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Oyster Band - A Basket of Oysters

Oyster Band
Oyster Band September 1986 Photo: Ian Anderson

J.J. And drinking the right amount can be part of it too, because if you’re stuck in rows, try as hard as you can, it’s that little extra you’re missing that makes you responsive. This barrier of not being supposed to enjoy yourself is still there. British people more than most, I think, need that barrier broken down – I don’t know whether it’s drink that does it, or dancing, but there’s got to be something.

Which is also, presumably, why the things which seem to be on the up at the moment are the purely singaround clubs or sessions at one extreme, and the really special bigger events at the other – the ones that give you a buzz of excitement, a really good show. The middle path seems to be a bit shaky now.

J.J. That’s certainly a distinction which we should be able to understand, between one thing in which they can really participate with music on a shared level, and the other which they pay for and want to be a lot better.

So from the evidence of English Rock’n’Roll, you’re adding to just being an improvising dance band, arranging songs well. Is it those ‘special’ listening gigs that you’d like to do more? Given an ideal world, where would you like to be heading if people will let you?

I.T. I don’t know the answer to that. I think we’re ready to do slightly more formalised concert work – the record and the song arrangements were done for the pleasure of doing it, and to show that we had a few more strings to the bow.

J.J. Once you’ve got five individuals in a band, there’s a greater desire to use each one to the full. And once you spend time on arrangements and get as much of a kick out of them as we do on songs, then you look for a reciprocal thing from the audience; that they respond and enjoy it in the same way. So we are looking for an audience that listens to the music more now.

A lot of people in folk clubs have fixed ideas on who their five favourite artists are, and if they all release albums in one year, that’s all they’ll buy. You’ve got to reach a new audience, or you don’t get across the music that you want, you certainly don’t sell albums.

I. T. There’s also a definite ceiling to what a dance band can earn. The fact that it’s weekend-only work. I am a professional player, and one does have to look ahead… trying to force the ends a little closer together’

So you’re, in a way, a band in search of a new kind of venue and audience?

J.J. You’ve got to get across the folk barrier, which is another reason for dropping “Ceilidh” references from the name. You’ re just a band… there’s a saxophone in the band, and OK, a funny squeezebox, and as part of the repertoire you do English traditional songs but also a great variety of stuff that shows your influences. I think it’s important that people see a folk band, which we are in essence, as just another band, part of music in general.

From Southern Rag 15, January 1983


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