Floating folkies, cast adrift on the high seas of song. That might best describe Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies, skippered by singer-songwriting guitarist Harry Bird (Bilbao) and multi-instrumentalist Christophe Capewell (Dublin). Split between Ireland, the Basque Country, and several other locations depending on the line-up, their origins are to be found in the North of England, where they first met as students; strumming, bowing and beating away in various musical outfits at the heady turn of a fresh-faced millennium. Since then, they have have spent the last seven years touring Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe playing all sorts of venues.
Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies will play The Mariner in Bantry, on January 24. The gig is free of charge and starts at 8pm.
After college and the inevitable parting of ways, Harry and Christophe were united again in 2008 by an offer to tour Ireland with mutual friend Natascha Leonie, as part of her Frankfurt-based rock band. The lads’ hastily assembled support act, with Irish artist Maria Blackwell as backing singer and percussionist, was the trio that came to form the original line-up for Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies.
‘Long Way to be Free’, was the fruit of the subsequent year they spent travelling together around Ireland, Britain and Spain (where they also doubled as Basque circus band Txintxo Portatu). Released on their own label, Hot Drop Records, their debut was meant originally as a simple, home-made reminder of the good times had upon the road. However, as the gigs increased in number to average around 100 a year and they began to venture further into mainland Europe, the album began to pick up interest from international radio stations and music festivals.
When Maria left to pursue a fine arts degree in Melbourne, the lads turned to old college friend and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Durkan. Paddy, recently freed up from his tours with singer-songwriter John Redfern and newly installed in the Netherlands, agreed to step in with a whole wealth of experience and a whole lot more gear in the form of a banjo and a drum kit (all miraculously squeezed into a picnic box!)
With Paddy’s drums adding a fuller sound, February 2012 saw the release of their second album, ‘The Bones on Black’, recorded in the front room of a big old house in Lincoln, England. All tracks were recorded live by the three of them and then, after some choice collaborations from the affectionately dubbed Lincoln Stompers (bassist Ian Paterson, brother Jamie Bird and engineer/co-producer Adam Sinclair), were hauled off on the road in typical Welly fashion for a bit of love from friends further afield (in England, Ireland, the Basque Country, Catalunya and Syria no less). In 2013, they released a 7” single ‘Kettle of Silver’, as well as collaborating with acclaimed singer Gwyneth Herbert on her album ‘The Sea Cabinet’.
For live shows, the Wellies have had their fair share of guests and stand-ins, among whom number Harry’s aforementioned brother Jamie (a firm Greenbelt Festival favourite and backing singer on both albums). Others include Dublin’s Sweeney Lee (backing vocals around Ireland and Spain), Gaddafi Nuñez (the Peruvian whooper in La Grietita) and the Basque pairing of David Larrínaga (aka La Baldosa Flotante) and Borja Dolara (Humanos Intentandolo). The latest additions to the crew have been London-based Will Rutter, another old friend from student days, who contributed mandolin and Hammond organ to The Bones on Black and Adam Downey, who plays drums when his busy schedule with Sons of Gingerbread and others allows.
2014 saw a successful tour in New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland as well as another 100-date tour closer to home. A third album is planned for release in early 2015, along with another extensive tour of Ireland, Britain and beyond on which they will present their intimate cabaret of joyful sing-a-long choruses and general participatory fun. Pirates, lizards, cracks in the wall and Basque cyclists all inhabit the songscape. And a beard snood….
“One of my favourite bands of recent years” – Mike Harding, former BBC Radio 2 presenter
“An album that consistently surprises and delights…it is folk music as artefact, not industry…simply magnificant” – Sean McGhee, editor R2