The Guardian Review: June Tabor and Oysterband

22nd Sep 2011 10:30 am

The Guardian Review - Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Robin Denselow
Thursday 15 September 2011

This was one of the most remarkable reunion concerts of the current English folk revival. Twenty-one years on from the release of their classic folk-rock album Freedom and Rain, Oysterband were back on stage with June Tabor to celebrate the release of the follow-up, Ragged Kingdom, as a prelude to their autumn tour together.

The QEH had been sold out long in advance – this event could surely have filled the Festival Hall – and from the start of their two lengthy and wildly varied sets, they showed why their collaboration is so special. They interacted with such ease that it sounded as if they had been playing together every night for the last two decades.

Tabor is a compelling storyteller, an interpreter of often bleak and tragic songs of all kinds, and here she was matched against a band with a similar range, but also with roots in the folk scene. They started with traditional songs, a pounding Bonny Bunch of Roses and an exquisite, melodeon and fiddle-backed treatment of Fountains Flowing. Then, flanked by images of the English countryside and decay from film-maker Judith Burrows, they switched to contemporary songs, from Lou Reed's All Tomorrow's Parties to a pained, acoustic treatment of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart.

This was a set that constantly surprised. A revival of Oysterband's 80s song Molly Bond, with John Jones taking the lead vocal, was immediately followed by Tabor's brooding treatment of John Parish and PJ Harvey's That Was My Veil, and then sturdy five-part unaccompanied harmony singing on a Scottish lament. Later, they switched from the sturdy traditional Dark-Eyed Sailor to a stomping version of Dylan's Seven Curses, and from Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic rock anthem White Rabbit to a finale of Oysterband's Put Out the Lights. Tabor's intense, emotional vocals bound them all together.

You can see Oysterband and June Tabor at City Hall on Wednesday 2 November


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