[Lashara van Heerden | Contributing Writer]
It started in a pub and it continues in pubs. The Cross Keys pub in Harpenden has a country atmosphere to it. There are thick wooden tables, high backed benches, and all the right country paraphernalia, which decorate the walls. A sturdy wooden bar greets you as you walk in. In the beer garden of the pub I went to meet the three guys from the distinctively bluegrass band, Jerome Maree, James Chapman and George Golding of Ridgeway.
There are signs that they are on their second round of ale, notably they happen to drinking Ridgeway ale. This is no coincidence; Jerome explains that the band came up with the name Ridgeway whilst drinking at the very same pub we are sat in.
“Two days before a gig we were all sitting here and drinking Ridgeway and James was just like ‘Ridgeway’. We were a bit [Jerome makes an apprehensive sound like an unsure ‘ummm’], but it grew on us,” he said. “Ridgeway is also a local brewery in Tring and this is one of their beers,” he gestured before pausing to take a sip.
Jerome also said that Ridgeway is an ancient footpath that is now a hiking track. The Ridgeway path is known as Britain’s oldest road and covers 87 miles. The image of the ancient footpath is an interesting symbol for a band that has roots in an older genre of music such as bluegrass, yet they have a long journey ahead of them.
The band is comprised of the guitarist and lead singer, James, who moonlights as a barman; George, the bassist, works in a play centre and as a music teacher; and Jerome, who also works as a barman, is the drummer.
Their music is familiar and yet there is something unusual and exciting about their sound, but when the three are asked about what kind of music they play, the level of enthusiasm is undeniable.
“The sort of music though, the music we play, I suppose it was quite easy for you to jump in, because it is blues, bluegrassy,” says Jerome.
James adds “blues country” and goes on to explain that: “Bluegrass is a genre of country music, not a type of grass you smoke,” (for those that were wondering). “It’s really really fast, typically played with a banjo,” he continues.
“Imagine people in dungarees and a bit of straw hanging out,” Jerome says gesturing to his mouth. “The washboard hillbilly stuff.”
George says: “I think it is because we all come from different musical backgrounds and we have different tastes and our own ways of playing and I think it is quite an unusual mix. Like I have a more jazz blue, kinda funk background, so I am trying to be quite melodic, without in a sense overdoing it.”
James goes on to add: “I think you play bass like a lead guitarist.” They each know exactly what the other means.
“We all have our own sounds and styles, but we work together’ explains George. “Yeah, we lock in,” says Jerome lastly.
James writes all of their music: “Usually I come in with a song written and we all sort of play with it. It is all a bit loose in the beginning and these guys define everything,” he explains, gesturing to Jerome and George.
“We don’t like to polish our sound too much, because it loses a certain touch. We like the rough around the edges sound, instead of- polished. It keeps people interested,” says Jerome.
James ties into what is being said by adding: “It is still folk music at the end of the day. There is an attitude around folk and country and that is a bit rough around the edges itself, and it is all about the song.” He stops to think and continues, “It’s about not hiding behind the song and keeping the song in front of all else. You can add the instrumentation and you can add this and you can experiment and develop, but the song remains the important bit and pushing that.”
Jerome adds: “It is about the lyrics, because they tell a story.”
And the Ridgeway story is worth listening to.
Find Ridgeway online at: