Thousands of years ago our ancestors might well have gathered to celebrate. They probably brought along some animal skin drums, fashioned a reed pipe or two and whiled away the evening making music and telling stories.

It’s unfair to say nothing changes in Dorset but, just outside the village of Cranborne, the Ancient Technology Centre is the venue for a music festival that even our ancestors might have felt was familiar. One that is uniquely magical in almost every sense.

Jaminaround, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, is a two-day festival of live music and performance which brings internationally acclaimed artists such as Lianne La Havas, Kakatsitsi Master Drummers of Ghana, Sam Lee and Eska to perform in Dorset’s most unusual venue, the Earthouse. And this extraordinary event was dreamt up by Oliver Keen.

Great British Life: Oliver Keen, founder of Jaminaround, outside the Earthouse created by his father Jake which inspired the festival. Oliver Keen, founder of Jaminaround, outside the Earthouse created by his father Jake which inspired the festival. (Image: Helena Lex)

Oliver spent much of his childhood at the Ancient Technology Centre. The site was the brainchild of his father, Jake Keen, a local schoolteacher. In the mid-1980s, he built an outdoor education centre created for children to experience how people in prehistory used to go about their daily lives and erected buildings.

In many ways, Jake was a visionary in his field. After acquiring a sliver of the Cranbourne Chase, he decided to build an Iron Age roundhouse based on archaeological evidence of one discovered on the Isle of Man in the sixties. The construction was undertaken by school children and local people, who harvested materials from nearby woodlands and reed beds, just as their ancestors would have done.

‘I was lucky enough to grow up around this,’ Oliver tells me. ‘Helping on some of the building projects and witnessing international storytellers coming to perform.’ The Crick Crack Club have been hosting their storytelling events here for decades.

Great British Life: The remarkable Earthouse with its turf roof at the Ancient Technology Centre.The remarkable Earthouse with its turf roof at the Ancient Technology Centre. (Image: Helena Lex)

Jake and his team of volunteers built the roundhouse using only hand tools, and equipment that would have been available to the Iron Age builder. The result is little short of immense. 21 enormous oak trunks and ash purlins support an exceptionally heavy solid earth roof, covered with turf. Inside the bedrock chalk has been terraced, so that the building can comfortably accommodate up to 250 people. ‘This is known as the Earthouse, and it was purpose built for performances of music and storytelling,’ says Oliver. ‘Jaminaround was born out of respect and love for this uniquely inspiring building.’

Started in 2004, initially as a once-a-year festival, Jaminaround now has a program of events running from May to October. ‘Our core mission is to draw audience and performer together in a memorable, intimate, spellbound moment,’ says Oliver, ‘harnessing the energy of the circular space to honour and witness the magic of exceptional performing artistry.’

In the centre, illuminated by a skylight, is a stage. However, rather than sitting above its audience, the stage is sunken. ‘This makes for quite an unnerving experience for a performer,’ Oliver tells me. ‘Having 250 pairs of eyes looking down at you from the darkness can be quite daunting.’

Great British Life: Inside the Earthouse showing the enormous tree trunks and central skylight with sunken stage. Inside the Earthouse showing the enormous tree trunks and central skylight with sunken stage. (Image: Helena Lex)

Oliver is not only a performer himself, but he is also the event’s organiser and a teacher like his dad. He started organising music events when he was just 14 years old. ‘Unbeknownst to me, I was cutting my teeth on something that would become a major part of my future.’

After going to university and moving away from Dorset, Oliver founded Jaminaround. ‘It was a way of drawing me back to the countryside,’ he tells me. The initial inspiration was the Iron Age roundhouse that his father had built. ‘Even when I step inside the Earthouse today, my breath is completely taken away – it’s huge!’ he marvels. ‘Any audience member, or performer who walks inside instantly feels a different energy to anything they’ve ever experienced, it’s just a simply wonderful place for music.’

