The Dorset Ap­pre­ci­a­tion So­ci­ety

From evil crows to Pythonesque bat­tles: ac­claimed folk duo Ninebar­row say there’s no in­spi­ra­tion like walk­ing in their home coun­try­side…

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - The View -

WE WERE WALK­ING over Bal­lard Down in the Purbeck Hills and we saw a line of seven crows sit­ting in a hawthorn tree,” says Jon Whit­ley.

“And in our heads they be­came seven witches who’d com­mit­ted some foul mur­der and had turned them­selves into crows so they could watch the hys­te­ria. That’s kind of how we see things. Folk mu­sic: never misses a chance to turn mis­er­able.”

Hap­pily, Jon and his part­ner Jay LaBouchardiere are far from mis­er­able. As Ninebar­row, they have been nom­i­nated for the Ra­dio 2 Folk Awards and have a de­voted fol­low­ing that in­cludes Kate Rusby, Seth Lake­man and Mark Rad­cliffe. It’s all down to mel­liflu­ous close-har­mony vo­cals, prodi­gious mu­si­cian­ship, a mis­chievous sense of fun – and a pas­sion for the land­scapes of their home county.

“We didn’t set out to be the Dorset Ap­pre­ci­a­tion So­ci­ety, but it’s kind of what’s hap­pened,” says Jon.

“I guess you can’t help be­ing in­spired by what’s around you, par­tic­u­larly if you’re from Dorset and you like walk­ing.”

Jon and Jay met at school, and both say their in­ter­ests in mu­sic and walk­ing de­vel­oped in tan­dem from an early age.

“We’ve spent most of our lives walk­ing in the Dorset coun­try­side,” says Jon.

“I re­mem­ber when I was in my early teens walk­ing with my dad and sis­ter hum­ming folk tunes be­cause my dad Bob was (and still is) a pop­u­lar folk mu­si­cian. It was places like the Purbeck Hills and Bad­bury Rings…”

“For me it was Cran­borne Chase and Martin Down,” says Jay.

“And I think we just be­came aware that these were spe­cial land­scapes, full of sto­ries and song.”

The duo’s name comes from Nine Bar­row Down in the Purbeck Hills, and most of their orig­i­nal songs take in­spi­ra­tion from Dorset’s land­scape.

Siege re­lates the siege of Corfe Cas­tle dur­ing the Civil War, when Roy­al­ist Lady Mary Bankes held out against a Par­lia­men­tar­ian force for months be­fore be­ing be­trayed by one of her own of­fi­cers.

“I pic­ture it as a slightly Monty Python af­fair, with Lady B shout­ing rude things from the bat­tle­ments,” says Jon. “And the Round­heads ob­vi­ously re­spected her, be­cause at the end they let her walk out with her dig­nity in­tact. Un­til they de­mol­ished her cas­tle, of course.”

Halsewell tells of Dorset’s worst ever ship­ping dis­as­ter. In Jan­uary 1786, the trad­ing ves­sel Halsewell was wrecked on the rocks near Worth Ma­travers, with lo­cals brav­ing the freez­ing storm to haul 74 sur­vivors up the jagged cliffs.

“Some­one told us that story at a gig, so we went for a walk to find the place,” says Jay.

“When you see the cliffs, you re­alise what an or­deal it must have been for the sailors try­ing to climb up to safety, and the vil­lagers try­ing des­per­ately to help them.”

Blood on the Hill­side is the saga of the witchcrows of Bal­lard Down, while Thir­teen Turns tells of a skilled med­i­cal healer who was hanged as a witch at Gal­lows Hill in Dorch­ester. Over­thrown had a slightly dif­fer­ent ge­n­e­sis. “We got a call from Dorset Art­sreach, who said they’d like to com­mis­sion a song from us,” says Jon.

“Wow, we said – what kind of song? And they said, ‘one that will raise aware­ness of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal her­itage of the South Dorset Ridge­way’.

“Well, that was a bit of a chal­lenge, but we like a chal­lenge. We went walk­ing to some of the hill-forts that have been ex­ca­vated along the ridge­way, and what struck us was how na­ture had over­come them.

“The chief­tains prob­a­bly thought these mighty forts would last for aeons against all com­ers – but in fact they’ve been ‘over­thrown’ by noth­ing more than grass and flow­ers. That sounded like a good way to con­nect to the ar­chae­ol­ogy of the place.”

They have just re­leased their lat­est al­bum The Wa­ters and the Wild, and Jon is plan­ning an even more prac­ti­cal link be­tween their two pas­sions.

“I’d love to do a book of walks that go to the lo­ca­tions of our songs,” he says.

“I’ve been a CW reader for years so I’m pretty good with routes. If any­one knows a good pub­lisher, give us a shout!”

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