It’s a been a busy two years for Oysterband who have been touring the award winning Ragged Kingdom which was released following their reunion collaboration with English folk legend June Tabor. Thankfully they have been finding some time along the way as they have just announced a new studio Oysterband album ‘Diamonds on the Water‘ which will be released via Navigator Records on 17 February 2014 and will be their first new collection of original songs in seven years.
“It was time” says fiddler Ian Telfer, “to get back to some of he other things we do best – make new music and get out there on the road”. Keeping true to their word the band will be touring full-on in the UK through Nov. 2013 and Feb/Mar 2014.
John Jones on the album
“After Ragged Kingdom, which was a kind of re-immersion in traditional songs it seemed so important to us to get back to working on our song-writing skills in the light of that. We’ve loved every bit of the collaborative projects – which include the Big Session Festival too, of course – but writing is a vital part of our growth and continuity as a band. And if we can give a little back to the folk tradition, so much the better”.
These are the first Oysterband recordings since the departure of Ray “Chopper” Cooper to pursue a solo career. Al Scott, the band’s long-time producer, has stepped in on bass and mandolin, and, says John, “with the power and inventiveness of Dil [Davies] drumming, our sound has become simpler and punchier, as it was in the early days. Over a summer of great festivals, including Glastonbury, we stripped the sound down and went for it, with Al and Ian singing more to support guitarist Alan Prosser’s backing vocals. We all had to dig deep to make something new. And it has had a great reaction.
“The song-writing has certainly begun to flow. We’re searching as usual fir uplift in the melodies and insight in the words… and there’s maybe an element of the autobiographical this time around. The writing has had the effect of throwing Alan, Ian and myself back together again s the main creative focus of the group. Not an easy thing when , after so many years, the cushioning and supportive mortar of Chopper and June is taken away from between three sharp-edged stones! Thankfully there was little sound of grinding – we do understand where each other’s songs come from.
“As usual we recorded in Brighton, where we can draw on the skills of many friends, quite an impressive bunch actually – including Adrian Oxaal a Brighton mate, former lead guitarist with the band James,but also a fine cellist. Adrian will be appearing on the album tours. Rowan Godek, who often sings on John’s ‘walking tours’, came in and added ‘an emotional vulnerability’ to some songs as ‘an uninhibited quality when she soars’. Lindsay Oliver played double bass to give us that warmth and swing at the bottom end. Ex-Oysterband drummer Lee Partis even dropped in and added his distinctive high harmonies to a couple of tracks, and Pete Davison (trumpet). Eira Owen (French Horn) and Sarah Leeves (euphonium) contributed splashed of brass”.
What has emerged with these new recordings is a feeling of warmth, both musical and personal, that makes the songs come alive. “We had sessions where we all just gathered around two microphones. It has a wonderful sound and this ‘choir’ of varied voices has become an essential part of the album.”
John Jones on some of the new songs:
A Clown’s Heart comes from our first session in a coastguard’s cottage above Portland Bill. I sang the chorus to Alan and Ian and we knew instantly it was about ourselves…but from all sorts of oblique directions.
Steal Away is addressed to a child, about overcoming that fear of darkness and the unknown. Ian picked up on the theme and it became a kind of hymn to the power of solitude.
A River Runs – the turbulence of a relationship that flows with all the power of a river, but never actually reaches the sea. Chopper’s last musical contribution to the band was co-writing this.
The Wilderness is essentially a true story. The band went for a trek in the Rockie son a day off, up to Stanley Glacier. The Canmore Festival crew was reluctant to let us do it but finally (armed with rattles and pepper sprays in case we met a bear, and the warning from local resident Sharon “Remember – you’re not the Masters here”.) we went. I watched Ian panting up the scree slope and we sat in this tiny alpine meadow under the overhang of the glacier….until a cloud came over, and a cold wind. Sometime then or over the many pitchers of beer that night this lyric must have taken shape in Ian’s mind.
“Lay your Dreams Down Gently by me” was a line that sat in my notebook for years. Alan arrived one day with the whole song written and ready to go.
Spirit of Dust and No Ordinary Girl derive from my home landscape and experience of small towns. The Girl in question is partly real and partly imaginary. I’m fascinated by flawed beauty. The Spirit of Dust is what might drive (or inspire) you to get up and leave a place.
Once I Had A Sweetheart is one of Alan’s favourite trad songs. He heard it performed so badly one night he went straight home and rearranged it like this and played it to me next day. It pleased me to reclaim this as a ‘male’ song after all the female versions down the years.
“It was always going to be a challenge emerging from Ragged Kingdom. It became our mission-to feature, on this album, what is missing from Ragged Kingdom but is characteristically ‘us’. We have a strong-core identity, and we flatter ourselves that we’ve been one of the most consistently creative folk and rock bands over a long period. DIAMONDS ON THE WATER certainly feels like the start of a new chapter.”
For details of their tour dates and ticket links please visit: http://www.oysterband.co.uk/tour-dates/
Diamonds on the Water is released on 17th February 2014.
Photo credit: Judith Burrows