It’s interesting to hear about the influence this remarkable building has had on Oliver. ‘Having grown up with the roundhouse, I always yearn to be in a circle,’ he explains. ‘Circles are very powerful. I’m a teacher in London, and whenever I teach, I get my class to sit in a circle as opposed to a line. I find circles somehow democratic and egalitarian.’

And circles have continued in his staging of Jaminaround. ‘I like to create events where everyone is looking in on each other. Being in a circle is a magical way for music, audience, and performer to all feel the important part they play.’

Great British Life: Electric Jalaba who are playing at Jaminaround on May 25. Electric Jalaba who are playing at Jaminaround on May 25. (Image:

Over the last two decades, Jaminaround has, says Oliver, evolved a great deal. ‘We have now established the Summer Residential Music Course - a weeklong program of workshops and masterclasses diving deep into music practice, interdisciplinary arts, collaboration and the nature of creativity.’ This year there’s also a piano event (June 29) featuring a grand piano in the centre of the Earthouse with masterclasses from virtuoso jazz legend Robert Mitchell and maverick 'prepared piano' artist Klavikon. And there’s a singing weekend workshop in October exploring circle singing, vocal improvisation, 'Afro-pean' polyphonic singing and a group performance.

From his own experiences within the London music scene Oliver can tap into an eclectic lineup of performers, each bringing their own unique sound to a unique venue. ‘It’s no way a single genre event,’ he says. ‘People may be drawn in by one or two of the acts on the bill, but hopefully they’ll go away having seen something they’ve never experienced before.’

When asked who he’s most excited to see jamming in the round, Oliver pauses, asking how he could possibly choose from the great line-up. ‘We’re really thrilled to have Sam Amidon performing. He’s a singer and multi-instrumentalist (banjo, guitar, fiddle) from Vermont, now based in London. He’s released seven acclaimed solo albums of songs, and he’s big news.’

‘But, probably because of my own personal taste, I’ve got this fantastic band coming from Ghana, Alostmen, especially for the event,’ he reveals. ‘I saw Alostmen a couple of years ago and knew they would make quite a spectacle in the Earthouse!’ Also on the bill is Venezuelan singer Luzmira Zerpa, Electric Jalaba whose sound Oliver describes as a ‘deep psychedelic, groove-heavy take on Moroccan Gnawa music’, Miryam Solomon, a London-based singer via Sweden and Eritrea, and there’s Afro jazz from Senegalese percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Dudu' Kouaté. Storytellers includes Jan Blake sharing myths and folk tales from the Caribbean, West Africa, North Africa and beyond, and Clare Murphy will be presenting her new show The Spanking Goddess.

Great British Life: Lianne La Havas performing at the Earthouse at a Jaminaround session.Lianne La Havas performing at the Earthouse at a Jaminaround session. (Image: Helena Lex)

‘To make it something special, half of the line-up is the Greatest Hits of the last 20 years of gigs, with some of my favourite bands coming back, while the other half are new, exotic and exciting,’ grins Oliver, who is also planning Jaminaround part two for September. ‘We’ve got some hidden gems and surprises turning up too, which will make this a celebration to remember!’

What, I ask, makes the event so special? ‘It’s a cliché, but you have to experience the atmosphere to believe it,’ he says. ‘You’re in an underground cave with a wooden roof supported by a ring of 21 enormous tree trunks. Everyone’s sitting in the round, facing everyone else, enthralled in the moment, the band in the middle facing each other too, it’s a unique experience that creates a special connection between everyone present.’

It’s not all about music either. This year, food will be provided by a Cranborne-based chef, who grows her own veg less than three miles from the centre. And local drinks come from the Sixpenny Brewery and Cranborne Chase Cider company.

So, if you want to experience something truly unique, in an unusual venue that is steeped in Dorset's ancient history and listen to amazing live music and storytelling, then Jaminaround is the festival for you!

Jaminaround runs May 25-26 at the Ancient Technology Centre, Cranborne. To find out more about this and other events and workshops in the Earthouse visit