Paul Johnson and Darren Beech catch up with John Jones after Oysterband closed the Saturday night of New Forest Folk Festival 2019.
We talk about the closing set on the Saturday night, the wonderful crowd singing and how they embraced the show, setting a festival record with the most people standing and making ‘one’ audience.
We discuss the anthem songs like a ‘A River Runs, Everywhere I Go, We Could Leave Right Now’, what effect they have on people and how the audience has come to create the refrain.
John discusses the recent Danish Folk Prize Award and we chat about how the band has been embraced by Europe over the years.
We talk about the June Tabor and Oysterband – ‘Fire and Fleet’ 15 date tour in October and November and John also hints of a new Oysterband song that is due to be released soon based to an Ian Telfer Lyric.
The interview should start playing automatically, if not click on the play button below to listen.
It can’t have escaped your notice that Topic Records is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. We’ve already had selected deluxe reissues of important albums but how can you really celebrate a catalogue as vast as this? Vision & Revision, subtitled The First 80 Years Of Topic Records, is the solution. Twenty artists, mostly from the younger generation, perform a song that was released on a Topic record some time in the last eight decades. I must congratulate Glen Johnson and Michael Mastrangelo who curated the set but I’m intrigued to know how they set about their task. Did they select twenty songs and parcel them out – surely not? So they must have picked twenty performers and turned them loose on the archives. Each one has a story and you’ll get dizzy following the cross-references.
The first disc opens with one of the old stagers, Martin Simpson, who sings ‘Beaulampkin’ which appeared on his first album. Martin didn’t join Topic until his third record but he learned the song from Hedy West’s Ballads. Of course, Sam Kelly learned ‘Shawnee Town’ from Martin and the baton moves on again. Another veteran is Martin Carthy who cites Sam Larner for ‘Napoleon’s Dream’. Martin heard Sam perform when he was just a teenager and Emily Portman gives Waterson:Carthy as the source of ‘The Bay Of Biscay’ – fifty years separate the two inspirations.
Martin is mentioned again by Chris Wood as the source of ‘Fable Of The Wings’, the Keith Christmas song adapted by Brass Monkey. It’s an unexpected choice and Chris takes it back to something like the guitar original. Anne Briggs is mentioned more than once and Kitty Macfarlane goes as far as singing ‘Go Your Way’ while Olivia Chaney borrows ‘Polly Vaughan’ from Hazards Of Love. Nancy Kerr namechecks June Tabor, Oysterband tackle Nic Jones’ ‘Seven Gypsies’ – an excellent reading of the song – and Peggy Seeger goes to Mike Waterson leaving The Oldham Tinkers to sing ‘Dirty Old Town’.
Another unexpected treat is Richard Thompson’s ‘The Light Bob’s Lassie’, a version of ‘Katie Cruel’ and there are two voices I haven’t heard before. The first is Irish singer Lisa O’Neill who sings ‘As I Roved Out’ with a mighty voice that takes absolutely no prisoners. The second is Lankum – please don’t ask me why I haven’t heard them before – whose lengthy take on ‘The Sea Captain’ closes the second disc.
There’s probably a great pub game to be had from matching twenty singers to twenty songs from the Topic catalogue but this is the official version. Sadly I won’t be around to hear what they select for the second eighty years.
Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records is a deluxe double CD and double vinyl of the cream of contemporary British folk artists interpreting a song of their choice from Topic’s vast back catalogue (the only stipulation being that the song was at some time released on Topic). It includes newly recorded and never-before-released tracks by Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, Lankum, Peggy Seeger, John Smith, Sam Lee, Martin Carthy, Olivia Chaney, Lisa O’Neill, Oysterband, Nancy Kerr, Chris Wood, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Lisa Knapp, Kitty Macfarlane, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, Emily Portman & Rob Harbron, Rachael McShane & The Cartographers, Eliza Carthy & Olivia Chaney and The Oldham Tinkers. These artists have delved deep into Topic’s treasure chest to pull out all manner and variety of ballads and broadsides and breathed new life into them.
