Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



British folk-rock group growing out of the earlier folk band Fiddler's Dram, whose 'Day Trip To Bangor' was a sizeable hit, and the concurrent Oyster Ceilidh Band who shortened the name after their album Jack's Alive '80 on Dingle's (nowadays the band's name is sometimes one word: Oysterband). Lead singer Cathy Lesurf went on to record solo and with Albion Band and Fairport Convention among others. They took on a new identity over a series of albums '82--5 on their own Pukka label: English Rock'n'Roll -- The Early Years 1800-- 1850, Lie Back And Think Of England, dance-tune album 20 Golden Tie-Slackeners and Liberty Hall. They increasingly mixed rock and new wave elements with a sound appreciation of British folk tradition. Personnel settled as John Longley Jones (b 19 Oct. '49, Aberystwyth, Wales), vocals, melodeon; Ian David Francis Kearey (b 14 Oct. '54, London), bass, guitar, banjo, vocals; Alan Prosser (b 17 Apr. '51, Wolverhampton), guitar, vocals; Russell Andrew Lax (b 14 Feb. '59, Chatham, Kent), drums, percussion; Ian Telfer (b 28 May '48, Falkirk, Scotland), fiddle, concertina, winds, vocals. Liberty Hall and Step Outside '86 typified their later style and Wide Blue Yonder '87 confirmed their status as one of the most influential bands in the field (all on Cooking Vinyl) the latter incl. cover of Nick Lowe's 'The Rose Of England', but also showing their own strong writing teams: Telfer/Jones collaborations such as 'The Day That The Ship Goes Down' and 'The Early Days Of A Better Nation' and the Telfer/Prosser 'The Generals Are Born Again' were powerful originals, while their arrangement of the traditional 'Molly Bond' and rewrite of 'Oxford Girl' were similarly impressive. They backed Sandra Kerr on her We Were There '87 on Pukka, a less than special album. They toured in Europe, North America and Far East; were voted first in Top Group and Top Dance Band categories '87--8 in Folk Roots magazine polls. Other contributions appeared on anthologies The Cutting Edge (Cooking Vinyl), Square Roots (Folk Roots) '87, Hot Cookies (Cooking Vinyl) and Tap Roots (Folk Roots) '88. Backed Leon Rosselson and Billy Bragg on 'Ballad Of A Spycatcher' '87 on Upside Down Records, a reaction to a disastrous piece of governmental intervention in which the ruling Tory Party attempted to muzzle former intelligence officer Peter Wright's silly book Spycatcher. The song was anthologized on Rosselson's I Didn't Mean It '88. Kearey departed '88 and a new chapter began. Ray 'Chopper' Cooper (b 22 Sep. '54, Romford, Essex) replaced him, playing bass, cello and vocals. Wide Blue Yonder was a defining moment; thereafter they were on a new trajectory as evidenced by Ride '89. There was no contradiction in performing material by New Order ('Love Vigilantes') or the Clash ('I Fought The Law') beside their own or the tradition's best. Just as Fairport Convention would pull morsels from the Sun catalogue or British beatdom's heyday as encores (or on record as The Bunch) without alienating its audience, the Oyster Band had updated the process for a new generation raised on punk and rock. Little Rock To Leipzig '90 gathered odds and ends, live cuts and cold cuts recorded '89-- 90 with no pretension towards indispensability. Successful Freedom And Rain '90 (still on Cooking Vinyl) paired them with June Tabor, its repertoire incl. traditional material beside Billy Bragg's 'Valentine's Day Is Over', Lou Reed's 'All Tomorrow's Parties', John Tams's 'Pain Or Paradise', Telfer's 'Finisterre' and Richard Thompson's 'Night Comes In'. Deserters '92 and Holy Bandits '93 returned to the Ride and Wide Blue Yonder formula (Freedom And Rain all along was perceived as a divertissement, an album project with little live promotion). The group by now comprised Jones, Prosser, Chopper, Telfer and percussionist Lee. Trawler '94 trod water and re-presented past material in new settings; The Shouting End Of Life '95 revived their harder-edged, socially conscious music: one of the album's finest moments was their interpretation of Leon Rosselson's 'World Turned Upside Down', the song recalling the crushing of the Levellers in 17th-century England. Previously covered by Dick Gaughan on his sublime Handful Of Earth '81, the song places the Oyster Band in the broad tradition of Dissent, which stretches from the Levellers and Ranters of the English Revolution via the Chartists onwards; if rock can be politically radical, the music of the Oyster Band and the Levellers are good candidates. Maggie Holland would cover 'Oxford Girl' on her By Heart on Rhiannon '95, one of many taking the Oyster Band's repertoire to new places; their Alive And Shouting '96 on Running Man was an 'official bootleg' capturing their live energy. Deep Dark Ocean '97 on Cooking Vinyl was another watershed, with emphasis on songs: they continued to become more accessible without losing their integrity.