Oysterband in Canada
Hugh’s Room has done it again with the return of the UK’s Oysterband to their stage. Has anyone recovered from their inaugural Hugh’s Room visit, touring the brilliant Meet You There – an event that climaxed as members of Great Big Sea took the stage to join the Oyster’s with their own “When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down”? As singer John Jones’ noted, “Great Big Sea was able to do something we’ve never been able to do with one of our songs – have a hit”, the realization hit home that something so good could remain relatively unknown by so many.
The second coming of the Oysters seemed all the more graceful, the musicianship more accomplished. For rarely can the human voice rouse the spirits and quicken the pulse with the consistency of these politically-charged stalwarts of the UK folk-roots scene. The ability to fire their material with punk temperament has distinguished them over the past 30 years as they continue to forge sensational musicianship to traditional folk tunes, inventive covers and incendiary originals that rail against the injustice of our times.
This was a generous serving of material – two sets covering some 20 songs – delivered with seasoned confidence and absolute conviction. The blend of John Jones rich lead vocals together with those of Chopper (cello, bass), Alan Prosser (acoustic, electric guitar) and Ian Telfer (fiddle) – set to a central pulse provided by drummer Dil Davies – is like nothing heard on this side of the globe. One frothy epic after another quickly establishes this band as being – for all their 30 years treading the boards – at the pinnacle of their careers.
The full house was mere butter in their hands, rising on repeated occasion as one classic was only bettered by the next. Their feisty 5-man assault proved equal parts tasteful, mellow exuberance to full bore piss’n’vinegar – supported by a crack percussionist, top vocalist, rousing harmonies, a string section in overdrive and the 6-string wizardry of the ever-smiling Alan Prosser – reminding all in attendance that they’re in it because they love it, which quickly translates to any audience.
From the impassioned, cello-lead “Native Son” to the rollicking drive of “Walking Down the Road With You”; from the anthemic “Bury Me Standing” or a gently reworked classic like “Oxford Girl” to the tear-inducing, audience singalong of “Put Out The Lights” at concert’s end (primarily a cappella, it’s mood laughingly shattered by a passing police siren), this was a night to remember – and one forever reinforcing the unbridled joy to be had from live music performed by those who do it best.
Eric Thom is a music writer and photographer whose work appears in Blues Revue, Sing Out!, Penguin Eggs, and Exclaim!