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  • Ben Avison

Chapter Two: A world of musicians in Oxford

After surviving our first winter on the boat, I came out of hibernation and started jamming with our talented neighbours, Jeff Slade and Ray Burrows. Ray introduced me to a community choir, the Jericho Singers, led by the wonderful Steph Pirrie who later did lots of beautiful singing and trumpet on the forthcoming Lovers' Leap album. The Jericho Singers were closely connected with the Jericho Wharf Trust and the Save the Boatyard campaign, and one of the tracks on Good Day Mr. Magpie was included on the Oxford Canal Heritage Trail audio guide.

The Jericho Singers performed Bohemian Rhapsody on BBC Radio 4 with Robert Peston on vocals and me on guitar. That Brian May sound influenced one of the tracks on Lovers’ Leap.

I did a few local gigs with Ray, Jeff, Steph and other musicians I met through the Jericho Singers, including Colin Wilson and Esther Ng.

I also got involved with the Confluence Collective, a fantastically diverse group of performers with a focus on communities whose voices are less heard, including asylum seekers and homeless people. This is where I met the incredibly skilled Tobias Sturmer, who played percussion and drums on the new album, and Martin Beek, the excellent visual artist whose imaginative lyrics and ideas contributed massively to this album.

Martin says “I am a visual artist, although for most of my adult life have written songs as an alternative way of expressing deep feelings in a succinct manner. Songs are often quite mysterious things even to their writers – it is an odd experience hearing one’s own thoughts emoted and sung by someone else.”

My partner Rose works for the British Red Cross and I volunteered for them, staging events to raise awareness during Refugee Week. After promoting an event with the legendary Rise Kagona, my old band leader and mentor, we partnered the following year with the upcyle-tastic Tandem Festival and put on a stage there, through which I met the brilliant singer Haula and the shamazing multi-instrumentalist Seby Ntege, whose bands I joined for a number of live shows.

I was also playing with Okina, the groovy prog-folk “house band” of Tandem Festival, and at times backing up the wonderful Mizike choir and Oxford Canal songstresses The Three Idle Women.

I also worked with Steph on her beautiful arrangement of In the Heart of Jericho, a lyric by her friend the brilliant poet and activist Heathcote Williams, which we recorded for him in St. Barnabas Church. Sadly I didn't meet him, but we exchanged emails and he said how much he’d enjoyed listening to the recording. It was an honour to perform the song at his funeral.

Meanwhile, I continued to play with The Moonbeam Collective in my native Yorkshire Dales, contributing to two acclaimed albums, Watching Wildlife and This Land, and a film Streams of Wonder.

I toured with a writer, James Macdonald Lockhart, helping to launch his beautiful award-winning book, Raptor: A Journey Through Birds.

Meanwhile, my solo act continued to progress. A particular highlight was sharing the bill with the brilliant Hannah James’ Jigdoll, an inspirational mix of folk, electronics, drama and dancing, at Folk Weekend Oxford. I was also selected to play at various other events including Sofar Sounds, the Rabbit Hole Festival, the Eclectic Cabaret, and went to the Netherlands for the International Singer Songwriter Festival (THISSFest).

It was a busy time!

I also went to watch a lot of gigs, at the Bullingdon, the Jericho Tavern, the Beatnik Cafe and various other venues that make up Oxford’s music scene. Local bands that stood out included Balloon Ascents and Catgod (both involving the very talented Robin Christensen-Marriot), Duotone and Count Drachma (led by the brilliant Oli Steadman of Stornoway, a great champion of music in Oxford) who I had the pleasure of playing with for a while.

With a head full of ideas and a network of great musicians and friends, by 2016 I was ready to start work on a second album.

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