Tag Archives: Cooking Vinyl

Freedom and Rain

13 Oct


From 1990, on the  Cooking Vinyl label (COOKCD 031), Freedom and Rain was a collaboration between June Tabor and the Oyster Band.  Although very well-received, it was a one-off project of an album and short tour (I was fortunate enough to catch them headlining at that year’s Cambridge Folk Festival) and it wasn’t until 2011 that they decided to do a follow-up (which I’ll write about shortly).

It was an inspired pairing though: By this time the Oyster Band had carved out their own distinctive instrumental take on English folk-rock (involving concertina and cello – which set them apart from others in the genre) and they benefited on this album from the assurance and strength of Tabor’s matchless voice. And on the other side of the equation,  June Tabor, whose own work is usually characterised by spartan, restrained instrumentation benefited from having a fuller, richer mix – something she had begun to explore by guesting with Fairport Convention at their festival a couple of years earlier).

What makes this such a good album is the selection of material – just ten songs, three traditional and seven contemporary – most done quite fast.

The selection opens with ‘Mississippi Summer’, an unusual, brooding choice for musicians so closely associated with the music of the British Isles but which introduced me for the first time to the songwriting of Si Kahn.

Track two  two is a melodeon-driven take of ‘Lullaby of London by the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan – perhaps a little to ‘jaunty’ for me although it does show McGowan’s songwriting skills to good effect.

The third selection is ‘Night Comes In’ which first appeared on Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘Pour Down Like Silver’. Taken at a faster tempo than the original, this rocks out in a way that makes it a bit more accessible and it just about works since June Tabor’s interpretations Richard Thompson songs are always worth hearing.

Next up is a version of Billy Bragg’s ‘Valentine’s Day is Over’, where a female vocal (especially June’s)  works better than a man’s (even the composer’s): “Thank you for the things you bought me/Thank you for the card/Thank you for the things you taught me when you hit me hard/Love between two people should be based on understanding/Until that’s true you’ll find your things all stacked out on the landing/Surprise, surprise Valentine’s Day is over” .

Track five is perhaps the most surprising cover, the Velvet Underground’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ by Lou Reed. This works remarkably well and is a highlight of the collection – with June Tabor’s imperious, austere, vocal surpassing Nico’s original from 1967, some great drumming from Russell Lax and what’s either a cello or a viola providing a drone-like backing. (This track is in the same vein as the Oyster’s earlier cover of New Order’s  ‘Love Vigilantes’).

The first traditional song is ‘Dives and Lazarus’ – taken a swift pace which really rocks out and benefits from a cracking bass line from Chopper and a three-piece brass section. This version also contains the wonderfully weird descriptive lyric line line:  “Hell is dark, Hell is deep, Hell is full of mice” that makes me smile whenever I hear it.

Track seven is another trad. song (‘Dark Eyed Sailor’) which is one of my favourites. I first heard this done by Steeleye Span and have another version interpreted by a very young  Kathryn Roberts and Kate Rusby . All are wonderful – this version , again done at pace with a hard-rocking rhythm section.

The eighth track (‘Pain or Paradise;) sounds like it ought to be traditional but was written for the Albion Band by John Tams and issued as a single in 1979. Based on a sea-shanty (‘Riding on a Donkey) which I first learned at school, this features a double-tracked June Tabor vocal and (once again) a driving brass section. A great song.

‘Susie Clelland’ (aka ‘Lady Maisry’ or ‘The Burning’) is the final traditional song on the album (number 65 of the Child collection of ballads) and describes the fate of a Scottish lady who had the temerity to fall in love with an Englishman! The string arrangement works really well.

The collection closes with the only song by one of the performers – Ian Telfer. ‘Finisterre’ is a lovely, slow acoustic number with a wistful lyric and one of the few tracks where you can really hear Alan Prosser’s guitar work above the mix.

It tempting to speculate what might have been had these six musicians stayed together to build on this album’s success – and what might have happened if a major label had been there to give it a decent marketing push – but as it is, it’s still one of the top ten examples of Folk-Rock Britannica and well worth tracking down if you don’t know it.


Hot Cookies

19 Apr


From 1988, let’s hear it for one of the first CD samplers issued on the Cooking Vinyl label (GRILL CD 002) and bought by me fairly shortly after I acquired my first CD player (an extraordinarily fine and rather expensive Denon top of the range model). In those days there was a pretty fierce debate about the extent to which digital music players could be high fidelity so I thought I’d better get a good ‘un! This of course meant that I didn’t have much cash to spend on actual CDs for several months – which is where budget-priced samplers like this were a bit of godsend.

Around this time, Cooking Vinyl was a great little label.  Sometimes this happens – in the 70s I could be reasonably certain I’d like things on Charisma or on Island Records but less so on Vertigo or Bronze! Anyway as musicologist/journalist  Andy Kershaw explains on his sleeve note “For the last couple of years it has re-introduced, to record bores like myself, trivia for the collector and a label loyalty unparalleled since the early days of Stiff…”.

So who’s on it? Well, The Oysterband, who I already knew, are represented by ‘The Oxford Girl’ and ‘Hal-An-Tow’. I also knew Clive Gregson (a refugee from the Stiff label) and Christine Collister (‘When My Ship Comes In’). In addition there were artists I’d read about but was unsure whether or not  to buy – such as Michelle Shocked (two tracks of her own and one collaboration with The Mekons). Sweet Honey In The Rock and the wonderfully-named Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas were other familiar names.  And then there were people of whom I’d never heard: The Happy End, Rory McLeod, the Horseflies and the unexpected pleasure represented by two tracks from S.E. Rogie – a veteran guitarist and friend of Andy Kershaw who came to the UK via Sierra Leone and the USA. In fact, he was probably one of the first ‘World Music’ artists I got into – along with the Zimbabwean Real Sounds on this CD.

Little Rock to Leipzig

8 Apr


The main news item today is the death of Baroness Thatcher, former British Prime Minister. Mrs Thatcher inspired adulation and abhorrence in almost equal measure – along with a collection of songs, some of which (like Robert Wyatt’s ‘Shipbuilding’) will last.

While today is not the time for the vituperative personal abuse of some of the others, it seems right to highlight the track ‘Coal Not Dole’ which features on the largely live Oysterband album ‘From Little Rock to Leipzig‘ (1991 on the Cooking Vinyl label, catalogue COOKCD 032)). This track, sung acapella by vocalist John Jones, was written at the time of the 1984/85 miners strike by Kay Sutcliffe, the wife of a striking miner from Kent. It’s a track that appears to be fast-entering the folk tradition, having been covered by a variety of artists. The lines:

“There’ll always be a happy hour
For those with money, jobs and power.
They’ll never realise the hurt,
They do to them they treat like dirt”.

seem to sum up an incredibly divisive and tragic period in recent history.But that’s just one track of a collection which also includes a great version of ‘I Fought The Law’ (try playing before or after the Clash’s version) along with other high energy ‘rock’n’reel’ numbers, including a few traditional English tunes, that show that Cajun and Zydeco music don’t have a monopoly on making a rock band with fiddle and accordion kick ass! If you haven’t encountered the Oysterband (still active), this is a good place to start. I bought this in Leicester when it came out – and the sticker still on the case tells me I paid £7.49 for it – pretty good value for money really as I’ve played it on and off ever since!