The trajectory taken by Blossom Hill Bluegrass Band isn’t so easily defined. Changes in the line-up have been a part of the group’s history since the beginning, forcing a name change from its earlier incarnation as Home Territory after the band went from a six person line-up back to four piece and eventually a trio. The band — currently consisting of Gary Payne (guitar/fiddle/mandolin/vocals), Richard Holland (banjo/guitar/vocals), and Sherryl Payne – double bass/vocals) remains active despite a succession of dobro players that have left the fold in the past few years.
“It’s a difficult thing keeping dobro players,” Sherryl suggests with no small hint of irony.
Still, the musicians can claim storied resumes, each on their own. Gary Payne is a veteran of several British bluegrass bands, among them Grassfire, A Band Like Alice, and Blackjack. He’s known for his high tenor vocals and rhythm guitar. Richard Holland played guitar in a folk duo which recorded and performed on national radio. He also played banjo and guitar with such outfits as the Lynne Butler Band, Contraband, Dalebilly, and North Drive. Sherryl Payne also hails from the English folk scene, and she was recruited by husband Gary approximately six years ago. Sherryl also played double bass for A Band Like Alice, and in addition, she was previously a member of the aforementioned Blackjack.
The band mostly performs covers, but they have added a few original numbers to their mix. So far, they’ve only recorded a four track EP, but Gary made records with one of his earlier outfits in 1980s. The Paynes can also claim a pair of albums with A Band Like Alice, and an additional effort with Blackjack. Holland’s recording experience came with North Drive.
Not surprisingly then, the Paynes in particular can cite a host of early influences. Gary’s father introduced him to bluegrass at an early age, and Jim Rooney and Bill Keith were among his initial inspirations. The music of Joe Val, Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, the Stanley Brothers, the Country Gentlemen, JD Crowe & New South, and Del McCoury Band entered his mindset soon after. Later, Tony Rice, Alison Krauss, and Lonesome River Band gained his attention. It was Gary who provided Sherryl’s introduction to bluegrass in the ‘90s.
The couple have been active in procuring the sound of bluegrass ever since then. “We run a folk club and have introduced our patrons to bluegrass over a long period of time,” Sherryl says. “We’re also involved with the British Bluegrass Music Association and we work to promote bluegrass over on this side of the pond. We encourage youngsters to check it out and we’re pleased to see the number of great young U.K. bands that have appeared on the scene.
Likewise, according to Sherryl, Blossom Hill Bluegrass is making a formidable impression of their own.
“When we go out to play, we often have an audience who are strangers to bluegrass, but they still seem to enjoy it,” she muses. “We played at a market square last month and there were people watching who seemed to know country music, but they really enjoyed our bluegrass as well.”
The band hasn’t done any touring yet, although a Band Like Alice toured the U.K. several years ago. They also played in Europe a few times with Blackjack.
Sherryl has her own theory as to why bluegrass is so popular worldwide. “It’s the rhythm and drive, the harmony singing and the acoustic instruments,” she suggests. “Bluegrass lyrics are often about home and family and historic events, so everyone can relate to it.”