Olly Wills is a happy man. And for good reason. With a record deal for his band The Epstein, a new album in the bag and a burgeoning fan base in some very unlikely places, it has been a great year.

But it has been a long journey for the hard-working frontman; one which has taken this softly-spoken songwriter all the way from the American prairies, to the muddy fields of Glastonbury and the grand concert halls of Europe.

“We have had a really good year,” he says, while taking a day off at his home on the edge of Oxford’s Port Meadow (“it’s a rare thing these days” he laughs). “It has been hard work and we have had to play shows all over the place, but it’s been good fun.” Starting out with a clutch of songs written while Olly was working on a horse ranch in Wyoming, The Epstein have become one of Oxford’s best-loved bands, their lilting blend of country rock, Americana and new folk delighting crowds at festivals, halls and pub backrooms for the past six years.

Like all bands, they have always looked for a chance to break through. But rather than sit and wait for it to come to them, Olly and fellow founding member Jon Berry have made their own luck – touring relentlessly and playing anywhere they can – whether it be the fete in Olly’s home hamlet of Binsey on the edge of Oxford, a riverboat on the Thames, or a major European festival. And, he says with satisfaction, it is paying off – though, perhaps, not in the way they planned.

“We are bigger in mainland Europe than we are here, the moment,” he says. “And for some reason we are really big in Holland, which is why we have signed a deal with a label there to release our single – and hopefully our next album.” The label PIAS is one of the biggest indie labels in Europe, covering the Netherlands, Belgium and Holland, and, says Olly, could be the launch pad to even bigger things.

“They just seem to like us there,” he says, as seemingly surprised as everyone else at how a bunch of folk-rockers from Oxford should have such a massive following in the Low Countries.

“Maybe it’s because people there really listen to the music and give you a chance to create an atmosphere. We’ve had people come up to us after gigs wanting to discuss the second verse of a song in a 20-song set.

“We have played there many times. Last year we made 10 trips to Europe; we’ve been to Groningen alone seven times now. At the end of the day you’ve got to go where things are happening – and for us that’s Holland.

“Despite our best intentions, in the UK we haven’t quite managed to get out there. But we have now got our foot in the door and hopefully things will roll along nicely for us. It’s a tangible step and it’s great to have some weight behind us.”

The new album, Murmurations, is due out in the spring, with a third to follow close on its heels.

“We’ve already got the best part of another album,” he says. “So my intention is to get it made in rapid time.

“It has been a long slog.”

He is not exaggerating. In many ways it’s a miracle they are still here. Since the release of their highly-acclaimed debut album Last of the Charanguistas (a former Editor’s Choice in Rolling Stone magazine), the band lost its rhythm section – the hugely talented Rowland Prytherch and Stefan Hamilton. “In the past two years we’ve had some dramatic changes which would have made a lot of other bands fold,” he sighs. “It really hits you when people leave – and our bass and drums left almost simultaneously.”

Olly, Jon and keyboard player and producer Sebastian Reynolds (himself currently making waves with the band Flights of Helios alongside singer Chris Beard), tried to carry on without them, either with the help of guests, or by struggling along as a three-piece.

“I was determined to get this album out,” he says. “It was like a monkey on my back. For a while I thought it would be too much hassle to find anyone new, with too much emotional risk involved. “But we lost power without drums and bass and I knew we could only keep on going by finding replacements.”

Salvation came in the shape drummer Tommy Longfellow, formerly of Sextodecimo, and bass player Humphrey Astley, better known as part of Huck and the Handsome Fee.

“As much as having people leave sets you back, having new people involved pulls you forward. We have treated it as a creative opportunity rather than just a setback,” says Olly. “We are in a good place.”

With the new line-up has come a new sound with their Western country-rock augmented by majestic electronica.

Olly explains: “The band used to be quite country-rock and roll and our songs were quite simple and told straightforward stories. Now we’ve tried to expand the boundaries and are more alternative indie-folk. And our songs are not so straightforward either musically or lyrically.

“We have now got a really good balance of people who all like different kinds of music. Having keyboards has widened our sound and given it huge depth. And having Sebastian and Jon working together gives us a real widescreen feel.”

So what is the secret to their appeal? Why do so many people feel a connection with their music, whether on the Cowley Road or in the smarter clubs of Amsterdam. “What people really like about us is our ability to create an atmosphere,” he says. “We are also lucky to have songs that people care about; people have got married to our song Leave your Light On. “Sometimes Jon and I get bored and say ‘do we really have to play it,’ but then we’ll find ourselves in a bar in Belgium where the audience know all the words and are singing along to it.”

Mid-Winter Festival

On Sunday, The Epstein headline the PinDrop Mid-Winter Festival, a night of live music at St John the Evangelist Church, in Iffley Road, Oxford.

The event, organised by Sebastian, is being held to raise money for the Gatehouse charity for the homeless.

Also appearing are Oxford five-piece Wild Swim, Flights of Helios and Danny George Wilson of Danny and the Champions of the World. The event will commence with a series of acoustic sets by Rainbow Reservoir, Until the Bird, Marcus Corbett, My Crooked Teeth, Brickwork Lizards, Matt Sage, Billy T’Rivers, Huck and Jess Hall.

“It’s going to be a great event,” says Olly. “It’s in a stunning venue – a big old church – and the line-up is really good. Plus it will raise money for the Gatehouse.”

  • The PinDrop Mid-Winter Festival takes place at St John the Evangelist Church, Iffley Road, Oxford, on Sunday.
  • Doors open at 4pm Tickets:
  • £10 in advance or £12 on the door n Visit wegottickets.com