Tag Archives: John Tams

Freedom and Rain

13 Oct

freedomandrain

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.

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Bootleg USA

2 Jul

Bootlegusa

From 1999 by British acoustic guitarist Martin Simpson, this is not an unauthorised bootleg, more an artist-approved boutique issue! My copy (with this cover) is on the imprint of High Bohemia Records of New Orleans. The same 10 tracks are available nowadays  from Mr Simpson’s  own website ( http://www.martinsimpson.com ), with a different cover and on his own Simpsonian label.

It was the first Martin Simpson album I bought,secondhand from Pied Piper Records [now gone] in Northampton, and it showcases why he’s such a fine acoustic guitarist.

It’s essentially just a bloke and guitar, recorded live at three concerts from 1998 and 1999 when he was based in the USA, plus one studio track  (‘Fool Me Once’) with the additional accompaniment of Jessica Ruby Simpson on vocals and Doug Robinson (bass and vocals).

I first came across Mr Simpson as an accompanist to the mighty June Tabor so it’s apt that the opening track is a song (‘Plains of Waterloo’) from her repertoire. The next is an inspired pairing of songs from John Tams (‘One More Day‘) and the Dylan number ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’. These are combined with real sensitivity.

Track five is one of my favourite Richard Thompson songs, ‘Strange Affair’, from the composer’s most overtly Islamic period (also covered by Ms Tabor)  and this is probably why I bought it. And  track 8 mixes ‘Highway 61’ with Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, again with a lightness of touch and instrumental ability.

If you like hearing great guitar playing, Martin Simpson is a reliable exponent – but I guess the reason I keep playing this is because of his choice of songs.

 

P.S. Listening to the rest of the album post-posting (if you see what I mean), I’d forgotten how good the track ‘Icarus‘, by Ann Lister is.  And how well Martin Simpson interprets it.

Airs and Graces

26 Apr

TSCD298-web

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!