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Dancing English

"I used to go to the Singers' Club before it became the political hotbed it became later and I heard a lot of important traditional singers and revival stuff. Then I heard that black English Country Music LP and there was something almost magical about it. It was a realisation that this was our music. I'd been playing melodeon for a short while and most of the music being played in London at the time was Irish music, usually played badly by Englishmen, and I was one of them. Then I came across this music and it seemed so right. Danny and I decided this was what we wanted to do and we went off hunting for it in Suffolk. Around that time we met Tony and Peta, who had the same ideas, and we spent most weekends jaunting off somewhere or other. That was how Oak started, we were just playing the music that we wanted to play and it took us by surprise when we found other people wanted to hear it too."

Collage of photos of dancers and bands in action

As attention focuses once again on English country music, Oak: Country Songs And Music is timely. A double CD incorporating their only LP Welcome To Our Fair, it includes virtually everything they ever recorded and underlines the importance of their link between the old dance music and the new. "What pleases me," says Stradling, "is that there are a number of good musicians playing today who might not have been had it not been for the record."

He is gratified by the current surge of interest in the music - and the quality of the musicianship in the new wave of bands - with one reservation. "To tell you the truth I haven't heard too many of the new bands, but some I've heard don't seem to have much of an appreciation of how the old guys used to play it. That's fine for them, but from my point of view I think they'd get a better result if they spent more time at the beginning, rather than right away trying to move it in their own way."

That may sound a bit rich. One of the reasons Rod Stradling is held in such deep respect is his willingness to move the music forward, but he contends that was only undertaken after full acclimatisation with its source. "I get the impression that many of the new bands have listened more to people like us than to the sources that we listened to. I've found that mucking about with something you don't understand doesn't produce the best results."


This feature first appeared in fRoots 250, April 2004

 

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