With artists like Devandra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, and more recently, Laura Marling and Jessica Pratt gaining increasing attention, it seems traditional styles of British-inspired folk music are working their way back into somewhat of a revival. Through these artists, a resurgence of interest in the genre has blossomed, and names that had seemingly become artifacts are coming out of the woodwork in the form of new reissues and, in some cases, renewed careers.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, a similar revival took place in Britain when acoustic players like Davey Graham, and John Martyn inspired groups like Pentangle, Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band and so on to cross the styles of folk, blues and rock into a new scene, much of which was centered around the London club Les Cousins.
Among the groups to emerge from this scene was a little known group of players by the name of Dando Shaft, a nod to Dan Calhoun’s 1968 novel by the same name. Kevin Dempsey (acoustic guitar, vocals), Martin Jenkins (vocals, mandolin, fiddle, guitar), Ted Kay (tabla, percussion), Roger Bullen (upright bass), and Dave Cooper (guitar, vocals) formed the group around the West Midland towns of Coventry in 1968, and later added second vocalist Polly Bolton to help fill out their multi-layered vocal harmonies.
While all of the performers that existed around the Les Cousins scene drew from various traditional and outside influences, Dando’s sound relied on a wide array of styles that included Middle Eastern (hence the presence of the tabla) as well as Western styles like bluegrass. Between the years 1968-1973, Dando Shaft released three albums, a debut self-titled album (later titled An Evening With Dando Shaft) in 1970, followed by a second self-titled album in 1971, along with the more ambitiously named Lantaloon in 1972. Some members of the group rejoined in 1977 with guests including Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson to record the final album under the Dando Shaft name, Kingdom.
Dando Shaft’s second album is largely regarded as the group’s finest work and can be found in some of the better record stores thanks to a fine reissue by Sommor Records in 2011. Seek it out and I assure you will be rewarded. Below listen to the opening track, “Coming Home To Me,” and discover the magic that is Dando Shaft.