June Tabor & Oysterband’s "Freedom And Rain" remains one of the finest collaborative albums of the past three decades. Bringing together the immense, individual talents of the sublime English folk singer Tabor and the raucous roots rebels Oysterband, it produced something quite new and enduring. When they reunited last year to perform at english fRoots Magazine's 30th birthday party at The Roundhouse, they felt the chemistry spark again. And 21 years on, they've made the brand new "Ragged Kingdom", a brilliant, belated follow-up that mixes the traditional with the contemporary in startling fashion.
The trad. "Bonny Bunch Of Roses" rubs shoulders with PJ Harvey’s That Was My Veil; a lush, acoustic version of Joy Division’s "Love Will Tear Us Apart" nestles beside the Scottish trad. song "(When I Was No But) Sweet Sixteen". Stylistically, the participants have each grown even more in stature in the intervening years. June becoming an eclectic song interpreter, drawing inspiration from many sources, and Oysterband systematically re-exploring their own acoustic folk roots. Together, they bring all of this added artistic weight to the project yet with a deftness of touch.
”The spark” says Oysterband’s Ian Telfer “is we really feel we do something together which is different from what we do as separate acts. There is something in the combination of June's exquisite dark voice with the supple energy of Oysterband that greatly pleases us. June comes to recording fantastically well prepared: every nuance of meaning and feeling considered in advance and plotted in her mind. Then she stands in the studio and delivers one perfect take, like an act of Chinese calligraphy. Or maybe Chinese cooking: the work is all in the preparation. We deliberately left some of the tracks just a little raw: the current zeitgeist definitely favours sounding 'real', and that's just fine by us.”
"Ragged Kingdom" was recorded first at Rockfield Studios near Monmouth and then at Metway Studios, Brighton, with Oysters' regular producer Al Scott, Feb to April 2011.
“What unites the material on Ragged Kingdom“ Telfer continues “is finding the story in the song, and the exact drama in the story: pop songs are often story songs too, and we tried to find things where the story wasn't banal, which had some shading in them. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is a great lyric, and so is "The Dark End Of The Street". We dug through various simplified versions of the latter on the Internet, usually put there by well-meaning but not very thoughtful fans. It fascinates me that modern pop has its own version of the oral tradition - it's generally fans that put texts on lyrics websites, and of course they put the words they think they hear … even when it's nonsense. Eventually we identified what we think are the original words. They're subtler than people may have guessed."
June gave "The Hills Of Shiloh" (Shel Silverstein & Jim Friedman's great song about the American Civil War battle) to this album. She has sung it on and off for many years and her performance of it has become legendary.
“We're also pleased we still had some trad. material up our sleeve "stuff that hasn't been recorded to death – "Judas", If My Love Loves Me", etc. "Bonny Bunch Of Roses" is relatively well-known, but our arrangement here, by Alan Prosser, is radically unlike the usual drawn-out melodrama. We have two Scottish songs, "Son David" and "Sweet Sixteen" - the latter I heard the source singer Jeannie Robertson sing in Aberdeen when I was only 16 or so myself. We were conscious during the making of this album how much of the traditional material we were looking at was handed on by Travellers -not only those two, but also "The Leaves Of Life", a prime cut of 'folk theology': "sweet Jesus Christ/Nailed to a big yew tree". Another is "Dives And Lazarus", on Freedom & Rain … and what a gas it was to blast that one out with the Bellowhead brass section at the Royal Festival Hall in May! That was its first outing in twenty years. Both "The Leaves Of Life" and "Dives And Lazarus" were collected in Herefordshire very close to where both John (Jones of Oysterband) and June live."
"Of course" he concludes "over twenty years we've all become much more experienced and much more opinionated, so it wasn't an easy task whittling possible material down to album length. "At one stage we had 36 songs on the go, but I don't think that the record companies fancied the idea of a triple album much (!). Glad we managed the Polly Harvey song though, we are fans."
"If you can't appreciate June Tabor, you should just stop listening to music" (ELVIS COSTELLO)
"June Tabor & Oysterband 'a marriage made in heaven" (ROLLING STONE)