The unique sound of the banjo has been making an astonishing comeback with a new generation of those listening to alternative country, folk, bluegrass, and roots music in both the UK and USA. English folk rock bands like the youth-favorite Mumford and Sons have incorporated the banjo into their music to massive fanfare, which has helped to revitalize the popularity of the instrument in the UK. However, the banjo industry in the UK ceased to thrive after World War 2.
In fact, there has not been a popular British banjo made since the decline … that is until now. Alongside a small group of family and friends from Norwich, Norfolk, UK, Simon Middleton has been running a business called the Great British Banjo Company.
About a year ago, The Great British Banjo Company embarked on an adventure to design and create a hand made British banjo. The banjo, called the Islander Ash Leaf, was created by a talented craftsman and received rave reviews from some of the most talented players in the world. However, The Great British Banjo Company did not want to stop after producing just one world-class banjo. They are now partaking in their most ambitious task to date – creating the first affordable mainstream volume production of the British banjo for the people. They’re calling it the Shackleton Banjo.
The British Banjo Company plans to name their new affordable banjo after Sir Ernest Shackleton – a British explorer who found the banjo to be an essential part his expedition to traverse the entire continent of the Antarctic 99 years ago. In celebration of this man who refused to leave the banjo behind when he and his crew had to abandon ship, they are calling it The Shackleton.
The Kickstarter website reveals that The Shackleton prototype has a cherry and birch rim with a pepperwood finish, combined with a maple neck. The British Banjo Company aims to make The Shackleton the number one British manufactured banjo in its field. They are proud to be revitalizing a once great British industry and hope to become the first production banjo manufacturer in the UK for 60 years.
Although both banjos are 5-string open back banjos of similar design, The Shackleton banjo will differ from the handcrafted, premium-priced Islander Ash Leaf because it will be a production instrument and much more affordable for players. They intend to make this banjo “a people’s banjo” by intending to retail The Shackleton at just £300.
Middleton and his crew have designed and made prototype necks and rims for The Shackleton. They are in the process of putting together this substantial investment, though it will take several months of hard work. By joining the Kickstarter campaign to launch The Shackleton, contributions will help to fund the development and manufacture of the first run of instruments. Specifically, they need £30,000 to do this. Although they have already passed this total, they are accepting more pledges to make The Shackleton a reality at a faster pace with upgrades and modifications.
For more information on the Shackleton Banjo and how to donate to this cause, please visit the web site about the project.
— Christina Holden