Before the world became a place we barely recognise Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere, aka acoustic duo Ninebarrow, had been looking forward to a special collaborative concert in their home county of Dorset next week.
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.
Says Jon: “We’ve performed a couple of superb concerts with the choirs separately and thought it would be fantastic to bring both of them down to Dorset for a double choir spectacular – it would have been one of the highlights of the year but obviously, in the current crisis, it had to be postponed.”
Instead the duo (nominated for the coveted Horizon award (Best Emerging Act) at the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards) came up with an ambitious idea to record a ‘lockdown’ charity single together remotely.
They decided on a recording of the Ninebarrow song The Hour of the Blackbird – and will officially release it on May 15 as a charity single in aid of Mind, marking Mental Health Awareness Week (May 18-24). The simple but uplifting song, apt for the times we find ourselves in, celebrates spring renewal and hope and sees the robin crowned as ‘King of the Greenwood’ again.
Says Jay: “Our song seems totally fitting for the current situation – it’s about how male blackbirds will sing together during the afternoon as the days get longer, about banishing darker thoughts and finding happiness in life’s simple things. Something we all need to do more than ever at the moment.”
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.
Says Jon: “The idea of releasing it as a charity single was one everyone jumped on board with straight away. There’s a huge amount of incredible fundraising taking place across the country at the moment, and we thought it’d be fantastic to be able to contribute to that in some small way – but we wanted to support a charity that maybe wasn’t getting quite so much media coverage, but that was no less important at a time like this.”
With recent media reports citing 50% increases in calls to mental health support lines since lockdown and many people stating that their mental well-being is suffering during the COVID-19 crisis, the group felt that doing something to support this emerging mental health issue – something that can affect people of all ages and backgrounds – was a truly worthy cause.
Roy Rashbrook, an experienced composer and arranger, added: “When we finished putting the song together we were really quite blown away with the end result. It’s hard to believe everyone was singing their parts directly onto their mobile phones. So we decided very quickly that we wanted to do something more significant than just putting it on social media.”
This latest initiative from Ninebarrow follows on from the release of three full length albums, the publishing of their book, Ninebarrow’s Dorset and the launch of their walking holidays.
In a few short years, the duo have carved themselves a distinctive niche on the folk roots scene for their immaculate harmonies, delicate instrumentation and engaging songs, relinquishing their jobs as a teacher and GP in favour of a full-time music career – an act of faith that has clearly paid dividends.
Named after Nine Barrow Down in Dorset’s Purbeck Hills they have been described by Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe as sounding like “two halves of one voice”.
People will be able to watch The Hour of the Blackbird video, download the audio track and make donations to Mind at www.ninebarrow.co.uk/mind
The Mind charity operates in England and Wales offering information and advice to people with mental health problems and lobbying government and local authorities on their behalf. It also works to raise public awareness and understanding of issues relating to mental health.
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