It's as easy as XYZ for musical siblings

Folk music is alive and well-served by the trio XYZ who have a debut album out, as David Whetstone reports.

Folk music is alive and well-served by the trio XYZ who have a debut album out, as David Whetstone reports.

If you spot a kind of telepathy between the three musicians of XYZ, don't be too surprised. The accomplished folk trio consists of Sarah Jones, aged 20, and her 17-year-old twin brothers, David and Matthew.

The musical siblings have already proved themselves among the best in their field as finalists in the 2003 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards. Now they have an album coming out, also called XYZ, paid for with the proceeds of the professional gigs they have been performing over the last few years.

Rather than being an album of covers, it's a combination of arrangements of traditional songs and new material. XYZ are purveyors of living folk, composers as well as performers.

Sitting round a table with them at their home in Gosforth, their intelligence and dedication is obvious - even if they are prone to disagree occasionally on details.

"We started performing four years ago when we were on holiday," says Matthew, who plays guitar to Sarah's and David's fiddles.

"Maybe longer," chips in Sarah. "Maybe five years."

"We've been in bigger bands for eight years or something," clarifies David. "We've always played together but we started to do proper gigs about five years ago.

"It was on holiday. We were in a pub and we got up and started playing and the guy who ran the place offered us a gig."

This was on the Isle of Mull, scene of annual family holidays for as long as the three of them can remember. And if you worry about children being in the pub, they all stress that they were with their parents and on soft drinks.

The Jones kids became well known on the island for their musical prowess and performed their first proper gig - "talking to the audience," remembers David with a shudder - at the An Tobar Arts Centre, a hotbed of traditional music which serves the island communities of Mull and Iona. They agree it was nerve-wracking performing for a paying audience but they were astute enough to see the benefits, too.

"In pubs, you don't expect everybody to like folk music, which is why we enjoy going to festivals," says Matthew. And David adds: "It's much more enjoyable playing concerts where people have gone there specifically to see you."

The three started off learning classical violin when they were all at Gosforth High School together. Then, one day, they paid a visit to the Tyneside Irish Centre and heard the instrument in the hands of a very different kind of player, the kind who would call a violin a fiddle.

Soon afterwards they started taking lessons from the Irish Centre's Tony Corcoran. "That's how we got into folk music," says Sarah.

Matthew struck out in a different direction about five years ago, picking up the guitar.

The fiddlers are now taught by Stewart Hardy and the guitarist by Ian Stephenson, both well respected musicians and teachers in their field.

The three youngsters began performing in a band called Southwind, an informal grouping of young folk musicians who would meet regularly to play and bounce ideas off each other. Southwind, originally with about 30 members, has now shrunk to about 12 as members have grown up and moved on to higher education.

The Joneses are also growing up. Sarah is studying Spanish and history at Glasgow University and is off to Spain in September for nine months as part of her degree course. David and Matthew have also just left school, David planning to go to Leeds to study maths and music while Matthew is looking forward to taking a gap year and maybe going to Cuba to learn more about Latin American music.

You have to suppose it could spell the beginning of the end for XYZ. But they won't entertain it, anxious not to let the group subside into history and a mention on the An Tobar archive.

David says: "We have been playing this stuff for so long that we can perform together again quite quickly."

There is also the little matter of 1,000 newly minted CDs. "We didn't want to make a CD just for the sake of it so we waited until we thought we were ready," says Matthew.

The album, recorded at the Cluny Studios in Newcastle, was produced by Stewart Hardy and engineered by Tony Davis. It both looks and sounds thoroughly professional, definitely one for the collection.

XYZ, fresh back from the Warwick Folk Festival, have a North-East tour coming up to promote the album. It takes in Cramlington Folk Club on August 15; The Maltings, Berwick, on the 19th; the Queen's Hall Arts Centre, Hexham, on August 17; and the Caedmon Hall, Gateshead, on the 20th.

For the two latter gigs, they will be joined by the Askew Sisters, who were Young Folk Award semi-finalists this year and have become good friends.

For tickets to the Hexham gig, call (01434) 652477. For Gateshead, ring (0191) 477-3478. The album will be on sale at both venues.

For more information about XYZ, log on to www.myspace.com/xyzfolk For the Askew Sisters visit www.askewsister.co.uk

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David Whetstone
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