Language:

Paper Clip
 

Mabon Band ShotJamie Smith's MABON is a band beyond borders. Their members range across the British Isles, based in Wales, England and the Isle of Man - and their original, InterCeltic music is rooted in the traditions of all the Celtic countries.

Composer-accordionist Jamie was taken every year by his folk-dancing parents to the mighty Festival Interceltique in Brittany, surrounding him from an early age with music from the Celtic regions and beyond.

From accompanying Welsh dancers at five years old; through early musical friendships with Celtic counterparts; to moving his young family to his wife's native Isle of Man, Jamie's life path is inextricably bound with his pan-Celtic style of composition.

Four firm friends help bring his compositions alive in virtuosic style: Oli, a Welsh fiddler with Balkan flair; Paul, a guitarist from Wales who's more Manx than plenty of people born on the Isle of Man; Matt, a bluegrass-loving bass player from Carmarthen; and Iolo, a drummer from the Welsh woods with a passion for world music and jazz.

No wonder their sound is unique! Uplifting jigs and driving reels sit alongside haunting love-songs and sing-along choruses; add Russian bears, Asturian weekends and Galician pandeirettas for a World Music tour by a truly international Celtic band.

MABON is a band that draws readily on the vast range of its members' influences, but does not attempt to make 'fusion'; instead it is a constant pursuit of integrity in seeking to explore the music that gives them - and their listeners - joy.

Their most notable performances in recent times include WOMAD, Womex, Shetland, Rainforest World Music Festival, Borneo,Fairport's Cropredy Convention, Hebcelt, Celtic Connections, and the massive Festival Interceltique de L'orient, as one major festival after the next becomes unable to ignore the band's quality, sheer exuberance and ever-increasing profile.

Autumn 2015 sew the release of their 5th album 'The Space Between'- a studio release to surpass all four of their previous albums in taste, musicianship, breadth and style. The more established instrumental sound continues to expand to include songs in both English and Welsh language: the instrumental and vocal aspects co-exist happily, bound together by their similar treatment - a genuine pursuit of beautiful, original music through inspired composition, skilful arrangement and exceptional performance.

HISTORY

The band first formed in 1999 playing mostly Welsh Celtic dance music in an acoustic quartet of fiddle, accordion, guitar and percussion.

Soon, Jamie started to experiment with composition, and the traditional Celtic tunes of Mabon's early days gradually made way for his own creations, influenced both by traditional music and by other, more contemporary Celtic artists: the band's first album, Lumps of Mabon (Deleted title), is half each traditional and original music, whereas the second consists nearly entirely of Jamie's original music.

The second major shift in sound came with the addition of bass to the line-up, and Iolo's move to drum kit: and through various permutations, expansions and contractions, the band's core instrumental make-up has remained much the same until today.

Albums to date :
Ridiculous Thinkers (2004)
OK Pewter (2007)
Live at the Grand Pavilion (2010)
Windblown (2012)
The Space Between (2015)

name: Jamie Smith

age: Three and a bit decades

height: 5'11

birthplace: Bridgend

name: Oli Wilson-Dickson

age: Youngish. Well. More 'ish'...

height: 5’9

birthplace: Leicester

name: Paul Rogers

age: Somewhere in the middle

height: We'll ask

birthplace: Penarth, Wales

name: Matt Downer

age: The youngest one!

height: 5'10

birthplace: Oxford - though it pains him that it wasn't Wales!

name: Iolo Whelan

age: The oldest band member, but firmly in denial

height: 5'10 but getting taller

birthplace: Cardiff

Passport Pic Passport Pic Passport Pic Passport Pic Passport Pic

Jamie - The Starting Point

Jamie's compositions make up the vast majority of the band's repertoire: thus, he is the starting point for much of what we do. He plays the accordion in the band and sings lead vocals too.

Being the primary creative force and MD in a band like this one is no joke: he needs to produce a steady stream of material to feed to the band and its audiences; he needs to be forthright enough to call a pretty cheeky bunch of musicians to order; and then he has to tread the fine line when things go well, between being genuinely pleased and seeming overly smug.

Seeing as the first ideas are usually Jamie's, he also gets the last word when musical opinions collide - someone has to, especially in a group where everyone else has a wealth of influence, imagination and ingenuity to offer too. Happily, his last word is usually pretty astute.

A lover of music from across a wide range of genres, Jamie has a particular soft spot for folk after (or perhaps despite) a childhood of trailing around music and dance festivals with his parents.

While his peers engaged in more conventional teenage pursuits in their darkened bedrooms, Jamie vented the early portion of his existential angst on an accordion: not with a knife, but teaching himself to play one, largely by means of listening to and emulating the tunes and techniques of Sharon Shannon, Michael McGoldrick, Shooglenifty, Lunasa and many others. Happily, he had enough existential angst left over to sustain a career as a musician later on.

