When award-winning Dorset folk duo Ninebarrow decided to experiment with a full band line up there was only one place to launch it – Lighthouse.

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Poole’s centre for the arts has been instrumental in their gradual development from a part-time project to professional musicians with a string of plaudits to their name and undeclared status as Dorset’s cultural ambassadors.

Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere were both working full-time – as a primary school teacher and GP respectively – when it was first suggested Ninebarrow should play the studio theatre at Lighthouse.

“I was teaching at Baden-Powell School in Hamworthy where I met Elspeth McBain the Chief Executive at Lighthouse as her son went there,” says Jon. “She suggested we could play Lighthouse but at the time we’d only been going a few months and were happy if we got 20 people to a folk club.

“Fast forward another year or so and we were looking for somewhere to launch our first album and I picked up the phone and asked if the offer still stood. The gig went really well and we went back to launch our second album in the Studio then graduated to the Theatre. It just seems that every time we take a leap forward Lighthouse has been the launch pad.”

Now with a BBC Folk Awards nomination and a host of five-star reviews to their name Ninebarrow are making their debut as a five-piece band with a special show at Lighthouse on Saturday 14 September building to a full band tour in March.

“It has been great fun trying new ideas and arrangements with the guys,” says Jay. “We’re hearing our songs in new ways that we may not have come up with ourselves so it’s very much a band, a proper collaboration.”

The band – cellist and long-term collaborator Lee MacKenzie, double bassist John Parker and Evan Carson on percussion – will play new arrangements of Ninebarrow favourites as well as some new songs destined for a new album next year.

“It has always felt special to play at Lighthouse,” adds Jon. “The Studio is a lovely space, really cosy, but with the ability to add drama with the lights and control of the sound. It was hugely important in our growth as writers and musicians; while the Theatre has given us the confidence to pitch shows at larger spaces and venues.”

As with this debut full band show Dorset continues to be at the very heart of everything Ninebarrow do, a fact they celebrate unashamedly in Ninebarrow’s Dorset Walking Book, an 80-page full-colour book featuring ten walks in countryside that has inspired a Ninebarrow song. They’re also planning to host musical walking holidays next summer.

“The book was something we wanted to do whether or not anyone bought it and it has been a real success,” says Jay. “I love meeting people at gigs, talking about the places we sing about and hearing their stories about coming to Dorset. It’s such a big part of what we do; it’s where we’re from so why not?”

Why not indeed?

:: Ninebarrow play the Theatre on Saturday 14 September.

Published 25 July 2019