BBMA featured artist  – November 2019

Nick Hornbuckle

Nick Hornbuckle knows a bit about coffee – oh and he knows a bit about playing the banjo!  Using just the thumb and index finger, he has developed his own picking style to produce pretty much all the usual banjo stuff and a number of original effects.  You might expect the single string Reno style to dominate, but what you get is a genuine Scruggs feel, with tasteful melodic interjections.  What makes this musician so special is not just his ability to create unusual rhythms, but his ability to bridge the gap between the  Old Time sound and straight ahead Bluegrass.  This is clearly reflected when he plays with John  Reischman and the Jaybirds.  Using a number of different tunings, he is probably the best exponent of the Two Finger style currently playing today.  His talent doesn’t stop there … he has written a lot of original material, and his latest album “13 or So” contains his own compositions – more of that later!  Many of us were fortunate enough to catch him on tour with the Jaybirds this year in the UK – if you missed him, then the new album is a chance to connect.
Nick’s move to using the two finger style came about in 1998 when he was recording “Up In The Woods” with John Reischman (one of my favourite albums)  when he noticed his middle finger wasn’t working as it should. Numerous visits to medical practitioners left him with the problem and no cure …. The end result was a move to using just the thumb and index fingers.  More information on Nick’s transformation to the two finger style can be found in an interview he did with Pete Wernick (Banjo Newsletter).
Like many musicians with such talent, Nick is just a nice guy who happens to be really good at what he does.  If you just like good music, or if you are a banjo nerd like me …. this player is worth listening too, and worth a study.
Nick has agreed to answer any questions we might have. Please send your questions to me, Richard Holland at and they will be sent to Nick for his reply.
A quote from his web site described where he comes from … “A man possessed of two diametrically opposed, yet equally febrile, obsessive and irreverent musical minds. A man at once reaching back to the misty past, coaxing ancient melodies from a centuries old African rhythm stick while with the same hands, the other half of his brain, and a dash of 21st century digital jiggery-pokery, conjuring music of such Ultracrepidarian heaviness that when one looks up ‘Ultracrepidarian’ in the dictionary, you see his photograph.
And that’s all.”
The new album “13 or So” features  Trent Freeman, John Showman, Eric Wright, Ivan Rosenberg, Andrew Collins, John Reischman, Chris Coole, Darryl Poulsen, Patrick Metzger, Joseph Phillips and Todd Phillips.  We have seen many of these names in the UK, and this collection of musicians will give you a clue as to the quality of the album!
The first track on the album starts with fiddle and mandolin playing the tune – suggestions of Old Time – when the banjo and bass kick in that unmistakable Bluegrass groove takes the tune to a new level. 
Wellesley Station has a great melody that cracks along at a good pace.  Nick – always in control, and handling those tricky triplets in perfect time …how does he do that!  After a couple of times listening, I found the tune going around inside my head – always a good sign.  Mandolin (John Reischman) and Guitar  (Darryl Poulsen) support the Banjo – the playing of the highest quality – tone, taste,  and timing impeccable .
On to track two – The South Road.  The track starts with a solo Banjo – could almost be Old Time frailing but isn’t!  Nick has produced yet another melody that sticks in your brain.  No surprise then when the Old Time banjo (Chris Coole) is added seamlessly to the mix. Twin banjo’s in harmony go on to develop the melody line.  I can see this track having appeal to Old Time and Bluegrass alike. 
