Arboreal polished Dorset-centric modern folk.
Ninebarrow are a modern folk band with deep Dorset roots, formed in 2012 by teacher Jon Whitley and GP Jay LaBouchardiere. They were an immediate success, turning professional in 2016, and they were nominated in the ‘Best Emerging Artist’ category in 2017’s BBC Radio 2’s Folk Awards. While Dorset is featured heavily in their songs and music their sound is modern with great harmonies and high production values. As with many artists, 2020 did not go as originally planned for Ninebarrow but they used the time to play numerous online concerts and produce ‘A Pocket Full Of Acorns’. The arboreal reference is significant, because on their fourth album Ninebarrow have raised their horizons a touch and looked at the wider world, while still remaining Dorset-centric, and are planning to create the Ninebarrow Woodland with 1,000 trees and 200 shrubs near Gillingham in North Dorset. This is in direct response to the impact their touring over the last 8 years has had on the environment. This initiative is a result of the title track ‘A Pocket Full Of Acorns’ which was inspired by the story of Admiral Nelson’s second-in-command Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingham who used to carry acorns in his pocket to plant due to his fear of the country being unable to supply enough oak trees for the British navy. Having written the song, the duo felt they needed to take positive action to support as well as simply sing about the environment.
‘A Pocket Full Of Acorns’ may be a website only CD and download release, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the album’s sound is in any way compromised thanks to producer Mark Tucker, who has worked with Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, P J Harvey, Portishead to name only a few, and Oxfordshire’s ARC Recording Studios. Joining Jon Whitley, vocals, ukulele, tenor guitar, octave mandola, reed organ and Jay LaBouchardiere, vocals and reed organ, are Leo MacKenzie cello, John Parker double bass and Evan Carson percussion ensuring that the arrangements of the mix of self-penned and traditional songs range from sparse and simple to layered and rich.
Opening track ‘Come January’ delivers what their fans love about Ninebarrow, the quality of their vocals. The Dartford Warbler is the subject of ‘Nestledown’ and it is a bird that can be seen on the Dorset heath and moorlands. ‘Under The Fence’ was inspired by the Calais refugee camps and is based on an older song ‘Cold, Hailey, Windy Night’ also covered by Steeleye Span on their ‘Please To See The King’ album. The complete band are heard to full effect on ‘Cry Unity’ which is based on the work of Dorset poet William Barnes, as is ‘Zunshine In The Winter’. Beer has helped many deal with the effects of lockdown and it is celebrated by the traditional ‘Hey John Barleycorn’ which is not to be confused with The Watersons’ and Traffic’s ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’. The album closes with ‘Farewell Shanty ’and ‘Sailors All’ which are both delivered beautifully with Jon Whitley’s piano being featured on ‘Sailors All’.
Fans of Ninebarrow will absolutely love this album which has an optional £5 32 page booklet with lyrics, stories and photographs. Folk music sounds better to these ears when it’s grittier and not so smoothly produced, but if you like your folk music to be polished then you’ll enjoy this album a lot. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.