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 twelve 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 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 same 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 addition to their live shows and recording work, 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.