OYSTERBAND – Read The Sky (Running Man Records RMCD8)

Read The SkyIt’s been a long time since Oysterband recorded new music but they are back with a vengeance and Read The Sky. If you want to know what it’s about, turn to the last page of the booklet for the inspirational quotation from Emily Dickinson which concludes “and meet the road – erect”. The band are meeting the road from the past, the present and the future and seem to be finding changes wherever they look. Still at the heart of Oysterband are founder members John Jones, Alan Prosser and Ian Telfer with Al Scott and Adrian Oxaal, who have a decade each under their belts, and Sean Randle on drums and Pete Flood adding percussion on one track. The cover photograph, taken live, shows seven band members on stage – and that’s enough history.

Read The Sky hits the ground running with ‘Born Under The Same Sun’ and ‘The Corner Of The Room’, both written by Jones and Prosser and both concerned with memories. The former is full of regret – “Is this the place we once called home?” is a question we all ask if we return to our roots. The latter is full of excitement and the wildness of youth and is a great singalong number except for the last verse which looks back at the break-up of the relationship that is celebrated in the rest of the song. It’s destined to be a greatest hit, I think.

All but one of the songs are written by the band and the ringer comes next. ‘Roll Away’ is written by Davy Knowles of the band Back Door Slam and fits perfectly with the over-arching theme of being torn between then and now; there and here. Oysterband’s take on the song is more dramatic than the original and I’m amused to think that a “folk” band can out-rock a blues-rock trio. Oysterband haven’t been a folk band for many years, of course, but they could be if needed.

‘Wonders Are Passing’ is possibly my favourite track, if only for the line, “We thought the party would last forever”. We did, didn’t we? ‘Fly Or Fall’ uses the motif of parties/dancing/nights in the pub to hang memories onto. ‘My Son’, with chugging violin and ringing mandolin (guitar?), was co-written by Jones and Scott and offers advice for the future in a simple verse structure that cries out to be adopted by the folk clubs. ‘Hungry For That Water’ reminds me of a remark by a very successful person who said that she’d spent her life climbing the career ladder only to find that it was propped against the wrong wall. ‘Star Of The Sea’ is a delightful story of a night in Hong Kong by Ian Telfer and ‘Streams Of Innocence’ is a return to childhood memories built on a throbbing melodeon with violin decoration. Finally, ‘The Time Is Now’ is a big finish that brings us back to the present with all of its problems and what are we going to do about them?

It may be reckless to say that Read The Sky is Oysterband’s finest album – there have been so many great ones – but it’s certainly up there with the best of them. Remember that they are forty-five years down the line and the spark hasn’t dimmed in all that time.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.oysterband.co.uk

‘The Time Is Now’: