As you must know by now, to celebrate their 80th birthday Topic are re-releasing a series of classic albums in deluxe editions. Airs And Graces is among the first tranche and is arguably one of the most important. When June Tabor first appeared on the scene I’d just moved into the area and was still finding out where the folk clubs were – it was word of mouth in those days – thus I read about her long before I’d seen her on stage or heard her on record. I’ve made up for it since but coming back to a remastered issue of this debut is a real delight.
From this vantage point in time most of the songs are familiar enough but I’m certain that June introduced the world to ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and it was several years before we could get our hands on Eric Bogle’s first album. Airs And Graces opens with the dancing sound of ‘While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping’ – that’s Nic Jones on guitar. He was one of the few guitarists who could have matched the liberties June, who was brought up singing unaccompanied, was wont to take with the rhythm of a song. This is still my favourite version of the song. Nic appears again on ‘Bonny May’ which is also decorated by Jon Gillaspie’s sopranino recorder and I must admit that I’d forgotten Jon’s atmospheric accompaniment to ‘Young Waters’ – probably the only use of a roxichord in traditional music.
Next is ‘Plains Of Waterloo’ and June follows Shirley and Dolly Collins in recording it. It’s gobsmacking to think that this was only the third freely available recording of the song. ‘Bonny May’ is a relative of ‘The Broom Of The Cowdenowes’, which I didn’t know until now but I think everyone knew ‘Reynardine’ by then. In fact, June had a remarkable ability to find a song, then find a variant of it and then make it popular. ‘Young Waters’, ‘Waly Waly’ and ‘The Merchant’s Son’ are familiar stories in folk-song but when did we hear them first, I wonder.
There are four bonus tracks, all predating the recording of this album and essentially field recordings. ‘The Fair Maid Of Wallington’ includes the words “silly sisters”, which were to become famous later and ‘The Royal Oak’ was recorded at the venue of one of those folk clubs that I didn’t know about. Sadly, it wasn’t released on the LP that Stagfolk issued. Two others did and good luck with finding them.
We are used to hearing a rather more sombre June Tabor these days but even forty years ago she couldn’t be called a flibbertigibbet. That voice was magnificent and could deliver a song like few others.
Label website: www.topicrecords.co.uk
There weren’t many videos in 1976 but this may suffice: