Jon Whitley and James LaBouchardiere hail from Poole in Dorset. When you take regular walks on the rolling heathland to the north of the town, you are in a unique and precious environment. Climb to the higher parts of the heathland and you are rewarded with spectacular views across the town to Poole harbour and beyond that to the ancient ruins of Corfe Castle, framed as it is by the hills of the Isle of Purbeck. From your vantage point you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the chalk ridge of Ninebarrow Down from whence the duo take their name.
Jon & James have known each other since their schooldays & Jon’s father was himself a folk artist. The pair had sung together at family gatherings and the like for some time before deciding to enter the 2013 Larmer Tree Breakthrough awards. They won the ‘singer-songwriter’ category, their prize a slot in the festival line-up. It was here I first heard them and their performance was simply breathtaking every bit as spectacular as the views across Poole.
The 12 months since that performance have been quite a ride for Ninebarrow. They have released their debut album “While The Blackthorn Burns” played numerous gigs and festivals, supported Fairport Convention legend Dave Swarbrick, sold out Poole’s ‘Lighthouse’ theatre for their album launch gig and won widespread acclaim from the likes of Mike Harding. It is perhaps an understatement to say that their return to the Larmer Tree in 2014 bore all the hallmarks of a triumphant home coming.
Ninebarrow are understandably thrilled with the progress of their music career and are grateful to the Larmer Tree for giving them the confidence to take things to the next level. They admit to being nervous last year which was the biggest gig they had played to that point. A year later you can feel their confidence, they know their strengths and you can see how much they have grown in a short space of time. Strong sales of their quite wonderful debut album have allowed them to have a greater faith in the quality of their songs. The creative process they went through whilst recording and mastering the album has helped them to polish the songs and the end result is a thing of rare beauty both live and on disc.
The strength of Ninebarrows sound lies in quality songwriting, the sympathetic and passionate interpretation of those songs and in spellbinding vocal harmonies. Jon’s instrumentation is very good live and the addition of gentle violin on disc adds depth, but it is the harmonies that distinguish their sound. The harmonies allow the duo to paint a rich picture, a picture of Dorset, of English tradition, of the countryside, of love and loss, of loneliness. There are stories of the sea, of smugglers, of Roman occupation, of winter landscapes, of summer breezes, of country life and of a simpler times. The songs are inspired by the English landscape and the music paints those landscapes in the mind of the listener. It paints a rich,varied, delicate and stunningly beautiful picture grounded in the finest traditions of English folk storytelling. Their performances draw you in, wrap you up and carry you off to a brighter happier place. When you listen to the album 45 minutes disappear in the seeming blink of an eye.
As Ninebarrows reputation grows they are increasingly in demand as a headline act in folk clubs and festivals across the country. If the opportunity arose to support a major tour by another artist they would enjoy being on the road with the ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ or ‘Patrick Wolf’ as those artists would give both the right kind of exposure and would sit well with their sound. I think the time is fast approaching where that particular ship has sailed. Ninebarrow are currently planning a headlining tour for 2015 and I am sure this will be the next step on their rise to prominence on the English folk scene. The boys want no more from the audience than that they come to their shows with an open mind and that they leave knowing that Dorset, England, nature and the outdoors are important to them. As their growing audience will testify, once you have heard Ninebarrow you don’t just know this, you feel it with every fibre of your being.
I strongly urge you to buy the album and perhaps even more importantly get out to see them in small venues whilst you still can. Ninebarrow have a big future ahead of them and the chance may not come again. Interestingly Ninebarrow, perhaps inspired by Steve Knightly’s ‘Grow your own gig’ project are currently offering to play House Concerts an opportunity to get up close and personal and to hear the boys in a private and personal environment.