Early on in this blogging journey of the past three years I made a lot of mistakes. It is inevitable that it should happen of course. I had not done any writing since college some 30 years before after all, and even then it was not my strong suit. It is still a learning process and as I go on, I still learn more every time I sit down and put these posts together. The biggest thing I have learned is to be more focused and succinct when I write. I have thought about re-working some of my older and longer posts in this manner the same way an artist or a band revisits a song from the past. But much like a 1980’s song awash with synthesizers and drum beats that sounds painfully dated, it is sometimes best to move on and write something new instead.
Which is not a bad thing in this case, because early on I wrote a post about yet another favorite group of mine, the Oysterband. You can go searching for it deep in the archives if you want but to be honest, because I was so new to blogging and writing, I don’t feel like I expressed what I really wanted to and lost the point along the way. Ever since I have wanted to correct that, and find a way to write about them again. That time is now. Rare is a band that gets stronger and comes up with albums later in their career that are arguably better than the earlier ones, but such is the case with Oysterband who have been plugging away for well over 30 years now.
‘Give me sweet music and strife’
Shortly after college when I began earnestly exploring anything that had the ‘folk’ moniker, the Oysterband were among the first groups I found. Actually it was probably the punk inspired Pogues that I found first, but I soon realized that Oysterband had the same sort of punk ethos, though in a less shambolic way. Their songs are both of the tradition and modern. They express anger and joy, frustration and fear driven forward with a folk dance beat played by skilled musicians. Albums like Holy Bandits, The Shouting End Of Life, Here I Stand, Ragged Kingdom (in collaboration with the sublime June Tabor) and 2007’s incredible Meet You There remain some of my top albums of all time. They were one of the groups I would throw in someone’s direction when the words folk music were scoffed at as uncool. But the sight of singer John Jones swinging his melodeon around wearing a leather jacket and shades, fiddler Ian Telfer lurking around the stage while Alan Prosser kept it all pinned down with tasteful guitar licks was anything but uncool. A telling story from the band’s origins is how when the punk music craze was cooling off in Britain and people were looking for an alternative for something ‘real’, folk music turned out to be it.
‘There is fire on the mountain, let the mighty beware’
Like any band that has been around for years, life experiences and situations work their way into the lyrics and music over time. Though not the only focus to the music, political issues have been a part of the Oysterband’s repertoire throughout their career. One of the reasons I have continued to admire them is the fire has not died in that regard. If anything it has grown stronger. While playing the Oysterband’s music in the last few days in preparation for this post I was struck by several songs in particular. In a way, it almost seemed as if they were part of a similar train of thought, even though they were written at different times, and were on very different sorts of albums. Collectively, the key lines to those songs have been in my head a lot in the past few weeks as I contemplate where we are politically and socially right now.
Despite having the songs swirling around in my head, I have hesitated writing this post since after the U.S. Election. I think I needed to shut down for a bit and process all that has happened and is about to happen. Even after the election there has been countless analysis, frustration, fear and anxiety. On the other side of it, there are people that are happy, gloating, and celebrating the outcome. Friends and family are squabbling with one another, especially on social media which has become the new go to place to discuss events. Forget water cooler talk, Facebook has become the new place to share our thoughts though quite often it is based around overreactions and half-truths.
‘You ask me why we celebrate when nothing has been won’
After the election I found I could not be very active initially, beyond ‘liking’ posts from friends that were expressing the same frustrations and fears that I was. I have not touched on the political too much here, but I feel something has happened to me since the election. That is partly due to the results, but also in having decided recently that what I do here is a unique type of art, I feel more empowered than I have in years. I am ready and willing to speak my mind as to what I feel is right and wrong. And I genuinely feel there will be a lot of wrong to come in the coming future. Dear friends to me are already fearful of the anger and hate on the rise. But songs and groups like the Oysterband embolden me to make this stance and stay (quoting from one of their songs) on ‘The Shouting End Of Life’. Strong, defiant, and fired up to say what I feel is wrong. To not back down and cower. To stand up. Not just because of an election result, but because it is the right thing to do as humans.
I am including two Oysterband clips here. The first is a new song from a Best Of Compilation spanning the years 1998-2015. Call it a prediction, or just a case of same story different faces, but the song has an unsettling similarity to recent events-
‘Great towers reach the sky, dwarf me in their shadow.
Effigies and monuments that grow so high and keep us low.
In my heart this hope, I swear we can heal, we can repair
These hands were never meant to dress the wounds of millionaires’.
The second is the title track to the last studio album-Diamonds On The Water and is a reminder that despite injustice and despair, there will still be ‘music in the air.’ Which we need now more than ever before as we find the strength to carry on. The music of Oysterband will sure help me to.
My Country Too, The Shouting End Of Life and I Built This House-Written By Telfer, Jones, Prosser
Diamonds On The Water-Written By Telfer, Jones
This Is The Voice-Written By Telfer, Jones, Prosser, Cooper
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle