Tag Archives: Oysterband

Apologies for the interruption! And Whip Jamboree

12 Dec


Sorry for the interruption – I kind of lost my mojo for a while there!

Perhaps the reason  was that I was looking forward to going to a gig by a band I’ve championed from more than 20 years playing at one of my favourite venues – and it turned out that it kind of sucked.

If you’ve browsed through this site’s  archive, you may have noted postings about the Oysterband CD Little Rock to Leipzig and their first collaboration with June Tabor  (Freedom and Rain) . Both were enthusiastic. Add to that, the second collaboration,  2011’s Ragged Kingdom swept the board for awards.

So although I was aware  that this was just the Oysters without Ms Tabor and that they’d  had some line-up changes, I was confident that the band’s core members and writers (Ian Telfer, Alan Prosser and John Jones) were still there.  This is certainly more than could be said for Fairport Convention in the seventies!

But it was  really lame. So lame that I left at the interval.

And this was upsetting. The Oysterband have been part of my musical landscape  since I bought their LP Ride in 1989, when it’s cover of New Order’s ‘Love Vigilantes’ promised so much and their take (with Tabor) of the Joy Division track  ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’  brought new melancholic beauty to the song.

In between those dates, I’ve been to so many good gigs – at Chipping Norton, Cambridge Folk Festival, Leicester De Montfort Hall, Milton Keynes and even in a field in Spratton!

So what went wrong?

Firstly, it was the new original songs. One of the reasons I never got into high-selling pop acts while a teenager (from T-Rex to Queen) was because too many of  their lyrics were little more than nursery-rhymes or slogans.  (Alright, that’s a bit hyperbolic! I accept that Queen produced the fantastic ‘ Bohemian Rhapsody’ but they were also responsible for the awful ‘We Are The Champions’ and the equally naff ‘We Will Rock You’. However while T-Rex usually makes me  smile, ‘Get it On’ is hardly sophisticated lyrically!) The newer Oyster songs seemed to me to  default far too often into multiple repeats of single lines.  OK, folkies (and I include myself here)  like to sing along witht he chorus but for goodness sake, this was too much. It may be helpful for the Oysterband’s loyal continental European audiences with limited English but I was just dying for either something more sophisticated or for the bloody song to just end.   The songs didn’t move me (and that pains me to write  since during the eighties, the Oysters wrote some of the most cracking, inspiring, moving songs I heard).

The second thing that killed it for me was John Jones – the band’s front-man.

Now, I may be shot down by the indignation of equalities campaigners and I apologise without qualification if Mr Jones has a disability that requires him to wear dark glasses but if this is a fashion choice then it really didn’t work for me and he should stop it right away. It’s not new behaviour but it grates. It looks affected and  increasingly posey. It may work at festivals but in intimate venues, No.

Ditto the stage mannerisms. I went to the gig with my 16 y.o. son whose comment was simply “He’s a pit of a prick isn’t he?” By the interval I really didn’t want to watch his  butchy mannerisms and cheesy intros. He used to be an engaging high-energy accordion player but in the half of the set which I watched, he only played his instrument once. And that’s sad. His voice  is a bit reedy (to be honest it was probably the weak link in Ragged Kingdom) so I really want him to rock out with squeezy instruments. I could have coped with the irritating Mr Jones if he’d been balanced by more of guitarist Alan Prosser (who is probably their best musician – I have his solo CDs) or Ian Telfer (their fiddler and best songwriter) but sadly, both seemed to be going though the motions.


Got the bad stuff out of my system!

So what next?

Well, my spirits were lifted by my work colleague, Helen, who listened to my moaning and then said ” I’m going to see a band called Blackbeard’s Tea Party tonight at The Musician in Leicester” and the next day told me “they were great and they’re having a Black Monday sale where you can get their CDs for just £5.”

Well, I am the kind of person who enjoys talking music with my workmates and so I obediently snuck off and purchased the 2013 Blackbeard’s Tea Party  CD Whip Jamboree (own label BTP003).

I have heard better produced albums but there’s a wonderful energy and enthusiasm to this collection. Twelve raucous tracks that remind me of nothing so much as the Pogues’ first album.  Understandably, they go back to the dance tunes they’ve probably used to work the audience at gigs but  there is so much potential in this collection that it reminded me my I’d invested so much of my enthusiasm in the Oysters a long time ago.

Looks like the baton has been passed to a new generation!


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.

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!