Ninebarrow are a multi-award-winning folk duo, who are impressing audiences across the country with their innovative and captivating take on the folk tradition. Described by Mark Radcliffe as sounding ‘like two halves of one voice’ and by Mercury Music Prize nominee Kate Rusby as ‘absolutely amazing’, Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere combine breath taking vocal harmonies and melodies, delivering original songs that are inspired and rooted in the landscape and history of the British Isles. As well as crafting unique and engaging original material, Ninebarrow also take a wide-range of traditional folk songs and rework them in their own, distinctive way. Nominated for the coveted Horizon award (Best Emerging Act) at the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards the Dorset duo have carved themselves a distinctive niche on the folk roots scene for their outstanding harmonies, high production values, engaging original songs, poetic lyricism and magical instrumentation.
2020 was not the year Ninebarrow, or anyone, had in mind. But as touring (both as a duo and the first ever tour with their band) went out the window, Jon and Jay quickly filled the void by developing some of folk music’s most technically sophisticated streamed gigs and used the time and space to perfect their latest studio album - 'A Pocket Full of Acorns', which they released to a raft of four and five star reviews in the folk and mainstream media. Within just a few days of release, the album had already reached No. 1 on Amazon's Folk Best Sellers Chart.
'Really lovely – like two halves of one voice'
Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2 & 6
“It feels all the sweeter to be able to release this collection into the wild given all the detours we had to make in 2020. Our music will always be inspired by the incredible landscape and history of our native Dorset as well as our sense of home and belonging. But these days we can’t help but be moved by the many changes happening to our planet and society - we hope this fourth studio album reflects that.”
'They really do go the extra acres in everything they do, they treat their fans like their friends, and richly deserve the love and affection they receive in response.
Folk Radio UK
In the week leading up to the arboreal-titled album’s release (March 5, 2021) Jon and Jay fulfilled a long-held wish to address their carbon footprint by planting 1000 native English trees and 200 shrubs to form ‘The Ninebarrow Woodland’. Funded partly by the Woodland Trust's MOREWoods scheme, and partly by the incredibly generous donations of their beloved 'Barrow Bods' fan base, the duo embarked upon an epic, five-day planting project during the third national lockdown. Unable to safely invite the working party of volunteers they'd hoped for, all 1000 saplings and 200 shrubs were planted by Jon, Jay, Jay's mum, Vicki, and her partner Kevin.
Sited on three acres of land near Gillingham in north Dorset, the ambitious project saw saplings of 10 different species planted, half of which were English oaks.
Because of the strong link between Ninebarrow’s music and the Dorset landscape, the duo were invited to record a segment for BBC1's Countryfile in March 2021. Following the broadcast, all four of the duo's current releases immediately jumped into the Amazon's Top 40 Folk Releases, with the new album 'A Pocket Full of Acorns' cemented securely at the top of the chart.
The Full Ninebarrow Story
Having been friends since the age of 12, folk music had long been a feature in the lives of Jon Whitley and Jay Labouchardiere. The primary reason for that was Bob Whitley, Jon’s father, who was (and still is!) a well-respected Dorset folk singer and song-writer. Providing a backdrop of song-writing and sing-around nights at Jon’s family home, not to mention running his own folk club for a number of years, meant that Jon had always had one foot in the folk world from a very early age. Jay found himself being inexorably (but not unwillingly!) pulled towards the genre after tagging along at many of the folk nights hosted by Jon’s Dad. It wasn’t until 2012, however, that the two began singing together, after spending a summer becoming inspired by a host of great music at some of the South West’s great festivals. In spending long hours at the sing-arounds of Sidmouth Folk Festival, as well as experiencing a particularly amazing line-up of folk acts at Larmer Tree Festival 2012, the friends found themselves hooked. Thinking that in the following 12 months they might be able to sell enough CDs to afford tickets to next year’s Larmer Tree Festival, Jon and Jay began singing together as Ninebarrow.
It quickly became clear that Ninebarrow was not only going to be something quite special, but also that Jon and Jay would not be needing to buy tickets for Larmer Tree Festival 2013 after all. Instead, after entering a competition on a whim, the duo were crowned Larmer Tree Breakthrough Music Award Winners – and were awarded not only tickets to the 2013 festival, but also a spot on one of the festivals main stages. From here, the accolades continued to arrive with regularity. In the same year they were announced Number 1 in Drunkenwerewolf Magazine’s ‘Hidden Acoustic Gems of 2013’ and their debut EP ‘Kingdom’ was announced as one of Ukulelehunt.com’s records of the year.
