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Oysterband - Big Session-On-Sea

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill - 27th September 2014

Written By Andy Gunton

One of the measures of a good gig is sitting on the station platform afterwards and hearing a fellow gig-goer whistling the band’s final song, while that same song is still reverberating around your own head.

It was that kind of evening at the De La Warr Pavilion, where Oysterband performed their only ‘Big Session’, outside of festivals, in the UK. That’s quite a coup for a small seaside town and showed the band’s respect for the venue. Mention during their set of that evenings Bexhill sunset and the beauty of the sea outside the venue, before the song ‘Diamonds on the Water’, just went to prove that.

For this ‘Big Session’, Oysterband were joined by Sam Carter and the very wonderful June Tabor, about whom a friend of mine said, “her voice gives my ears goosebumps.” A sentiment echoed by many I suspect.

Oysterband themselves split their performance into two sets, each lasting around an hour.

The first, with songs taken mostly from their 2014 album ‘Diamonds on the Water’, included many amusing anecdotes of the stories behind the songs. The most memorable being ‘The Wilderness’ and a cautionary tale about grizzly bears, black pepper and bells, from the band’s time in Canada.

I had only seen Oysterband once before and had forgotten just how good a live band they are. Accomplished musicians all, this was an impressive performance and one that didn’t let up for the whole night. Special mention must be made of the cello player, who used his instrument almost like a bass guitar at times. He also entertained us with a couple of excellent cello solo’s, not something I’m used to seeing at gigs!

Apart from their own songs, we were treated to some covers, including a rousing version of Pete Seeger’s ‘Bells of Rhymney’, obviously played straight from the heart and preceded by an explanation of why the song meant so much to them.

The first set was brought to a close by that classic folk standard, written by Leon Rosselson, ‘The World Turned Upside Down’.

After a brief interlude, it was onto what for many was the highlight of the show.

Starting with the opening track, ‘Bonny Bunch of Roses’, from their 2011 album ‘Ragged Kingdom’, June Tabor strode on in coat that might have been stolen from Joseph and then proceded to deliver a masterclass in singing, giving our ears goosebumps in the process.

Once again, the stories behind the songs were very entertaining, especially June Tabor’s tale of the Goth girl in her local village. This extended to how, when Oysterband and June Tabor originally got together 20 years ago, they discovered a mutual love of Velvet Underground. This led us to a great version of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, complete with droning cello, not something you’d expect a Folk Rock band to perform.

Other covers included Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, recorded for ‘Ragged Kingdom’, a song that, when performed in this way, really brings out the power of those original lyrics.

Aside from the excellent band accompaniment, it was the acapella sections of this set that especially stood out for me, showing the quality of all the voices on stage. One in particular, during the inevitable encores, was stunning and would have been a fitting end to the evening’s entertainment.

But, we were then treated to ‘Put Out The Lights’, the final song that had some of us whistling all the way home.

All in all a great evening and one enjoyed by everyone present, if the well deserved standing ovation at the end was anything to go by.

All together now, “Put out the lights, put out the lights, put out the lights, on London city......”

(An honourable mention must be made for the De Lar Warr Pavilion itself, firstly for attracting ‘exclusive’ gigs such as this, but also for the good sound quality and the sensible volume levels at their shows. It’s nice to go to a gig and not to have to wear ear protection)

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