Oysterband

"Meet You There" - 2007 (CD 87141)

   

"The 25th Anniversary Concert" - 2005 (DVD 87111)

taped December 2003 at "The Forum", London with special guests: June Tabor, Chumbawamba (Acoustic) and James O'Grady. 18 tracks plus bonus material.

 
  Oysterband - with Eliza Carthy, The Handsome Family, Ben Ivitsky, Jim Moray, James O'Grady, Show of Hands and June Tabor
"The Big Session - Volume I" -2004 (CD 87105)
     
 

Once the bad boys of folk and rock, Oysterband have grown over the past five years into the role of musical custodians and godfathers of folk. Collaborative tours with rising young stars under the banner of The Big Session; a Big Session "live" album with June Tabor, Eliza Carthy, The Handsome Family, Show Of Hands and more; and finally a Big Session festival, now in its third year, which hasn't yet failed to sell out. And there have been gongs, awards, nominations...

The 'house band' role Oysterband played for part of these years drew on the group's formidable musical skills, rather as The Last Waltz did once upon a time for The Band. And it made them re-evaluate themselves. "We had to go back to the essential impulse that's kept the band kicking for almost 30 years - making new songs for ourselves," says Ian Telfer. "We put a PA system in a village hall on the Welsh border and got down to some serious playing. It's the doing it together that unlocks it for us," he insists. "It's the only way the songs can grow and breathe, of course. But also, we've always believed that creativity is a collective thing, and that's helped shape the band's politics. Not that we agree about everything, by a long chalk...but hey, that's the spark."

Once new song structures were licked into shape, Oysterband took the best ideas to The Premises in Hackney ("Europe's first solar-powered studio") to work on the voices and acoustic instruments. Some late ideas were added in Brighton and at cellist Chopper's house in Sweden.

"I think the long, sustained preparation has enhanced Meet You There enormously," says Telfer. "The singing - everybody's singing - is better than it's ever been. The raw rush that used to take us out on tour with The Pogues etc has evolved into something more measured, more powerful. We listened to it all back when we'd finished and we all thought: 'Yes! Strong. Rooted.' (And then: 'Cop that!') Literally, it's been refreshing - it's renewed our self-belief."

Meet You There certainly delivers a fresh perspective on 'folk'. Check out the lovely mbira introduction by Chopper to the opening song Over The Water, and the stinging rockabilly guitar beat of Someone Somewhere for contrast. For the singing, check out Over The Water again, Where The World Divides, The Boy's Still Running, the dreamy anthemic Dancing As Fast As I Can. For the politics, the acid, knowing take on globalisation (over a cheery jugband backing) on Here Comes The Flood.

"Meet You There is the most consistent thing we've done as a grown-up band," says Telfer. "It has what I like to think of as Oyster trademarks - a folk ear for a great vocal tune; strong lyrics; wry politics; and a sort of deep-down musicality that can afford to take itself fairly lightly. It's essentially acoustic, essentially folk-based I suppose. But we try to put it over with big dynamics and a sense of musical theatre." - 30 years' experience really shows.

The 25th Anniversary DVD: A remarkable film of a remarkable event, Oysterband the 25th Anniversary Concert was recorded in December 2003 as the culmination of the band's 25th Anniversary Tour. It captures all the excitement of the UK's premier folk rock outfit OYSTERBAND in the company of English folk diva JUNE TABOR, reluctant chart heroes (with the hit Tubthumping) CHUMBAWAMBA (here in their stunning acoustic incarnation) and piper/fiddler, whistle player and singer JAMES O'GRADY.

It was a magic night with thousands of fans queuing outside in light rain even before the venue opened its doors. Once inside, the crowd quickly filled up the London ballroom and rocked its walls from the opening ceilidh to the stunning acapella finale. The rapport between band and fans is nowhere more evident than on the song "Everywhere I Go", as the crowd picks up the lyric and the vocal intensity transmits from stage to audience. "No other folk rock band has the magneticism and verve of the Oysters live" wrote Colin Randall in the DAILY TELEGRAPH: and he was right.

The Big Session: One day, after performing thousands of concerts for audiences and playing in scores of sessions just to entertain themselves and friends (in the pub, in the kitchen, backstage ...), Oysterband had a simple but actually quite subversive idea: take the informal, all-pitch-in spirit of the session, put it on the big stage - and see what happens.

Oysters were used to performing with guests in the conventional way, but this would be different. Everyone would pick what they wanted to sing and play, and if you know it you join in. (And to hell with the production polish.) Hence: the Big Session - a fresh attitude to performance? They hoped so.

Sure after a couple of try-out (but increasingly confident) tours that this could work on record too, they hired a small London venue, Bush Hall, for three days and nights earlier this year, organised an audience, parked a mobile studio on the street outside, and got down to work.

To the cream of younger British folk/roots artists from the last Big Session tour (Eliza, Ben, Jim, James) they added some friends of longer standing, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer (Show of Hands) and June Tabor; and then to throw something unpredictable into the mix, recruited the original-to-the-point-of-eccentricity American gothic of Brett and Rennie Sparks (The Handsome Family).

The Handsome Family are usually classified as stars of alt.country; what they have in common with everyone else on this project, though, is a root in the rich dark earth of traditional music and story, and THE BIG SESSION shows the strangeness and diversity of the flowers you can grow from that. The recording process was complex: arrangements evolved all day then changed again at night during the shows; voices and instruments came and went; people found themselves making music with people they had long respected but perhaps never met. It was scary but exhilarating. One song suggested another, hence some intriguing contrasts (or head-on collisions)  -  two songs about the wildwood, two about apocalypse, two wildly different visions of country life, a whole crowd of happy and unhappy lovers ...

The net result is a recording of rare presence and of passionate and hair-raisingly committed singing. Some of itís dark, some of itís fiercely joyous. Itís not at all what youíd do given modern studio resources; despite (or because of) which, itís rivetting. Maybe this is what happens when gifted musicians allow themselves to be forced to be simple.