With its origins in the Workers’ Music Association, through the mid-20th century folk revival to the present day, Topic Records has established itself as not only the pre-eminent British folk music label, but one widely respected throughout the world. Topic has survived, grown and flourished – proof, if any were needed, that “grass roots” interest in traditional music, the artists and the label itself, has remained constant and strong. Topic has released some of the most influential folk recordings of modern times by a host of revered artists, from Anne Briggs to Peggy Seeger to June Tabor to Ewan MacColl and many, many more.
For 80 years, Topic Records has been a fervent and consistent champion of “the people’s music”. During that time, it has withstood wars, shortages, austerity, economic disaster, the vagaries of fashion, corporate onslaught and various cataclysmic shifts in the fortunes of the recording industry, to retain its proud and distinctively individual role as a beacon of integrity and true values. This fortitude has resulted in its unquestionable claim for being the oldest, surviving truly independent record label in the world.
“Folk music never goes away. You may not hear it, but it is always there, just over your cultural horizon. It lives in families, in communities, in the villages and towns and cities, and in the hearts of the people. Each generation takes what it needs and gives what it can to the tradition, each wave of newcomers turning another furrow, sowing new seeds. For eighty years, Topic Records has played a major role in this process, ensuring the old voices are still audible and creating a space for those that hear them to make new recordings of their own. Formats come and go, but like the music, Topic endures. Long may it do so.” – Billy Bragg
This 20-track double album comes in CD and vinyl gatefold formats, both housed in a special deluxe, debossed, silver foil-blocked sleeve. The vinyl issue is limited to 1000 copies only. A digital version of the album is also available.
Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records will be released on May 31st 2019.
Curated by Hannah James and released by Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Resound is a multi-tasking album. Firstly, it’s a tribute to Alan Surtees, founder and organiser of the festival and secondly, it’s a fundraiser for the Alan Surtees Trust which aims to give grants to young musicians and new musical projects. All the music comes from artists who have been associated with Shrewsbury over the years, often through projects commissioned by the festival.
The album has been, for the most part, cleverly sequenced. It opens with Oysterband’s powerful acapella version of ‘Bright Morning Star’ which certainly makes you sit up and pay attention and follows that with Jon Boden’s mighty ‘Audabe’. The foot comes off the loud pedal just a little wiith Patsy Reid’s ‘Thugainn’. I like the way that ‘Song For Lola’ by Lucy Ward is followed by Fay Hield’s ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ – two unashamedly northern voices side by side. Perhaps living in those climes during my formative years has made me equate the accent with authenticity. I wish that Kefaya’s ‘Indignados’ had been placed beside Grace Petrie’s ‘They Shall Not Pass’ – two songs about Spanish politics, albeit separated by several decades should be available to compare and contrast. The Demon Barbers’ version of ‘Ranzo’ is as good as anything they do but perhaps it could have been saved for a big finish.
The album now turns to pastoral themes. ‘The Lincolnshire Song’ by Miranda Sykes is gorgeous (although I’m holding out for the Peak District, Miranda) and Leveret’s ‘Bagpipers’ is one of their gentler pieces. ‘Vanished Birds’, another fine song by Jack Harris is followed by the lightest version of ‘Neil Gow’s Lament’ I’ve ever heard. Hannah modestly saves her own contributions for late in the proceedings. First comes ‘Tuulikki’s Tune’ from her Jigdoll album and then ‘Order & Chaos’ by Lady Maisery.
Karine Polwart’s ‘We’re All Leaving’ makes for an appropriate ending although I can never decide if a record like this is better served with a period of reflection at the end or something rousing and defiant. Whatever you think, you should buy this album – you wiill enjoy it and you’ll be contributing to a good cause.
Squelch… Wickham Festival finally kicked off to a great start with sets from Low, Barker, Morris & Tunstall which sounds like a firm of solicitors instead of musical, dance and poetry partners in festival law; Andy Fairweather Low, Les Barker, the Wickham Morris Sides and KT Tunstall.
Now tell me… where are you going to get a “bend me, shake me, a sermon from the church of the holy undecided, a strip the willow and a black horse and a cherry tree all the the same place!
