Fri Aug 14, 6:45 PM TD Main Stage          

Sat Aug 15, 4:45 PM Boogie Bar-N Stage, Oyster Stew WORKSHOP

From 2008 until 2013, Oysterband has consisted of John Jones (voice, melodeon), Alan Prosser (guitars, voice), Ray “Chopper” Cooper (bass guitar, cello, voice), Dil Davies (drums)  and Ian Telfer (violin, concertina, etc). Ray moved on to a solo career in February 2013, and our record producer Al Scott is standing in on bass for the time being while we consider how to replace him.

Our earlier history is more complicated. At first purely a dance band (“The Oyster Ceilidh Band”), we soon started experimenting with radical arrangements of traditional songs and with home recording, and even put out 4 albums in the early 80s. These sound harmless enough now, but at the time their home-made, try-anything attitude was controversial. We were determined that traditional music should not be just a branch of the heritage industry.

Other musicians came and went. The name shortened to The Oyster Band. We began to learn how to write songs. In 1985 we met a new roots-music label, Cooking Vinyl. Step Outside (1986), with Russell Lax added on drums, was their first release. We went on to make 9 studio albums with them.

The late 80s line-up, now John, Alan, Ian, Ian Kearey and Russ Lax, toured almost continuously. As well as territories opened up by our new record company in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and North America, and shows with similar-minded artists such as Michelle Shocked and Billy Bragg, we toured for the British Council in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco. Travel on this scale had a powerful impact on our attitudes to the world and on our songwriting.

It also made normal domestic life difficult. First Ian Kearey left in 1988, to be replaced by Chopper; then when Russ Lax left in 1990 Chopper called up his old friend drummer Lee Partis. The name shortened again at this point to Oysterband. Russ’s last act was to record Freedom And Rain with us and the great English folk diva June Tabor. Although it was essentially a covers collection, the songs were shrewdly chosen, and the album was very well received, particularly in the US. “Imagine if Aerosmith and Madonna announced they were to tour together??!!?” said Rolling Stone, excitably. By the time we reached Los Angeles, queues stretched round the block.

Meanwhile in the UK the ground was shifting. As we were expanding from a folk background, others were expanding from a rock background in a folk direction, and the convergence became a new scene. The Pogues, The Levellers, The Waterboys, Celtas Cortos….we found ourselves working in a different context, often called “Celtic” (though the word seems to mean something different in every country). The US became harder, but we acquired new audiences in the UK, Germany and Spain. The high-point of this period is probably Holy Bandits (1993); the first song “When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down” was later a substantial hit for Great Big Sea in North America. (Thanks, guys!)

By 1997 our relations with Cooking Vinyl had cooled somewhat. We didn’t seek a new contract, but we co-operated with the preparation of a “Best Of” 2-CD collection, Granite Years (2000), covering the years 1986-1997.

Like many artists, we then found it made sense to start our own label, Running Man. A tie-up with the German company Westpark Music has made interesting projects possible, such as The Big Session, Vol. 1 (2004), a live recording of collaborations with June Tabor, Eliza Carthy, The Handsome Family and others, and a DVD of The 25th Anniversary Concert (2005). “The Big Session” is also the name of our very successful annual Oysterband “signature” festival that began in 2005 at De Montfort Hall & Gardens, Leicester, and later graduated to a greenfield site.  “The Big Session” is taking a rest in 2013.

In 2003 we were honoured to receive the “Good Tradition” award at the BBC Folk Awards, and in 2005 (as “Oysterband’s Big Session”) were named “Best Group”.

Lee Partis spent some years training as a counsellor/therapist, even while drumming and singing for Oysterband. In 2008 he fulfilled a long-term ambition and left us to work in a prison in the north of England, possibly a first in the history of the entertainment industry. He campaigns for expanding the use of counselling in prisons, a poorly-funded area of public policy (see his website www.counsellingoffenders.org.uk). The very experienced Dil Davies then took over the drummer’s stool.

In recent years, we’ve consciously tried to evolve our songwriting beyond the clichès of the “Celtic” style, and with Rise Above (2002) and especially Meet You There (2007) we think we’re getting somewhere. Meet You There has been hailed widely as our best recording ever.

Lately we’ve also re-explored the pleasures of completely acoustic playing. In 2008/9 we put out The Oxford Girl & Other Stories to mark our (gulp!) 30th anniversary – not a “best of”, but stripped-down re-recordings of some our favourite songs from the whole of that period. John Jones’ solo album Rising Road was released late in 2009, and Ray “Chopper” Cooper’s Tales Of Love, War & Death By Hanging in May 2010. Alan Prosser also has two solo albums: Hall Place (1996) and Makerfield (2003), plus Nomads (2006) with Brendan Power and Lucy Randall.

However, just when we were thinking of taking a tea-break, everything was turned upside down again by the remarkable success of our reunion album with June Tabor for Topic Records, Ragged Kingdom, released in 2011. Waiting 21 years to make a follow-up to Freedom & Rain may seem perverse, but hey! both parties were seriously busy. We never lost our friendship with June in the meantime, and even played the occasional show together; and one day the time just seemed right to try recording together again. Ragged Kingdom gained us 3 more BBC Folk Awards (Best Album, Best Group and Best Trad Track, plus Folk Singer of the Year for June). We toured it very enjoyably through 2012 and early 2013 and featured on BBC TV’s Later….with Jules Holland.

And now, back to business. Currently we’re working on songs for an Oysterband studio  album to release in early 2014, and we’re getting quite excited about them. Even after so long a career, we can’t help feeling the most fruitful time might be right now.