The Crooked Man in contrast to the first two tracks is a typical modal offering in true Bluegrass style, and if you like your stuff with groove and bounce, then this is going to appeal. The inclusion of the bass in the melody line at the very beginning  kicks everything off to a great  start, and with the addition of the Dobro from Ivan Rosenberg  creates a completely different feel to the opening tracks of the album. Ivan Rosenberg has been across to the Uk on a number of occasions with Chris Stuart and also to teach in Sore Fingers. The Mandolin part is taken by Andrew Collins another Sore Fingers tutor – playing of the highest quality.
Harvey is a cat – and the inspiration for the next track –  Hopping Harvey.
John Reischman provides the rhythm for the Banjo to play the melody.  The Banjo with the low C tuning provides that distinctive tone  of melodies played in that key.  With just two instruments Nick and John between them provide a full and complete sound – nothing else needed!
I quote from the sleeve notes available on Nick’s web site – Fleetwood’s Ford – Houston ‘Hewes’ Fleetwood, my paternal great, great grandfather’s brother, founded a store and ferry crossing on the Red River in the Terral Indian Territory, OK in the 1880’s. He grubstaked half the neighbourhood and his financial support was crucial to the success of many prosperous farmers, ranchers and businessmen in the area. Special kudos to Ivan’s evocative, Knopfler-esque solo.  The banjo and dobro work together beautifully supporting each other in lead and back up. Patrick Metzger  does a great job on the bass and is supported by a subtle John Reischman on mandola.
Chausson de Ruby – Inspiration from a chance meeting – a short solo Banjo track in complete contrast.  An album of instrumental music always has the risk of sounding a bit the same – not so in this case, the tracks have been carefully constructed to provide plenty of interest. A different tuning for the b anjo, and a change of playing style  has resulted in a beautifully recorded melody.
A secret swimming hole where Nick’s daughter learned to swim – Cleo Belle,
Banjo chimes representing the splashes made by a little girl jumping into the water!  More of a straight ahead Bluegrass offering with plenty of space left to feature great individual breaks  (Guitar – Darrel Poulsen) (Fiddle – Trent Freeman) and of course (John Reischman – Mandolin) 
Family and History are part of Nick’s life and part of this album with the next track named after his nephew  –   Zebadiah’s Stomp.  Catchy tune that bounces along nicely!  The melody is enhanced with nicely improvised breaks from guitar, mandolin, dobro and the banjo itself.
13 or So  –  The title track of the album, different again – a haunting melody with the banjo and fiddle taking centre stage. Trent Freeman provides a sympathetic back up before seamlessly interweaving with the melody.  The 13 is a reference to the beginning of maturity and not the number of tracks on the album!
A Farewell (to the Cowgirl with the Pigtails) – Another quote from Nick’s sleve notes …. “My mother was endlessly loving and supportive of my brother and I. She encouraged me to ‘just stick with it’ when I was struggling to make something, anything, close to music emerge from my banjo. She and my dad Chuck were instrumental in my success. She passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, September 9, 2015, the same day I was nominated as Instrumental Solo Artist of the year by the  Canadian Folk Music Association. I’m sure she would have appreciated the O. Henry-ness of it all. I love you Zana.”   Another track to feature the Trent Freeman fiddle – beautifully recorded with just the right amount of reverb to give it atmosphere.
Some years ago I was lucky enough to visit Vancouver Island, and indeed the love of the Island sparked the next tune Sooke.  Fiddle and banjo always 
work well together, and Sooke provides an atmospheric track – you can almost imagine the countryside ……
When the Black Dog Came Around –  The final track on the album, a brisk melody again with some great supporting breaks.  Nick like a lot of our top players manages to make it sound easy – most of it would be hard enough to play using conventional methods – his two finger approach generates all the melodic sounds you will ever need with as much syncopation as found in the Scruggs style.  
The album can be obtained through Nick’s website  – Nick Hornbuckle

