Musical pearls from the Oysterband in Bonn

 

Long before there was Skinny Lister and the Dropkick Murphy’s.  Even before there was the Pogues, there was a ‘Folk Punk’ movement.  Okay, it wasn’t so ‘in yer face’ as the later incarnations, but The Oysterband were up there singing crafted lyrics from a fire in their collective bellies.  Now into their 43rd year, the fire is more a smoulder than a furnace, but after a half hour listening to the band on Thursday at Bonn Harmonie it was clear that the songs still matter – to both band and fans.

Can you name a wealthy Folk musician?  It’s not a genre to make money in for sure.  Oysterband violinist Ian Telfer revealed the secret of surviving for forty years:  “You find someone wealthy… and marry them!”  Telfer did manage some fame (and money?) through the notorious Pop/Folk ditty ‘Daytrip to Bangor’ when he was with Fiddlers Dram.  Whether he is married to a millionairess is not documented.  He is though rich in musical ability and dry British humour. as just noted, and when he strides confidently centre-stage between numbers, glances down at the set-list, about to pluck the first notes – only to stop, and exclaim “Oh, that’s not what I expected to be next…!”

 

You will already have seen from my review that The Oysterband don’t just plug and play, they talk to the fans.  They entertain.  The audience seems so in step with every song that you begin to think they’re all a part of the tour party and travel to each gig in a separate band coach.  They’re all pretty fit too, judging by the dancing.

 

Lead singer John Jones has a fine Folk voice, with enough range to push into Light-Rock territory when necessary, as on the strident ‘Everywhere I go’ with its chorus of bleak  disillusion:

“Everywhere I go, I hear what’s going on.  And the more I hear, the less I know

Perfect words to describe the present world of information overflow.   It’s Ian Telfer again who points out one of the advantages of a 40+ year existence:  “Whatever happens in the World, there’s a good chance we’ve already got a song about it, which saves having to write a new one!” A case in point is ‘All That Way For This’.  Despite being written in 1992, it’s a great anti-Brexit song:

 

“All we wanted was something worth it
Worth the labour, worth the wait
Then they take you up to the mountain
You see too late”

 

And, if there isn’t an Oysterband song to find the spot, there are still some old standard’s from Folk rebels past such as Leon Rosselson’s ‘World Turned Upside Down’.  No one I suspect is going to better Billy Bragg on this one, but it shows again the Oysterband’s political roots.  The Diggers were a historical group around the time of the English Civil War who challenged British land rights. and that segues nicely into one of the best songs from tonight’s first set – ‘I Built This House’ is from The Oysterband themselves and shows that land ownership is still an issue more than 350 years on.  All in all, the first half of tonight’s show only began to catch fire towards the end.  I wasn’t at all sure about staying for part two.  There were some hints that the band still had that fire so I grabbed a Kölsch and waited.

 

 

I didn’t have to wait long.  With the opener ‘Native Son’ there was real zest for life in the band again.  Like an electrical charge, it ran from the musicians and very visibly, to the front row of listeners, then on to the next.  By ‘The Road To Santiago’, everyone was electrified and dancing.  Part two then must have been a clue to what it was like to catch The Oysterband in those heady days of the late ’70s.  Not that the audience cared.  The music had a beat and the band had a beat too in their not so young hearts.  Clearly, although they have learned how to pace themselves these days, the underlying values of an Oysterband show haven’t changed one jot over the years.  Their own words from ‘Dancing As Fast As I Can’ say it better than I could ever attempt to:

 

“You can trust in the power of music
You can trust in the power of prayer
And I do this for a living, mister, don’t you understand
That I’m dancing, dancing, dancing
Dancing as fast as I can”

 

Lesson to take home: You can still trust the Oysterband to deliver, even after forty years.

 

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