contact