Timing, they say, is everything. And for Jon and Lucy Hart, the popular Suffolk-based singer-songwriter duo, that was certainly true the night they turned up as solo artists at an open mic night at the Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich, leaving with seeds sown for a future career together. 

Timing also played an important part in my meeting the pair of them. Sat-nav had taken me deep into the heart of the countryside. Rain lashed at my windscreen, the woman inhabiting my gadget was telling me in no uncertain terms that I had reached my destination – however I couldn’t see it.  I was parked across the entrance of a dirt track on a narrow road. Every couple of seconds the swish of the wiper blades revealed a typical Suffolk landscape – empty fields, hedgerows and the odd tree dotted around – houses and cottages were conspicuous by their absence. 

Then, just as I was reaching for my phone, about to summon extra directions, a car pulled up beside me; the window slid down and a tousled-haired figure inside asked: “Are you Andrew? I thought so, I’m Jon, follow me I’ll show you the way.” And so I was rescued. Timing is indeed everything. 

Two minutes and 150 yards later I am ensconced in the Hart kitchen, inside a beautiful farm cottage which Jon and Lucy had recently bought from Lucy’s grandparents. The pair, along with 18-month-old Gracie, have just returned from a meeting with Suffolk impresario Wayne Burns at the Leiston Film Theatre, and while Lucy tries to put Gracie down for a mid-day nap Jon gets busy making coffee to warm everyone up. 

He explains the house sits on land Lucy’s family has farmed for generations and they feel very much part of the community here. The more time you spend talking to the pair you realise how important heritage is to them. 

Their music, and the stories they tell, are rooted not only in the landscape, but also in Suffolk’s history and folklore. Jon is a keen sailor and tales of the sea and our rivers are also key elements of their distinctive sound. 

Lucy and Jon incorporate half-forgotten Suffolk words into their album titles. Their debut disc is called Made in the Aker (Aker is a term for a turbulent current), and their most recent album, released in April 2021, gloried in the name Journey Through The Roke – an East Anglian term for the mist and fog that rises off marshland and water meadows in the evening. 

For Jon, the most important element though is Lucy’s voice, which is the first thing that grabbed his attention in a crowded Steamboat Tavern on that magical night in 2012. 

“To be honest I just fell in love with Lucy’s voice as soon as I heard it. I was immediately struck by the quality of it. I remember going up to her afterwards and saying in a very cheesy fashion: ‘Your voice is like honey to my ears’, but we soon became good friends and we were playing at the same open mics but each playing with different bands at the time…” 

Lucy jumps in: “But, he was also setting up gigs and he would book me as a support, giving me work which was lovely, and we played at The Apex in Bury – that was an early gig supporting Turin Brakes.” 

They didn’t start working together straight away. Not long after meeting, Jon jetted off to a new life in Australia. “I organised a farewell gig at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket.” 

Lucy adds: “and Jon asked if he could join me on one of my songs and that was the first time we had actually sung on stage together and then he was gone.” 

Jon’s Australian adventure didn’t last long. He was on the plane home when he phoned Lucy informing her of his return and suggesting they meet up. 

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So, Honey and the Bear was born in 2014 and, quietly, friendship turned into a romance. Jon says: “Our friendship became the perfect place to foster a loving relationship and we gradually realised that we needed to be together all the time. 

“We got married at the church in Benhall in 2018. We love it there, and we play at the annual fundraiser for the church, and we’ve just done this year’s event where we debuted a couple of new songs which will hopefully be on the next album.” 

Lucy has always loved music. “I was in the Harmony Girls Choir and we toured a lot. I performed in Prague, Paris, Germany right across Europe. I started singing in that choir when I was 13, but I didn’t start writing music until I was in my 20s. I taught myself guitar at university but funnily enough I wouldn’t call myself a musician, I still think of myself as a singer – that’s where my strengths lay.” 

Since they have been together Lucy has found her playing abilities have grown considerably and her desire to learn new instruments has also increased. 

“My first instrument was drums, funnily enough, which I started playing at school, then I moved onto classical violin, again at school. I suppose my instrument collection has grown since I’ve known Jon because he always says: “What do you want for Christmas? Do you want another instrument? Jon introduced me to the double bass which is great. 

