June Tabor & Oysterband – Nottingham Glee, Sunday October 30.
Twenty-one years after recording their Freedom and Rain album, June Tabor and Oysterband – both highly regarded English folk acts in their own right – have finally got around to releasing its follow-up, Ragged Kingdom. It’s June Tabor’s second release of the year, following in the wake of Ashore, a superb collection of sea-themed material. But where Ashore is sparse, bleak and haunting, Ragged Kingdom presents Tabor’s vocals in a fuller, comparatively rockier musical context. As such, it forms a neat companion piece, which also emphasises the interpretive range of both acts.
Not having seen her on stage before, I was warned that Tabor has a tendency to be a rather stern, schoolmarm-like performer. If that had ever been true, then perhaps the genial bonhomie of the six Oysters had thawed her. Smiles and laughter might not exactly be her stock in trade, but there were flashes of easy good humour, as well as some deliciously witty anecdotes between the songs; a tale of a Goth-turned-mum from June’s home town drew warm chuckles from the room, for instance.
But where some might merely see sternness, others – and this must have included the vast majority of the supportive crowd at Glee – were afforded a glimpse of one of English folk’s most justly revered figures, channelling every particle of her being into the material, deftly exposing every nuance of every line with expert focus and keen concentration.
Standing beside her, Oysterband’s singer John Jones provided a relaxed counterbalance, the pair’s vocals meshing with seemingly effortless precision on a cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Other covers from the rock era included the Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, PJ Harvey’s That Was My Veil, and a lesser-known Bob Dylan song (Seven Curses), which heightened the sensation that, in certain respects, June Tabor could be seen as England’s answer to the great Joan Baez.
Of the other players, special mention must be made of guitarist Alan Prossser’s heart-stopping solo accompaniment on The Hills of Shiloh, and fiddler Ian Telfer’s shudderingly eerie break on a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic classic, White Rabbit. Opening with the rumbling, almost Nick Cave-like Bonny Bunch of Roses, and closing with the tenderly communal Put Out The Lights, the band’s versatility was a pleasure to behold. Four UK dates into their tour, with fourteen more to follow, this was a collective operating at the very peak of their powers.