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Rob Harbron

Ahead of Leveret’s Autumn tour which starts on Saturday at Wingfield Barns in Suffolk, Tony Bell has a chat with the band’s concertina player, Rob Harbron.  Did you know that one of the band’s first ever gigs took place in piggery owned by Becky & John organisers of FolkEast?

You are starting your tour at Wingfield Barns on Saturday and then at Haverhill Arts Centre on Sunday. Your tour is not restricted to any one type of venue – there are quite a selection.

We have everything on this tour from village halls, the lovely barn at Wingfield and Kings Place in London which is a fairly newly built concert hall, the whole spectrum.

How does that change the performance, or does it change the performance?

Musically, maybe not all that much but it may affect how you interact with the audience. At the less formal gigs we find that there is a lot more banter but the way we play our music is fairly much the same regardless of the venue.

According to your press release your music has “no arrangements and is pretty free-form”…

I wouldn’t want anyone to get the impression that it is totally off the wall, free form jazz kind of thing, or anything like that. Basically we know the tune, all of our stuff is instrumental. The tunes have a certain structure, there is a first half and a second half – but in terms of who plays what and when… we don’t even nod to each other, it is just listening and trusting each other to make it work.

That must be interesting in some folk clubs because, dare I say it, there is a certain kind of person at a folk club who will come up to you afterwards and tell you that you are not playing it right!

That is very true. There is this little phrase that I use when I’m teaching: tradition must be respected, convention can be broken but not until you know which is which. Leveret like to straddle that kind of line comfortably enough that people who have been listening to folk music for years can listen to what we do and not find it totally off the wall. And also for people who come to us from a non-folky background can find some interesting stuff, some dialogue and some interest on stage.

What brought Andy, Sam and yourself together to form Leveret?

Being a relatively small world, we have known each other for years. We are not the same age, so when I was learning music Andy was a young professional who taught me quite a bit and then when Sam was learning as a teenager I was in my twenties and running workshops. Sam and I were working together on quite a few different things, but the catalyst, if you like – all three of us were part of a band with Fay Hield, she just happened to ask the three of us to be in her band. It is easy to play the same set at every gig, we made a point of playing something different every night, just to keep a little interest on the road. Sam and I had been researching tunes, looking for repertoire, digging it out of old books. So for quite a long time without having a particular project in mind we were sending tunes back and forth and playing them as a trio in sound checks. We put together a small tour – we didn’t even have a name at that point and it went really well.

In fact one of our first gigs was in Suffolk, in a former piggery which used to belong to the people who run FolkEast – John and Becky Marshall-Potter. So in a way with this tour we are gong back to where it all started, that “piggery gig” was one that we all remember.

You yourself have quite a formal musical education, haven’t you?

Yes, I did a fair amount of classical music growing up, first on the violin and then on the bassoon. But the folk music thing was always there from when I was about twelve or so I was going to the early workshops at Folkworks organised in Gateshead and so the two things were running in parallel. I would never suggest that a young musician chose one direction or the other, the longer that you can keep all your skills going the better.

Within Leveret you play the concertina, what drew you to play that particular instrument?

There happened to be one at home, it belonged to my great grandfather. After I had started to learn a few folk tunes by ear, and I saw a concertina player called Alistair Anderson from Northumberland and I don’t know… it just made me realise that was what was at home and some months later, when I should have been practicing violin scales I just opened the little hexagonal wooden box that was on top of the chest of drawers and had a go on the concertina. I found that I could easily transfer those tunes that I learned on the fiddle to it and I never looked back really.

And you now teach concertina, don’t you?

Yes, I teach people at workshops and courses all over the UK and overseas sometimes.

Is it a difficult instrument to bring people up to speed on?

I personally think, and I would say this! But I think it is one of the easiest instruments you can pick up. The English Concertina, compared to a violin where you have to put your finger in exactly the right place and make the bow make the perfect sound – you have a lot to do just standing still on a violin, whereas on a concertina you have a nice sounding note, that is in tune and its ready to go and not going to move. For anyone who has already learned a few tunes on another instrument, the concertina is a really great instrument.

The tout starts on Saturday and runs through until the 16th October. They tell me that on the 17th you are straight into the recording studio, is that true?

That is right, we are going, literally the day after the final gig, we are heading down to Kent to a nice recording studio. It will mean that we are well played in!

Do you need to engage a different mindset when you go into the studio as opposed to appearing before an audience?

To some extent you do. There are things that happen in a live performance situation where just being there makes it a great experience for people and musicians often get away with a bit of stuff live that you wouldn’t on a recording. But the way we work as a trio, being responsive and unstructured, that doesn’t change when we are recording. We sit in a triangle, facing the middle and we just do our thing so if we do two different takes of a particular set they won’t be equivalent, they might be totally different – one might have a different tempo, one might feel really upbeat. For us, the approach to playing is similar but we are just thinking of it as we listen back and look for the hidden depths. The hardest thing is deciding whether it is the right take to put on the record!

Do you have a producer in the studio?

No, we’ll have a sound engineer and will get feedback from him but there is a certain amount of taking off one hat and putting on another – between the three of us we share that production role.

Catch Leveret on tour:

  • Sat, Sep 1 Wingfield Barns, Wingfield, Suffolk
  • Sun, Sep 2 Haverhill Arts Centre, Haverhill, Suffolk
  • Tue, Sep 4 Middlesbrough Town Hall, Middlesborough
  • Wed, Sep 5 Kings Place, London
  • Thu, Sep 6 West End Centre, Aldershot
  • Fri, Sep 7 The Greystones, Sheffield
  • Sat, Sep 8 Hornblotton Village Hall, Hornblotton, Somerset
  • Tue, Sep 11 Exeter Phoenix, Exeter
  • Wed, Sep 12 The Stables, Wavendon
  • Thu, Sep 13 Lincoln Drill Hall, Lincoln
  • Fri, Sep 14 Ruskin Mill, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire
  • Sat, Sep 15 Folk at the Flavel, Dartmouth, Devon
  • Sun, Sep 16 Rhydycroesau Village Hall, Rhydycroesau, Oswestry
  • Sat, Oct 20 Musicport Festival, Whitby