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Oysterband – RNCM, Manchester: Live Review

Oysterband – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester – 14th May 2022

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Two l-o-n-g years – a pretty standard wait time now as we continue the catch up of rearranged gigs.

In the enforced lull, the Oysters haven’t been idle;Messers Telfer, Jones and Prosser beavering away for our Why I Love pages and then the luxury of a new album. Quite a rarity these days, but the wait for the Read The Sky album has been worth it. An album, it’s fair to say, we rather enjoyed.

And while many things have changed, some things remain very much the same. “Once a cèilidh band, aways a cèilidh band,” jokes John Jones as the band (and audience – one taking the option fro some live music rather than a comfy seat and Eurovision…) take a breath from the hoedown tuneage that provides a dancing opportunity in the middle of their first set.

A first set that sees a clutch of new songs on display. One is what we called the ‘hidden shanty’ in Roll Away, that’s perhaps more hidden in clear sight. One too that sees Al Scoot on mandolin and in general taking a more upfront role in the front of stage line up with the long term trio of Jones, Ian Telfer and Alan Prosser. Another new one, Wonders Of Passing features the deep cello that Adrian Oxtall brings to the table; it offers an ominous drone and with the “no-one to save us from ourselves” thought, it’s countered with the optimism of Diamonds On The Water and Rise Above.

We also get the welcome return of the desert dry humour of Ian Telfer. He reminds us that when anything weird and wonderful happens in the world, it seems Oysterband have written a song about it. “Here’s one we wrote about Brexit…in 1989,” he deadpans in introducing All That Way For This.

The new continues to contrast with the old in the second half. Fly Or Fall from the new album has a hint of calypso with the guitar part and as we dip back, A Clown’s Heart and Meet You There lead us to the band taking a pew while John Jones sings Molly Bond. A traditional song bathed in deep red light as he tells the tale, it harks back to his early days of singing and recording traditional music.

Alan Prosser also gets his very own solo spot with one of his The Country Counts numbers, Wide River To Cross. It seems quite poignant, with tender BVs from JJ and the “some die in ecstacy, some die in poverty” line. For a part-time, fun band, whose main focus might be the social opportunities being in a band offers, it’s deep. In response we get a couple of songs that may well be the sort of elder statement gateways for the younger bands. I Everywhere I Go and Shouting End Of Life, you can hear the influence on modern upstarts such as The Levellers and Skinny Lister. By Northern Light right at the start of the set has already established that vibe. Sharing a musical and political awarneness kinship while singing “War is peace, Peace is war.”

And talking of which, “the oldest song we know” and “as English as you can get” is the cue for as riotous and as punky as Oysterband go with Hal-An-Tow. An uplifting romp of a song to welcome in the Summertime and welcome back Oystrband to our stages, is totally apt.

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