Parties’ and – less successfully – Dylan’s ‘Seven Curses’ and Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’. What links them all are the words – words that capture the imagination. Powerful, bittersweet stories about love gone wrong, love going wrong – “songs that make you feel better as you’re not the only one making a mess of it”.
This tour reunites The Oysterband and the venerable June Tabor after a twenty one year hiatus. They last collaborated on Freedom & Rain and are now promoting the recent release of Ragged Kingdom....destined for heaps of folk awards and already Mojo magazine’s folk album of the year.
Tonight we have twenty one songs including all of Ragged Kingdom and four from Freedom & Rain
The band kicks off with ‘Bonny Bunch of Roses’ – the lead track on the new album – a driving Irish epic celebrating Napoleon Bonaparte as a saviour rather than as a bogeyman. Special moments follow thick and fast: a marvellous acappella reading of ‘Sweet Sixteen’; the deeply poignant ‘Hills of Shiloh’ (just June and guitarist Alan Prosser) and’ Mississippi Summer’ featuring a vivid fiddle solo from Ian Telfer.
June’s song introductions are also a highlight. Inspiring without being preachy and laced with understated humour...her tale of the local goth girl and ‘pramlock’ on Broad Street is a particular delight. As too is her aside that she’s about to send the storyline of ‘Son David’ to the writers of Corrie. Insights on gypsies, unemployment and war as a computer game are worthy and worthwhile.
Nonetheless this is more a night for the head than the heart. The Oysterband try hard to get the audience rocking if not exactly out of their seats with a strange arrangement of ‘Bells of Rhymney’. Valiant attempts to get the audience to join in the choruses from ‘Meet You There’ and ‘Put Out the Lights’ don’t exactly raise the roof.
The show ends on the right note...not a rousing knees up but with a plaintive melodeon introducing that heartbreaking tale of a secret scared love: ‘Dark End Of the Street’.
A memorable evening - wonderful stories and sublime playing from the Oysterband but in the words of the Leonard Sachs – the Good Old Days Master of Ceremonies - it is an evening “chiefly about you”. And that you is June Tabor.
PS If you’ve got this far here’s a tip. Search out June’s versions of ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘King of Rome’. They’ll bring tears to your eyes and stay with you for the rest of your life.
Review by Andrew Lindsay
Photography by Tony Butterworth