News from the BBMA

Exciting News!
We have a new Editor for the magazine. Chris Lord has kindly volunteered to take over the job, and we are all delighted to have him on board.

Chris is the Banjo player in the Vanguards. You can see from the description of the band, that the magazine will be in good hands with its new editor!

Out and about
Sore Fingers Summer School‘s main event was held at Easter. Sore Fingers  remains the premier teaching event for the bluegrass community. We understand that it was a great event and that the standard of our younger players remains as high as ever.

A few days later, and the Crossover Festival was the next event. This is a gem of a festival  in a lovely setting – well worth a visit if you have not been! Again the British presence was outstanding with Midnight Skyracer giving the old favourites  Ron Block and Tony Furtado  a run for their money! Crossover also provided us with some quirkiness with a highly entertaining duo called The Peas a unique chance to see Breaking Grass from the USA – their only UK gig. A really nice mix of Old Time and Bluegrass and beyond and now fast becoming a festival not to miss.

Now to Orwell – sadly the last festival for Chris, Trish and Ben Hockley. The team has provided us with years of top Bluegrass – it will be sadly missed and fondly remembered! A huge vote of thanks from our Bluegrass family to the organising team – and best wishes for a speedy recovery to Trish.
The BBMA was approached to see if we could take it on but the committee felt that for various reasons it would not be feasible.  However, the BBMA would be happy to help and support anyone interested in taking on this project but time is short so if you are interested, get in touch soon.

Committee Stuff
Your committee has also been busy, and as has been previously reported, both funds and membership are all headed in the right direction. We have around 25% of our members joined through direct debit – this works really well for us in terms of membership renewal – something to be considered when you are joining or renewing membership. The webmaster Geoff has been doing overtime transferring hosting to our new domain, and in addition to that you will have noticed a new front page to the site which now features blog posts from me and others! I would encourage you to get in touch (by using the contact button above or) by email to – especially if you have stuff that needs to be considered by the committee. Your Chair has also been beavering away with tour support – helping to bring in exciting musicians from the USA and Canada (have a look at our Tours page – the link also appears in the menu bar above). The results of this work generates a healthy income for the association – and we are in the process of a brain storming exercise to see how we can use these funds to benefit our community. Recently a number of students have been funded for a workshop course run at Moniaive in Scotland. I hope that we will eventually have a page on the website to describe in detail our current schemes to assist members, but until we have that sorted, I will remind you again on whats on offer!

  • Sponsorship for students attending Bluegrass Courses – this one is currently under review, and we hope to have the new conditions posted on our web site soon.
  • We loan money to Bands who want to record an album.
  • We will provide start up grants for new venues.
  • We will subsidise Bands to play at Festivals who don’t normally have any Bluegrass.
  • Funding for anything Bluegrass … you can apply with the details and your committee will give it their full attention. Remember, if you don’t ask you don’t get!
  • Our current Festival Discount scheme for members will run as usual for the next years festivals.

The Jan Jerrold Award
This year the award was given to Rick Townend – as Rick was unable to be at the festival, it was collected on his behalf by Jill Sands.

Rick Started playing Bluegrass in the Echo Mountain Band – initially a group of pupils at the Sevenoaks School. In 1964 the band went on to win both Vocal and Instrumental group at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Echo Mountain went on to play for a number of years cul
minating with a final performance in 1980 (along with the odd reunion gig). The Band was closely involved with Bill Clifton (USA) who was living at that time in the UK. – they would sometimes accompany him on his personal performances. Rick’s brother Andy was a top class Mandolinist and a big influence in the British scene. Andy was sadly to die in July 1998 – a major loss to our Bluegrass community.
Rick organised the Wadhurst Bluegrass Days – an event that was to run annually for a number of years. Rick is most generous with his time and knowledge and continues to organise educational events/ festivals/ promotions – and to this day he still publishes one of the most comprehensive listings for his geographical area. A true servant of our Bluegrass community, and a deserving recipient of the Jan Jerrold Award.

This year the BBMA AGM was held at the Orwell festival, and the minutes of the meeting are published here.

Moniaive Summer Workshop

Summer instrument workshop weekend July 13th & 14th taught by The Often Herd

Banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and double bass lessons over 2 days.
Event details and booking are now available via

Yes – those folks just over the border in Scotland have been running a Bluegrass Festival now since 2009. Camping and a number of delightful local venues provide accommodation. In addition to that on their web site you will find a number of gigs often with an international flavour – these guys are doing a great job in promoting Bluegrass! Well now there is an instructional week end with the award winning Often Herd. Plenty of BBMA involvement here – one of our member bands – and event hosted by one of our members, and sponsorship for a number of students from our association. Just take a look at the beautiful countryside around the village – what’s not to like?

Pharis & Jason Romero (Canada)
John Reischman and The Jaybirds  (USA & Canada)
Leon Hunt & Jason Titley (England)
Lunch Special (England)
Blue Summit (USA)
Man About A Horse (USA)
Tim Erikson (USA)

Check out these concerts on the web site – its not that far from the North of England, and really worth supporting!