In 2014, Ninebarrow went on to release their debut album ‘While the Blackthorn Burns’ and it received a raft of excellent reviews, including being awarded Fatea Magazine’s ‘Debut Album of the Year’ 2014 and the duo were also finalists in the UK Songwriting Competition of the same year with their song ‘The Weeds’ from the same album. Again, recorded and produced by the duo themselves, the 12 track release has been hailed as ‘a landmark folk album of its time’ (Folkwords.com), ‘exceptional…totally wonderful’ (Fatea Magazine) with harmonies that are used to ‘stunning effect’ (Brightyoungfolk.com). It’s also received airplay on Mike Harding’s Folk Show where he said: 'I've had lots of requests for this next duo...Beautiful, lovely feel to this. I love it.' In May 2014, Folk Radio UK posted the opening track of the album on their website and within 4 weeks it had received over 20,000 plays world-wide and jumped to number 1 on SoundCloud's Folk chart. The album was also listed in the Telegraph’s top folk albums of 2014. In the same year, as part of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, Ninebarrow were invited to take part in a collaborative re-recording of Pete Seeger’s ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ which subsequently received airplay on Mark Radcliffe’s Folk Show on BBC Radio 2 as well as winning FATEA Magazine’s ‘Single of the Year’ 2014.
The success the duo enjoyed during their early years performing together was set in front of a backdrop of full-time work in other professions. During Ninebarrow’s first four years, the duo took bookings as often as they were able, whilst Jay worked as a qualified GP and Jon as a full-time primary school teacher. It wasn’t until the Spring of 2016 that both decided to take the decision to step back from these roles in order to pursue professional careers as musicians.
During this period, Ninebarrow’s second album, ‘Releasing the Leaves’, was released to wide-spread critical acclaim. Recorded and produced in the duo’s own studio and mastered by Mark Tucker (whose other credits include Show of Hands and Fairport Convention) the album received a raft of stellar reviews including five stars in both Maverick Magazine and the English Dance and Song Magazine produced by the EFDSS. Receiving airplay on national and regional radio stations across the UK, including the multiple plays on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show, it was described by Suzi Klein on BBC Radio 3 as demonstrating the duo’s harmonies ‘to perfection’. It was also awarded four stars by The Telegraph and listed in the paper’s Top Folk Albums of 2016 as well as featuring in several other ‘Best Albums of 2016’ awards lists.
In 2017, the duo were nominated at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in the ’Horizon’ category for ‘Best Emerging Artist’. One of the highest accolades in their genre, it was made even more exceptional because it was only a few months prior to this that Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere relinquished their jobs as a teacher and GP in favour of a full-time music career.
In 2018, Ninebarrow continued this upwards trajectory with their third record, The Waters and the Wild. The 11-track album highlights how their inspired songwriting is ever evolving and displays the duo’s incredible vocal harmonies through original songs mixed with innovative arrangements of folk standards, all wrapped in lush, sensitive arrangements and flawless musicianship. Awarded 5-stars in both The Morning Star and the English Folk Dance & Song Society’s EDS Magazine, the album has received airplay on BBC Radios 2, 3, 6 Music, Wales and Scotland. Folk luminary, Mike Harding, has hailed it as ‘absolutely monumental’. In June 2018, the album reached Number 2 in Amazon’s Folk Best-Seller chart and was also announced ‘Best Album of 2018’ by the Nova FM Folk Show.
Also in 2018, the Ninebarrow were delighted to formalise their long-standing relationship with one of the South’s friendliest festivals: Lyme Folk Weekend. The duo were delighted to accept the invitation to become patrons of the festival, and since then have continued to work closely with festival director, Jeremy Hayes, to expand the festival, giving advice on bookings, as well as curating one of the festival concerts each year.
In what was to be an incredibly busy year for the duo, 2019 saw them publish ‘Ninebarrow’s Dorset’: a book of musical walks. Jon and Jay are keen walking enthusiasts when not appearing on stages throughout the UK and decided to pool their talents to create a book of diverse ‘musical walks’ in their home county – taking readers on a magical journey through the landscape that has played such a huge part in the success of their music. The book contains ten scenic and distinctive walks for all abilities, each the inspiration for one of the duo’s songs and accompanied with detailed instructions, stories, photography and hand-drawn maps. The publication has been incredibly well-received nationally, and has even been chosen by the National Trust to be stocked in their Dorset shops.
Off the back of the book’s success, the duo embarked on another exciting project. 'Ninebarrow Musical Walking Holidays' would give folk music fans the opportunity to come to Dorset for a luxury break – where they would be led on guided walks through the stunning Dorset landscape by Jon and Jay, whilst getting to experience the best food and drink available in Dorset. Each day would be capped off with a concert from some of the rising stars of the UK folk scene. The first 2020 holiday sold out within 24 hours of being launched, and so the duo decided to expand with a second; this also sold out over a year in advance. Plans to expand these holidays are already in place for 2021.
