June Tabor & Oysterband – Royal Northern College Of Music, Manchester
Date: 8th November 2019
A legendary combination back together on the Fire & Fleet tour. We catch them at the grand concert hall of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music.
Seen last in these parts in 2012 when June Tabor won four awards at the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in the days when Mike Harding was at the helm. Three of those – Best Group, Best Album and Best Traditional Track – were shared with Oysterband off the back of their superb Ragged Kingdom album recorded 21 years after their first collaboration. No prizes though for Best Coat (John Jones’ joke) – although we even had June even wore the very same coat; must be a sign of luck.
The Oysterband frontman also added the comment that they decided not to wait so long till the next time, so the two parties had plotted and planned from their homes on the English-Welsh border, where apparently nothing much happens, to make sure that the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ saying wasn’t over-tested.
Split into two halves, we had varying combinations from the seven on stage in the expansive RNCM concert hall. With Oysterband dipping into their own catalogue for Spirit Of Dust and giving June a breather, it was the first half combo of a chilling Coal Not Dole into Bells Of Rhymney that saw them firing on all cylinders. Almost like a tribal Bo Diddley with Pete Flood battering the toms and traversing the kit as he used to do in Bellowhead while keeping the hi-hat spitting; Adrian Oxtall’s cello adding a depth against Ian Telfer sawing at the fiddle, it was a hard one to top. That’s despite the full complement working up a mesmerising Twa Sisters and False True Love.
And then, when you can call upon their songbook to deliver the likes of the Velvet’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, the desperate sadness of Joy Division’s local folk song, apply a similar dense and droning arrangement to Dylan’s Seven Curses and do a little psychedelic folk jig to White Rabbit, the possibilities seem endless. Even the murderous tale of Son David seems a jaunty affair with the Jones/Tabor exchange of verses at its finest and raising a few goosebumps. A personal highlight of Bonnie Susie Clelland from their first collaboration plus a healthy dose of Ian Telfer’s humour that’s as dry as the sands of the Sahara meant that few could fail to be satisfied for parting with their cash and what they might want from this combination. It may not be at the cutting edge of consumerism but the rare sight of June Tabor and Oysterband is a sight and sound to behold.
Photography by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s work on the At The Barrier Facebook page.