The Band Members - brief lives
Mike Ainscough - Guitar & Mandolin
I started playing the guitar in my home town of Lancaster in 1964, at the advanced age of 20, and I think I more or less understand it now. Before that I dabbled with piano and played blues harp. Folk clubs were the thing for the would-be, solo performer in Lancashire and in Leeds (where I was a student) in the '60s. After moving to London in 1968, I soon graduated to performing in pubs as part of a jug band called The Egbert Sousé All Stars - with a certain mandolin player called Ian Chisholm and, 40 years later, he can't get rid of me. I started playing jazz proper around 1976 when I moved down to in Sussex. I joined the Brighton-based Jubilee Jazz Band for a few years playing guitar and tenor banjo. Then followed a 13-year stint in a rock'n roll trio and after that a 15-year stint in a Memphis / NewOrleans style funk band. After meeting up with Ian again in 2006, I wheedled my way into Unreel and, even though they've tried sacking me, I still turn up to play! Nearly all my live and recorded playing is on instruments made by Ian - such as the mid-jumbo guitar in this picture - and I even get to play mandolin in the band.
Ian Chisholm - Mandolin & Guitar
I grew up in Edinburgh and, one teenage summer at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I heard Davy Graham and Archie Fisher, two very different guitar stars of the 60s folk revival. I was hooked and ever since have attempted to play guitar, mandolin and similar instruments in a range of styles, mainly folk and blues but with occasional forays into classical and jazz. I went to University in Manchester and boosted my grant money (remember grants?) by playing in folk clubs in term time and Edinburgh bars in the summer. Decent instruments were hard to find back in the 60s, especially on a student budget, so pretty soon I was trying to make one myself. Over the years I persevered, found evening classes at The London College of Furniture and Morley College and whenever possible took the opportunity to hang out with professional luthiers. Along the way I never stopped playing, with solo gigs in London folk clubs and in a variety of bands including a memorable spell with Mike in The Egbert Sousé Allstars. Now retired from the Film and TV industry I have more time to devote to instrument building. Many of my customers are local but my instruments are in France, Italy and North America as well as throughout the UK. See my website. And of course I'm still playing, in Unreel, in The Twagger Band and occasional duet gigs with Stephen.
Alan Diamond - Bass Guitar
I didn't pick up the guitar until I was 21 as I didn't realise you could get left handed ones! I started playing in noisy rock bands in London, but a move to rural Sussex in 2000 necessitated a switch to playing bass in a ceilidh band if I wanted to get a gig. I had such fun I never looked back. Although I did eventually reform a proper rock band - The Overtones - with our Unreel drummer Mal and other mates, I like to think we bring a rocking and raucous element to Unreel ceilidhs that is missing in trad acoustic instrument based groups.
Stephen Sibbald - Fiddle
I learned to play fiddle when I was 12 years old but left it after a year as teenage distraction kicked in. Fast forward into my twenties and I stumbled upon a folk club in Swindon where I was asked whether I played anything - it revived my interest and I've had an on-off relationship with this tricky instrument every since. When I arrived in Sussex in 2000, I found myself in folk music central, i.e. Lewes and have since fully embraced the genre. I have been fortunate enough to have played alongside some great musicians and picked up an English repertoire along the way, but essentially I play in the Scottish tradition - a reminder of where I'm from and what makes me tick.
Mal Smith - Drums
I started drumming during the London Punk explosion in 1977. Being inspired by the anyone-can-have-a-go attitude of the times, I learned to play, formed a band and played a series of gigs in just eight weeks. After retiring to the seaside aged 21, I experienced a 27-year non-playing hiatus, but still loved live music. After DJing a series of wild parties, I created the Hoo-Hah Party Sound System and gradually built up a collection of tens of thousands of tracks, a rather large set of bass speakers and a regular list of engagements. I eventually picked up the sticks again to co-form The Overtones, a noisy rock covers band. Ian and I are co-founders of DitchFest, the Ditchling DIY Back Porch Music Festival where Unreel are a regular headline act. Through this continuous exposure, I osmosed into the band, finding that one can come from a Rock and Punk background and successfully adapt a meat-and-two-veg style of playing to a traditional Ceilidh band. Such Fun!
Tony Dunn - Caller
In the late 1970s, I turned up at a friend's barn dance practice in the back room of a pub in Lewes. We all had a lot of fun and put so much energy in to the dancing. After a few months, the then caller announced he was moving on, so a few of us each learned some dances which meant that the monthly session could continue. Around that time I joined South Downs Morris, learned to play the Anglo concertina, and attended numerous festivals and barn dances. This greatly expanded my repertoire in addition to the few dances I devised. I mainly like straightforward dances that are quick to learn and really enjoyable to do. It's not about getting it "right", but a great excuse for a party. Usually even more fun is had when the dancers add their own interpretation! In addition, people of all ages can take part together, which is important for those special occasions, such as weddings, anniversaries and parties. I enjoy playing with Unreel, a great band which gives lots of drive to the music and lift to the dancers.
James Barry - Caller
My downfall started when a friend took me to a folk dance club while I was still at school. We were the only two teenagers in the country who thought it was cool, but we didn’t care and by the time I had run a few ceilidhs in the 70’s and danced with Brighton Morris in the 80’s the rot was so set in, it was part of my DNA. This year I celebrate 40 years of calling barn dances and ceilidhs. You can’t dance with Ditchling Morris for 15 years without a permanent and lasting effects and in my case it was the need to drag a box full of sticks to every gig to give the public the experience of morris. If I had to try and describe my style, I would say that it is to being entertaining as people come out for an evening to have fun more than to learn dances. If people are going to leave with every muscle aching, I want them to do it with a smile on their face.