Here is a scary statistic – the Oysterband will be forty this year.
I know, astonishing isn’t it? Our favourite left leaning folk rock band (apart from The Fairports obviously) have been on the scene for four decades.
In that time their line up has remained relatively stable. You’ll not find any Fall like weekly line up shakeups with this band. Yes, they’ve had their fair share of collaborators and fellow folky royalty drop in along the way. June Tabor and Eliza Carthy to name but two.
But always at the core are the crucial three of John Jones, Ian Telfer and Alan Prosser as well as Ray ‘Chopper’ Cooper and Dil Davies, who for this tour are otherwise engaged.
Their setlist is a rich brew of old and new.
There’s tracks from their earliest days, such as When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down, We Could Leave Right Now and All The Way For This, from the albums Holy Bandits and Deserters, which took the crowd back to the heady days of an emerging and very exciting Cooking Vinyl label.
Then their more recent forays into the minefield of contemporary folk also get an airing, with I Built This House, Uncommercial Song and a corking performance of The Wilderness, in which John Jones’ singing was immense.
The songs in tonight’s show are punctuated by anecdotes, reminiscences, jokes and general banter as the trio take it in turn to chat informally to the audience and offer insights and thoughts regarding each number.
The collective musicianship on display is a joy to behold as Jones’ rich and resonant vocals wring out every ounce of passion on tracks like A River Runs Through and especially on Kay Sutcliffe’s Coal Not Dole, which features the lyrics:
There’ll always be a happy hour
for those with money, jobs and power
they’ll never realise the hurt
they cause to men they treat like dirt
With those incisive and sadly still applicable lines it silences the room. We take a breath, then the whole thing segues perfectly into an incredible Another Quiet Night in England. It was spine chilling in its delivery and execution.
Prosser’s superb fretboard skills are abundant and regularly sublime. He is such an underrated guitarist and as for Telfer’s beautifully evocative violin, he is an undoubted master of his chosen instrument, making it seem an effortless task to evoke such haunting sounds. We almost forgive him for those trousers (red checked bondage trousers, i’ll say no more)
Collectively they all come together to create an acoustically immersive toe tapping time.
Hal An Tow, Diamonds On The Water and Where The World Divides also feature in their repertoire of fantastic songs being played tonight.
With that corny gimmick of a tune you can whistle to and a big sing-a-long chorus, I’m so glad I went tonight. I had forgotten what an absolute bloody joy these guys are live. No matter what permutation of line up they choose to put on the pitch they are a constant Premier League side.
I hope you appreciate how I didn’t mention A Day Trip to Bangor? Oops.
Words by John Haylock, picture by Arthur Hughes.