Here is the moment when the sun came out and everyone forgot about the thirteen days of rain that fell on the site the day before it opened which caused the “elf and safety” three hours delayed start.
The main Thursday night event on the All Time Grates Stage was 10CC, who played all their hits, which they performed as a masterclass in song-writing. They even offered us the following words of wisdom from their extensive mantra…
Life is a minestrone
Served up with parmesan cheese
Death is a cold Lasagne
Suspended in deep freeze …
Friday afternoon had a definite garden party feel that went off with a Wizz, bang and Spooky side-splitting Tickell. It all started with the legendary Wizz Jones who rolled out all his hits including ‘When I Leave Berlin’ which Bruce Springsteen covered.
TheSpooky Men’s Chorale followed, the Antipodean Blue Mountain settlers, that worry local livestock to such a degree that the local farmers club together to pay for their international tours (so long as they agree to do reworked Abba and Bee Gees choral arrangements). Luckily, Kathryn Tickell was there to restore order, Northumbrian Pipe Style, who together with The Side brought Wickham back into the hear and now with evocative slow airs that could break your heart one minute and then fling you seamlessly into life-affirming jigs and reels the next.
In between Tickell and the Spookies (great idea for a band name!) I managed to dash across to the Hapi Stage to catch a bit of the fab Portsmouth based band Bemis. I also managed to grab a copy of their excellent new album A World of Difference that I encourage you all to go and check out for free here
There was barely enough time for a quick change over before it was pedal to metal down the West Country highway in search of Fishy Friends, Seth Lakeman and Show of Hands. All three did the West Country proud and I think its was a great bit of programming to put Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends, Seth Lakeman and Show of Hands all on the same stage and evening bill.
Here is my favourite moment of Friday night, when Show of Hands treated us to a slowed down version of the Don Henley classic “Boys of Summer” . Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Saturday opened with more Wickham Festival goodies… Alas, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, and Bill Oddie didn’t make it for the reunion but folk legends, Steve Tilston & Jez Lowe turned up on the All Time Grates Stage in the afternoon. Then it was a quick hop and skip across to the Hapi Stage for a blistering set from Gilmore & Roberts with festival energy in a bakers bun-dance. Then back again to the All Time Grates Stage as master Dhol drummer, Johnny Kalsi fired up the furnaces of the drums of the mighty Dhol Foundation to create a high-energy, pulsating folking brilliant musical soundscape of Punjabi beat, rhythm and intensity.
If that was not enough excitement for one day, there was a just enough time to sponge down before the main evening event of the big punk-folk-rock 3. I’m sure you will all know who they all are, as the Saturday evening, three in a row line-up, for many, was one of the dream festival programming highlights of this year (dreamt up by the mind of that festival organising genius, Mr Peter Chegwyn) which even included a returning Chopper as part of the Oysterband mix. For those who have not worked it out, it was of course The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Oysterband and The Levellers. I also legged it across to the Hapi Stage to see some of my old matesChris Sherburn & Denny Bartley set with the lovely Emily.
Time had flown by and before anyone knew it, it was “Sunday folk fun-day” and the fourth day of Wickham.
I’ll start with Ray “Chopper” Cooper who opened on the Hapi stage…
Fay Hield then blew in with the Hurricane Party on the All Time Grates Stage and Glasgow boys Imar followed and got the main stage dancing. Wickham festival favourite Duncan Chisholmfollowed with his Gathering before the afternoon slot was brought to a riotous close with Tankus The Henge (a great festival band).
LAU opened the Sunday evening slot which felt like a kaleidoscope of colour washing over the All Time Grates Stage. The power went off at one point so we even got a couple of un-amped numbers.
The finale for me was the crowned Queen of the Wickham Festival crowd, Eliza Carthy with Sam Sweeney & the rest of her merry Wayward Band. Unfortunately, I had to leave early so missed the Peatbog Faeries set but Eliza said that they tore the place apart, so I have been lamenting the early departure ever since.
I was bitten by a Ferocious Dog on the way out and am looking forward to repeating the experience at one of their other gigs soon.