undefinedJon Bennett ..1

Oxford's well-traveled four-piece band, Moonrakers, consisting of a Celtic harp, cello, stringed instruments, whistles, and female/male vocals, perform a full concert of songs and tunes from the English, Irish, and Scottish traditions. The band frequently performs at Benslow and hosts folk orchestra and ukulele weekends. We had the pleasure of speaking with band leader Jon Bennet about his passion for music, the origins of Moonrakers, and what attendees can expect from their courses.

Jon, thank you for speaking to Benslow Music. What motivated you to pursue a career in music?

Actually, my full-time career in music has been only in the last 5 years, although I’ve been working with professional musicians for many years before that. At school I reached Grade 8 in singing but didn’t pick up an instrument until I was 21. I then became almost obsessively attached to guitar playing. Many years later, I also took up the Irish Bouzouki and low-whistle, primarily motivated by an enduring interest in Celtic music.

 Tell us more about the band’s name and its origins.

 Moonrakers is a reference to a legend from Wiltshire where I was brought up. The legend tells of smugglers who hid their goods in a pond, came to retrieve them and were spotted by the Sheriff. The moon was reflected on the pond, so they declared that they were “raking the moon, sire!”

 I founded Moonrakers some 20 years ago, though the 4-person personnel has changed over the years; including me – I’ve got older! We now have a cellist, Jacqui Johnson, who is highly regarded as a soloist and teacher and was previously with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Our harpist, Becki Luff, also comes from a classical background having been trained at the Royal Northern College of Music and played in prestigious venues such as the Wigmore Hall. Our singer, Sarah Fell, has led several choirs in Oxfordshire. 

I have played in several other bands over the years, have music published by the BBC and (with |Jacqui) have two published tune books with Mel Bay, and a third in the making. 

Moonrakers has built a dedicated following by performing in non-traditional venues, including over 70 churches and village halls. Where can people catch your upcoming performances?

We continue to play in churches, village halls, arts centres and festivals across the UK. We’ve recently turned our attention to ‘themed’ shows that emphasise certain aspects of folk music. For instance, we were commissioned to produce a ‘cross-over’ show that combined traditional songs and the compositions of Ralph Vaughan Williams that were inspired by these. We are still touring this show with the OXUS string quartet. We also have a show called ‘Magic, Myth & Mystery in British Folk Music’, and a new show for the winter months, ‘Drive the Cold Winter Away’. Each of these involve a narrative that delves into the origins and folklore that frame the material. 

Benslow is always privileged to host your folk orchestra and ukulele weekends. What can participants anticipate in your upcoming courses?

We’ve honed the formula for our workshops over many years. We send out the tunes with parts (and chords) in advance and make a video of each. Participants then enjoy playing in a multi-instrumental ensemble and can bring suggestions for further arranging and performing the tunes. This is not just for folk musicians – the weekends are also suitable for classic enthusiasts looking for something a little different

Benslow Music offers inspiring lifelong learning for all ages. What guidance do you have for aspiring musicians?

Folk music is not just about thrashing through tunes; it is about pulse, rhythm and a general respect for roots music and its purpose. It’s a wonderful entry point for musicians of all ages because at first sight the tunes are not difficult, and many can be learned by ear. Increasingly, you find cross-generational groups of people playing folk music together in informal settings. Above all, it’s fun!


Spaces are available for the following courses

Folk Orchestra Fri 13 - Sun 15 September 2024 Tutors: Jon Bennett, Jacqui Johnson

Ukulele Workshop Fri 25 - Sun 27 October 2024 Tutor: Jon Bennett