When he, his father Derek, and two brothers Gareth and iolo Whelan began to play as an acoustic folk quartet in 1999 (behold, Mabon is born!), he unknowingly set out on a long, steady journey which expanded his instrumental, compositional, personal and performance skills to the level you see today. He continues to strive for an unattainable perfection, and can be just as cross with himself as with any of the other band members if a particular performance is not up to scratch.

Brought up in Bridgend, living for a while in Risca, he was never destined to stay in Wales having married a Manx lass - and sure enough, he now lives happily on the Isle of Man with his wife Grainne and their two young children. Island life is a double-edged sword: while there is a great cultural heritage there (aka lots of tunes and good craic!) and a huge beach for their kids to run around on, he now spends even more of his life than before explaining to check-in staff what an accordion is, and why no, it really can't go in the hold.

Making a living from playing folk music on an accordion is not a normal thing, and it involves having eggs in a few baskets. So as well as his long commitment to Mabon, Jamie works solo and in a duo performing in schools, old folks' homes and hospitals, and also plays in two acoustic trios: 'Barrule', where alongside Mabon's former bouzouki player Adam and our occasional fiddler Tom, he plays traditional and contemporary folk music from the Isle of Man; and 'Alaw', playing Welsh music with our very own fiddler Oli and long-time Mabon collaborator Dylan Fowler on guitar. This way he gets to have his cake and eat it: he can stretch out his trad credentials in the purity of the acoustic setting; and immerse himself in a more muscular way in the breadth and power of the full band sound.

All musicians need other interests too, and as well as books and films, current affairs and technology, Jamie has a real passion for eating good food. If you had married Grainne, so would you.

Oli - The Icing

If you've got a really good cake, you don't need icing. But if you've got a really good cake, AND icing...

Enter Oliver Wilson-Dickson, who shares the footlights with Jamie and coats Mabon's performances with copious flair, grace and style. Oli plays the fiddle, and sings backing vocals too: though maybe the term 'fiddle' doesn't quite do justice to the breadth of his playing ability.

Able to read Jamie's playing like the back of a soup carton and match his fiddle sound to the subtlest nuances of the accordion, he finds his space in the music, weaving between crisp unison tune-playing and tight harmonies, between open textural sounds and soaring improvised lines.

It is surely a cruelty to your mother to be born with a fiddle in your hand, but Oli came pretty close. Despite also being able to get a tidy tune out of a whole bunch of other instruments (and we won't even mention some serious circus skills!), he was put on this planet to play fiddle, and he radiates when it's in his hand.

He recalls as a child being constantly immersed in music: his parents play (and how!), his siblings play, his whole family oozes music and Oli could not resist the calling.

His passion for folk music reaches out both east and west from the Celtic field: he loves country music, swing, balkan tunes, Russian melodies... whatever means by which he can express his passion.

A musical slapper, Oli shares his copious creative talents amongst several groups: he works extensively with a theatre company which he co-established, 'The Devil's Violin Company'; he plays with the acoustic Welsh music trio 'Alaw', with Jamie on accordion and also Oli's stepfather and sublime guitarist, Dylan Fowler; he works on Welsh TV; he's a busy fella! (Thus, he is very occasionally replaced by another fiddler in certain Mabon concerts - that'll be because someone else has nabbed him sooner than we could!)

Having been brought up outside Cardiff, Oli has put down strong roots in the Monmouthshire area, and now lives in the borders with his wife Rachel, their two lovely boys and Bella the dog, all of whom he adores openly - and we do consider that to be a fine quality in a man!

As well as his music and his family, his other interests mean he can talk at length about gadgets, technology and automobiles - and like everyone else in the band, he is a proper food fan. Oh, did we mention the circus skills?

A lady at a concert some years ago, when we were playing a totally instrumental repertoire, asked us why we didn't sing. Her friend turned to her and answered: "they don't need to sing. They've got Oliver, he makes his fiddle sing".

These days we've got Oli, AND we sing.
Cake. Icing.
Cherry on top.
On a unicycle if you like.

Paul

It takes a particular set of skills to be the balance point between an acoustic, melodic front-line and an electric, groove-based rhythm section: Paul Rogers is the man for that job. He is Mabon's newest member, having stepped into the band with his acoustic guitar in 2016.

Paul's interests and experience make him a great fit for the band, on and off the stage. His original musical specialism was the lute - no, really - but he got hip to trad whilst studying music at Bangor university in north Wales, and made the fiddle his main (but far from only!) instrument. In fact, if it's got strings, there's a decent chance Paul can play it; or at least tell you about it in any one of five languages.

Never take a guitarist at face value - this one will project the full acoustic charm, but he has leanings towards the dark side, and deep down he can barely keep from putting his foot up on the monitor... So, trad credentials intact, you'll see him execute some nifty tune-playing and melodic runs in a Mabon gig, marrying them to Jamie and Oli's lines; then when the moment calls, you will behold the inner rock god break forth, and witness the panic amongst the Folk Police as he steps on his pedals and makes the speakers wail!

