Airs and Graces

26 Apr


This is June Tabor‘s first album from 1976 on the Topic label with the artist looking somewhat haughty and stern on the cover!  This is a one serious record – giving no quarter and expecting none!

I think I’d read a couple of reviews of June’s performances (probably in Melody Maker) and I knew she’d recorded an album with Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span. Anyway,  when I saw she was playing the Kings Arms in Old Amersham (a couple of miles down the hill from where I lived), I decided to check her out.  I was however unable to convince anyone I knew to join me – so I went on my own.   It wasn’t my first folk concert – but it was my first experience of a grassroots folk club (complete with floor singers and a raffle) so I was rather glad that the pubs in those days were fairly relaxed about licencing laws.

The week after attending  the concert, I went and bought this album – and have  acquired not everything she’s issued since – but certainly a majority.

There are ten tracks – most of which are traditional and sung without accompaniment. The instrumentation, when it appears, consists of  Nic Jones on guitar and fiddle, Tony Hall on melodeon and Jon Gillaspie on keyboards – all tasteful and restrained but the whole thing is dominated by That Voice!

June Tabor is without doubt one of the most powerful, distinctive and awesome voices I’ve heard – ever since I experienced it back then in the seventies. Combine this with an astute choice of material throughout her career and every collection is a winner. It’s not ‘easy listening’ – actually it can be damn difficult listening but, like hearing Dick Gaughan, it’s rewarding to hear a consumate singer make the material their own through the power of their  interpretation.

So the highlights: Well, the first is Eric Bogle’s ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ is probably the outstanding track.  (June’s version may have been the first cover but certainly was the one that made people thing this song was traditional). Then there are also some genuine and powerful  trad songs (my favourites are  ‘While The Gamekeepers Are Sleeping’, ‘Plains of Waterloo’ and ‘Bonnie May’) . I always think of these first three tracks as June nailing her colours to the mast!

And finally the closer – ‘Pull Down Lads’ by John Tams – a wistful neo-trad track which made me notice Mr Tams whom I’d first seen in Derbyshire foursome Muckram Wakes but not registered and who I’d next encounter in the Albion Band. On this occasion though, his song closed a stunning debut which left me feeling rather shell-shocked. This was music a million miles from rock, pop or folk rock – it was a manifesto for The Singer and The Song.

I can’t say that I often listen to the other five tracks on this album – they are an acquired taste. In fact, I generally listen to them when someone else does a version – when more often than not, I realise that June Tabor’s version sets the bar for quality!


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