Bluegrass Bus Museum


You are here

Shackleton British Banjo Campaign a Top 5% Kickstarter Project

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Shackleton BanjoNorfolk-based business The Great British Banjo Company has raised £43,000 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, to fund development of the first affordable British banjo for more than 60 years. The company, headed by brand expert and author Simon Middleton and award-winning company chairman Nigel Cushion, has attracted support from more than 200 enthusiasts all over the world, who have all pledged money to the project.

The company had set a target of £30,000 to be reached by the project deadline of Saturday October 12th, but the campaign has performed beyond expectations and had reached 142% of the target by Wednesday October 7th, with four days still to go. Simon Middleton explained: “The performance of this campaign puts The Shackleton banjo well into the top 5% most successful Kickstarter projects ever. In fact our calculations indicate that we are in the top 2%.”

There have been 117,092 projects launched on Kickstarter, raising a total of £510,000,000. But only 43% of projects started succeed at all (57% fail to achieve their targets and therefore receive funding). In the history of the Kickstarter platform only 5% of projects started have ever raised more than $20,000 (£12,450).

Middleton explained the background to the project: “Before the second world war there were literally hundreds of small companies building banjos in Britain. But the small foundries that made the metal parts turned to armaments production during the war, and by the time it was over the banjo had fallen out of fashion: replaced by the radio and television.

“But the banjo is experiencing a worldwide renaissance as part of the new folk movement, led most notably in the UK by Mumford & Sons. “We’ve been selling imported banjos for three years, with a long held ambition to make our own, and now we’ve begun we’ve discovered the world is on our side! People are hungry for British-made goods, and particularly products made with care by small businesses,” Middleton added.

The company produced a handmade banjo last year, called the Islander Ash Leaf. This instrument received excellent reviews and has almost sold out. There are only two still available. “The Islander Ash Leaf was made for us by a craftsman called Malcolm McLeod, but this was a high end product retailing at £2,000. Our new instrument is going to be made in larger numbers and the standard model will be just £300,” Middleton explained.

The new banjo will be manufactured in Britain, with design and final assembly in Norwich, Norfolk. The new banjo is called The Shackleton, a name inspired by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, the British explorer who led the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914. The banjo belonging to the expedition's meteorologist played an unexpected but vital role in the journey, after Shackleton's ship Endurance was crushed by ice and had to be abandoned. Although each man was only allowed to take two pounds in weight of personal possessions off the ship, Shackleton made an exception for the banjo, famously declaring: "We must have that banjo, it is vital mental medicine." ‘Vital Mental Medicine’ has now been adopted by the Norfolk company as the slogan for the new instrument.

Saving the banjo proved a wise decision, because when Shackleton and a small team had to leave 22 men trapped on Elephant Island for several months while they set off on an 800 mile voyage in a small open boat to seek for help, the banjo played a vital role in maintaining morale for those left behind. The marooned men held regular concert parties and wrote songs on the banjo.

Middleton explained: “We are actually working on a project to create new music for some of the lyrics of songs written by the men on Elephant Island. Which we are going to perform with contemporary explorer Seb Coulthard and hopefully with Shackleton’s great-granddaughter Alexandra.”

Antarctic adventurer Seb Coulthard RGN FRGS, has become an enthusiastic supporter of the Norfolk company. Coulthard said: "Shackleton’s leadership was founded on the basic principles of maintaining joy, hope, pride, inspiration, celebration, recognition, personal fulfilment and purpose. Previous expeditions perished possibly because of the absence of joy through music - vital mental medicine for all. He added: "My experience of playing the banjo is certainly one of joy and I am delighted to support The Great British Banjo Company - I look forward to going on expedition again, jumping out of a helicopter, carrying my Shackleton Banjo!" Seb Coulthard’s Shackleton Epic Expedition is now the subject of a thrilling Discovery Channel documentary series. This 3 part documentary will premiere in the UK this month.

Seb Coulthard was also involved in the planning and preparation of another great Shackleton Antarctic adventure, next year's Centenary reenactment of Shackleton's attempt to cross the entire continent: a truly heroic and thrilling adventure to follow in Shackleton's footsteps and to succeed on the journey which he was unable to complete. The adventure begins in October/November 2014, one hundred years after Shackleton.

Called The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Centenary Expedition 2014, this expedition has also enthusiastically embraced the new banjo project. There are even discussions ongoing about the possibility of the expedition taking a Shackleton Banjo to the Antarctic.

The Great British Banjo Company Limited, which also owns online specialist store Banjos Direct, is based in Norwich, Norfolk, UK. The company works with local craftsmen as well as instrument manufacturers in other parts of Britain. The business was founded by brand adviser, business author and musician Simon Middleton, and award winning company chairman Nigel Cushion. The business has grown rapidly to become the UK's best known banjo specialist retailer and now manufacturer.

For further information: Visit:

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer