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Oyster Band - A Basket of Oysters

Do you not think people might have an inbuilt reaction against doing that all at once? Might it not be an easier move to let some of your original stuff stand alongside the type of thing you’re known for, so people can weigh it up?

I. T. That’s a good argument which I find difficult to weigh. The opposite is also a good one, that making records is a different activity to playing live gigs and therefore the unity of character you might want to put on a record belongs to that record only. My own feeling is that I’d prefer records to have a distinct purpose, a unity.

But then if you’ve evolved a distinct style as a band, songs become songs, pure and simple, regardless of source. You get your unity from that – they have that distinct stamp on them.

I.T. That’s certainly what we’d hope for.

J.J. There are a number of traditional songs which we would like to give our treatment to, lots of them, but there comes a point also when I think we’ve got to put something back into the tradition. We’ve got material that I think could be worthy of that – tunes and songs as well. Maybe we’ve got to find an audience for that.

Oh yes, there’s a whole other audience, the rock press syndrome, which says you’re worthless if you don’t write all your own stuff.

J.J. Like our recording engineer, Barry Gibbons, says “nice tunes, but why are you singing all this stuff about death and illegal shagging?” There’s an awful lot to write about today. But also, separating the live performance from the recording is far more than just an intellectual exercise as far as Oysters are concerned. Whatever the material, it has got to be alive, to have those moods that I was talking about.

I. T. The main problem I can see is actually calling an album English Rock’n’Roll, The Early Years, 1800-1850, Volume Two. There wouldn’t even be room for the band’s name on the front cover!

Having had some changes of personnel between the two albums, including regaining your original bass player, is this now a stable line-up?

Oyster Band
Oyster Band September 1986 Photo: Ian Anderson

I.T. Yes, very stable. I think we could even turn it into a legal partnership now!

J.J. It’s far easier with only five to have a unity of purpose. That’s no indictment of the ones who left, it’s just simpler with smaller numbers. Operating with eight was bloody hard work!

I.T. It also gave us a fine boot up the arse when Cathy went off to join the Albion Band – it was a very good move for everybody. It was obviously good for her, and as Dr. Johnson said about the prospect of hanging, it concentrated our minds wonderfully. In the few months after that, we had to do a tremendous amount of work and things moved on a lot.

The “early music” part seems to have faded away with Will Ward’s departure. Does that imply the rest of you weren’t that bothered about it?

I.T. Actually, it was Alan who wrote the tunes for that sort of stuff – he wrote The City Branle for example.

J.J. Yes, it was Alan and other people’s ideas. Will obviously played the music, but you can see it as the dance band moving towards the song band. He was a very important part of the dance programme we used at that time, with Cathy developing dances in the Renaissance style – a nice feature of what we did. We moved away from that with the use of other callers, and for songs with the instruments we’ve got, it’s far easier to arrange. You’ve got to consciously think of how to use a bassoon or a whistle or recorders – the line-up we now have, the instruments tend to come in naturally. Without another lead instrument, you use the ones that you’ve got better. The electric guitar has come out of just a rhythm niche, and with the use of guitar synth can play a lot of the parts Will would have done. The rhythm section is much tighter now, so Alan can be used in a different way. Chris can go on to harp or bouzouki, so we’ve got loads of different permutations – and doing a song album brought them out far more. That’s why we’re far more prepared and keen to do song club work than at any previous time in our career. We’ve been critical of the clubs, but right now we get the feeling that some of them are moving with the times and more open to the things we’ve talked about.

I think you’re right. It’s definitely an “ongoing times-they-are-a-changing situation” at the moment, that’s for sure.

From Southern Rag 15, January 1983


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