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“I haven’t picked up a violin since I was 19 and I would love to start again because having listened to what Toby (Shaer) can do (on our albums and live gigs) makes me green with envy. I have always gravitated towards stringed instruments. I have always loved the guitar and taught myself in my university digs. Then I was introduced to the ukulele through a song performed by Noah and the Whale way back when. I started with the mandolin because that was a Christmas present from my brother and I heard a song by Paul McCartney which featured a mandolin and I thought that was a really good sound. 

“I would love to have time to practise more with the mandolin but in-between looking after a young baby, gigging and doing my graphic design work during the day I have no time to practise anymore.” 

A quick flick through the Honey and the Bear album credits reveals that Lucy also plays banjo and the bazouki – not bad for someone who just considers herself to be a singer. 

John adds: “I am a self-taught instrumentalist. My mother was a semi-professional singer but I came very much from an instrument background, so I think of myself as a musician first and singer second and we fit together very well because I believe in Lucy’s voice as the golden instrument. 

“Then, it’s the way that the song allows the voice to shine. We met as two singer-songwriters but we come at composing from two different, but complementary, angles.” 

Honey and the Bear’s songs reveal a lot about their interests. 

Jon says: “Something will come to me when I’ve been out walking or I’ve woken up with a tune buzzing around in my head and you realise that it is just something that has manifested itself from somewhere and you have to just quickly get it down. 

“We write a certain amount together – the words tend to come from either of us but Lucy is very good at simplifying my songs, getting rid of unnecessary words. 

“But, we also write at very different speeds,” Lucy adds. “Jon is quite slow, whereas I like to have all my lyrics completed in one session. I just want to get it done but Jon is more: ‘Oh, I can come to this another time.’” 

The pair are always on the lookout for local stories and historic characters to be immortalised in song. Jon explains: “Our music and both our albums are embedded in the spirit of Suffolk. One of our most popular songs live is The Flowline which is inspired by the Garrett Works in Leiston, other songs go back to the lost city of Dunwich and we have interesting characters appear such as Margaret Catchpole who after having a bad romance, having a run-in with smugglers and revenue men, was deported to Australia and led a new life there.  

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Lucy says: “In more recent times we uncovered the story of a woman Violet Jessop. She was a passenger on three ocean liners which sank – the Olympic, the Titanic and the Britannic – and managed to survive each one. So we turned that into a song called The Hungry Sea.” 

Jon is currently working a new song researching the life and times of The Hadleigh gang, a band of smugglers living away from the coast but managing to hide imported contraband around Sizewell, Orford and Dunwich. 

“They have an interesting story to tell because they operated across the county and of course one fateful night they came up against the excise men but managed to fight off the customs men. Enhancing their reputation as tough guys but, of course, the revenuers return with even more men and they cart off the ring-leader for trial but they ruled the roost for quite a while,” 

This song is destined for the planned third album which is currently being written, with the songs being given their first performances at regular live gigs. 

“Songs are really only ever complete once they have been sung. You need that connection with an audience to fully understand how a song works, how the song is structured and how you can let it breathe,” said Jon. 

“We try and play in venues where it encourages communication between us and the audience. We love working in places where the audience feels they are part of the experience rather watching from the outside.” 

This year has been a year of recovery for Honey and the Bear. A year when they have gone out and reconnected with their growing audience both locally and nationally. Jon says things are not back to ‘normal’, as the live music industry is still trying to fill gaps in crews, staging facilities and support services after lockdown decimated the industry, but things are better than they were.  

During lockdown the pair were quick to embrace the opportunities by live streaming – setting up a weekly Sunday web broadcast from their front room, which encouraged them to write plenty of new material which soon found its way onto their most recent album. 

Jon says: “We didn’t know how many people would tune in or what the format would be but we found that as soon as people started logging on and responding, it grew quite quickly. Over the 50 weeks we ran it, the community started talking to one another about everything and anything – from music to kayaking. It was great because as we scrolled through the conversations afterwards we found we got to know our audience – what they liked, what they were interested in, what music they preferred, what they wanted to hear more of… it was being part of a real inclusive community.” 

So what of the future? The day jobs continue. Lucy is a graphic designer and Jon is a sound engineer. But as Honey and the Bear: there’s more writing, more recording, more gigs and that hotly anticipated third album – perhaps with Gracie on backing vocals? She’s got the confidence and the musical genes. 

For more details of Honey and the Bear’s albums and live performances go to their website honeyandthebear.co.uk