As well as the musical factors, Paul slots rather effortlessly into the band's ethos too - like Jamie, he is a Welshman who lives on the Isle of Man; like all the lads, his musical tastes roam free beyond the confines of Celtic music; he has a great love of language - his passion for the Welsh language was kindled by ancient myth, and he has taken Manx Gaelic to his heart in a big way too; and he is a huge fan of fantasy literature, so you'll quite often see him buried in a weighty tome or wired up to his audio book - or both, at times!

In fact, he fits in so well that since his second gig, most new fans, keen journalists and stage managers have approached Paul first if they want any accurate information or a sensible answer. It must be an air of intelligent authority he carries - which suits the rest of the band brilliantly, as they can get on with the serious business of lying down, drinking coffee, playing with equipment, and all the other time-honoured pursuits of the working musician.

Matt - The Groover.

Playing bass creatively and in good taste in a Celtic music band is a tough gig. Specialising in an instrument some people don't even notice is a tough gig. Looking sharper than a waistcoat-toting front line is a tough gig. Matthew Downer is up to the task: he plays bass guitar and electric upright bass and is also the band's most flamboyant dresser.

When his parents named him Matthew, they could surely have had no inkling that his moniker would rhyme with his favourite apparel: Matt "the Hat" Downer is too irresistible a nickname. Even "Matt the Spats" nearly rhymes, though "Matt the Ruffles" is clearly taking it too far.

Matt joined the band in 2007, taking up the reins from the band's original bass player, Jason Rogers. He met iolo while they were both studying jazz at the Welsh conservatoire, and was inexorably drawn into the band, seemingly to his great delight.

His versatility has been carefully cultured and is no natural accident: it means he can draw from any source and influence to support the music in the best way he can. He enjoys the fruits of his labours, and a review comparing his playing to "the more lyrical moments of Jaco Pastorius" was as close as most bands come to seeing their bass player cry.

Such is Matt's worth in low-frequency gold, and so prolific his portfolio of bands, there appeared to be a real danger of his being permanently poached one day by successful musicians in better-paid genres. This threat was neatly resolved however when Matt met his future wife Jen Ord at a Mabon gig, thus (in our humble opinions) indebting him to this band for life. They're happy, we're happy - everyone's a winner!

The pair live in Risca now, happily surrounded by an increasing number of bonny wee children - but Matt's spiritual home is probably Nashville, where the bass-slapping gods of rockabilly reside on high.

Originally though, he comes from a farming background in West Wales, and his rustic roots left a thread in his personality which binds him further to the band with an unexpected but fundamental connection: yes, Matt is a proper foodie too. Good result.

Iolo - The Quiet One.

iolo Whelan plays drums and percussion in the band, and very occasionally sings backing vocals. So how on earth can you introduce the band's drummer as the quiet one? Well, he fits the counter-intuitive theory about shy people gravitating towards the drums as a form of expressing themselves: he is compelled to make loud noise to survive, and starts to go slightly mad if he goes too long without playing.

One of the band's original members, he was 24 when Mabon formed in 1999, and played acoustic percussion. During Mabon's 16-year development, he moved towards the drum-kit as the main tool of choice, and also accidentally entered his forties.

Not being at all impressed with being the oldest and squidgiest member of the band, he is forced to keep his youthful good looks by means of clean living, eating salads and shunning hard drink. The most consistent exception to this rule is his addiction to cheese, which is the surest way to entice him from the straight and narrow these days.

Having been taught classical percussion as a boy, and drifted into a professional music career in his twenties, iolo decided he should learn to play his primary instrument properly, and opted to study a post-grad conservatoire course in jazz performance. This formative experience, which he cites as terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures, better equipped him for the subtleties of playing the drums on a Mabon gig.

His constant aim and favourite challenge is to accompany, and he often doubts whether he is a proper drummer at all - he can sing you the lyrics, guitar solos and horn parts from most of the songs he's ever heard, but often has no idea how their drum parts go. He's learning them all gradually, mainly by teaching them to his students: he is a keen and devoted drum tutor and has about forty students with whom he delights in sharing the constant wonder of music. Occasionally, he remembers to teach them some beats and stuff too.

The few hours a week when he is neither teaching nor playing, iolo is lucky enough to have a home in the Rhondda full of his loving family: his wife Rachel, whom he met on the Isle of Man at the tender age of seventeen, and dragged over to Wales many years later when he could grow a beard; his seven-year-old daughter, who generously but mistakenly thinks he's the funniest person in the world; and a jack russell terrier with an over-developed work ethic. He claims this three-girl team is what keeps him busy, grounded, laughing and sane.

He has a passion for the environment too, and has built several low-impact dwellings, one of which he considers to be one of the most beautiful things he's seen, apart from the aforementioned family members.

If you catch a Mabon gig sometime, iolo will be floating around as soon as he can afterwards, chatting to folks and meeting friends old and new. If he is indeed socially inept as he claims to be, then evidently a load of adrenaline and a good talking point go a long way towards covering that: the only problem then is to get him to stop talking.

Let's face it, they're funny creatures, drummers - ours is no exception.

© 2017 jamie smith's mabon - site created by BackBeat Design