In October 2019, the duo were invited to record an episode of Clare Balding’s Ramblings for BBC Radio 4. Following the broadcast, in which Clare described the Jon and Jay’s singing as “So lovely!”, the duo’s two most recent albums immediately jumped to No. 1, No. 2 in Amazon’s Folk Best-Seller chart
In addition to their live shows, publishing, recording work and walking tours, Ninebarrow have also worked on a number of commissioned projects. In the summer of 2014, the duo were commissioned by Artsreach Dorset to write a series of songs inspired by the South Dorset Ridgeway and designed to raise awareness of the rich archaeological heritage of the area. These songs were showcased in exhibitions across Dorset throughout the spring and summer of 2015. They were also commissioned by the ‘Off The Map’ Dance company in the summer of 2017 to write and record the soundtrack to a brand new contemporary dance production entitled ‘Folklore’, which takes inspiration from three folk tales from the south west of England. The duo spent two months working on the project, which was partially funded by Arts Council England.
The duo have also worked in conjunction with a number of choirs to produce some very memorable live shows. Most notably, Jon and Jay have worked closely with choir director, Roy Rashbrook to produce a project entitled: The Hour of the Blackbird. A programme of eight unique arrangements of Ninebarrow’s songs for SATB choir, it is designed to be performed alongside the duo themselves. Already tried and tested with a number of Roy’s amateur choirs, the arrangements have been made available in two levels of difficulty, for intermediate and more advanced choirs with the intention of allowing other chamber choirs to collaborate with the duo.
In early 2020, Jon and Jay embarked upon their first tour of Germany. A huge success, the duo returned to the UK with plans for their first 'Ninebarrow Band' tour and to record their new album. But 2020 was not the year Ninebarrow, or anyone, had in mind. And as all these plans quickly evaporated, the duo quickly filled the void by developing some of folk music’s most technically sophisticated streamed gigs and used the time and space to perfect this latest studio album.
Many events fell by the wayside during the course of the year: on Saturday, May 23 they were due to join forces with two celebrated chamber choirs – Hampshire’s Hart Voices and Surrey’s Chantry Singers (conducted by Musical Director and St Paul’s Cathedral Choir member Roy Rashbrook) for a special concert in the stunning and atmospheric surroundings of Dorset’s Milton Abbey. It would have been one of the highlights of the year but obviously, in light of the health crisis, it had to be postponed. Instead the duo came up with an ambitious idea to record a charity single together remotely. The project began with Jon and Jay recording a live version of The Hour of the Blackbird at home in Dorset. This was then sent to the choir members (around 50-strong) who each recorded their specific part using their mobile phones whilst watching and listening to the guide track. These were then sent to Ninebarrow via the internet, and 60 hours of audio and video editing – with mixing and mastering input from ‘go to’ producer Mark Tucker - has brought the whole thing together. The single went on to raise over £8000 for the mental health charity: Mind.
But they also used their time in lockdown to perfect their new studio album 'A Pocket Full of Acorns'. Once again produced by Mark Tucker at Oxfordshire’s ARC Studios, the elegant, painstakingly-crafted 11-track new album comprises mainly original songs together with inventive arrangements of traditional songs, lyrics inspired by the poetry of Dorset poet William Barnes and a spellbinding cover of a Patrick Wolf song.
The album was released to a raft of four and five star reviews in the folk and mainstream media and within just a few days of release, the record had already reached No. 1 on Amazon's Folk Best Sellers Chart.
In the week leading up to the arboreal-titled album’s release (March 5, 2021) Jon and Jay fulfilled a long-held wish to address their carbon footprint by planting 1000 native English trees and 200 shrubs to form ‘The Ninebarrow Woodland’. Funded partly by the Woodland Trust's MOREWoods scheme, and partly funded by the incredibly generous donations of their beloved 'Barrow Bods' fan base, the duo embarked upon an epic, five-day planting project during the third national lockdown. Unable to safely invite the working party of volunteers they'd hoped for, all 1000 saplings and 200 shrubs were planted by Jon, Jay, Jay's mum, Vicki, and her partner Kevin.
Sited on three acres of land near Gillingham in north Dorset, the ambitious project saw saplings of 10 different species planted, half of which were English oaks.
With the new album and the planting of the 'Ninebarrow Woodland' making headlines, the duo were invited to record a segment for BBC1's Countryfile in March 2021 to talk about not only their tree planting project - but also about how Dorset had helped to shape their music and their identity as individuals. Following the broadcast, all four of the duo's current releases immediately jumped into the Amazon Folk Top 40, with the new album 'A Pocket Full of Acorns' cemented securely at the top of the chart.