Songs for the dark days: A group of St Andrews academics is wowing students with songs about the recession

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The Independent Online

In the evening, Chris Jones and his friends at the University of St Andrews used to get their guitars out and have a jamming session.Then they began to write their own songs, as well.

So last year the players decided to form a band and to play live. One thing led to another, and now they have become a fully-fledged folk-rock band, called Dry Island Buffalo Jump, performing gigs at night when they are not lecturing to students during the day.

Last week the four academics from Scotland's oldest university appeared on Radio Scotland's arts and culture show, The Radio Café, to perform a range of original songs written by Jones and his colleagues about such topics as the credit crunch, being a Fife cowboy and the end of the world.

"We're very pleased with the radio show and I have had great feedback," says Jones, an English lecturer and expert in Anglo-Saxon poetry who plays bass.

"The whole point is that we're not professional musicians. We rehearse once a week and we all have day jobs. I listened to our radio performance on the I-player and I thought for amateurs we sounded all right."

Jones and his friends are unusual though by no means unique. There are other academics-cum-musicians at British universities – a survey in Times Higher Education in 2006 found that 13 per cent of academics were in a band – though arguably none as organised as Dry Island Buffalo Jump. Alex Gillett, for example, a lecturer in the business school at Teesside University, is part of a band called The Eruptors, who began life as a punk rock band and have now morphed into hard rock.

This group only meets up on occasions during the year, in the university vacations, for example, when Gillett can escape his marketing teaching. There are three of them: Gillett, who lives in Middlesbrough, and the others, who live in London and Ireland, which means that performing presents logistical problems.

Nevertheless they have produced two albums and another, Seduce and Destroy, is on the way. Gillett describes himself as semi-professional. "I think it helps that I can talk about my experiences in the music industry when I'm teaching business students," he says. "Topics like music distribution, promotion and so on, are real business issues. The University of Teesside sees the value of this and is very supportive of my involvement with music."

For the University of St Andrews musicians, it is the other way round – their academic work seems to inspire their music. Although their songs are about contemporary issues such as the credit crunch, these issues are set in a historical context. For example, the song about the credit crunch features the Old Testament prophet Hosea rolling up in 2009 to tell the world that it will reap what it has sown, in other words, warning about the dangers of sub-prime lending.

They have altered the song, "Wagon Wheel", originally by a Nashville band, to include arguably the earliest surviving lyric in Scotland.

This was a poem that mentioned the death of Alexander III in 1286, an event that sparked the wars of independence and was first written down by a Fifer called Andrew of Wyntoun in the 15th century.

The group describe their sound as folk-rock, a bit like The Band. "We use banjo and mandolin and fiddles, so it has a US country twang," says Jones.

They are happy for now to keep their day jobs and perform the music on the side. "I do like song-writing and maybe if we recorded something, that would be great, but the idea of going on tour would be awful," says Jones.

Dry Island Buffalo Jump will next perform at the University of St Andrews student art festival "On the Rocks" from 19 April for one week. They expect to appear on the opening night as the warm-up act.

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