Oysterband (originally The Oyster Band) is an English electric folk, folk rock, and folk punk band formed in Canterbury in or around 1976.
The band formed in parallel to Fiddler's Dram, and under the name Oyster Ceilidh Band played purely as a dance band at first. The name Oyster comes from the group's early association with the coastal town of Whitstable in East Kent, known for the quality of its oysters. Their first album, released under the Oyster Ceilidh Band name, was Jack's Alive (1980) on the Dingles record label. Subsequent albums, as Oyster Band (sometimes The Oyster Band) were released on the band's own Pukka Music label: English Rock 'n' Roll: The Early Years 1800–1850 and Lie Back and Think of England, followed by Liberty Hall and 20 Golden Tie-Slackeners.
The lineup of the band changed over these albums. The first recorded line-up was:
When Chris Wood left the band to go travelling in Canada, he was replaced on bass guitar by returning founder member Ian Kearey. Cathy Lesurf subsequently left to join Ashley Hutchings' Albion Band, and Will Ward also departed so that by the time they recorded Lie Back and Think of England the personnel had settled down to John Jones, Ian Kearey, Alan Prosser and Ian Telfer. For the album Step Outside they added Russell Lax on drums. Step Outside mixed self-penned songs, often with a political theme, with reworkings of traditional standards such as Hal-an-Tow.
After the 1987 release Wide Blue Yonder Kearey left the band to be replaced by Chopper (real name Ray Cooper). Subsequent albums included Ride, Little Rock to Leipzig and the June Tabor collaboration Freedom and Rain. Following this the band name changed to Oysterband. Drummer Lee Partis (who for several years was billed only by his forename) replaced Russell Lax for 1992's Deserters before Holy Bandits in 1993 propelled the band to the forefront of a booming folk rock scene alongside bands such as The Levellers.
In the nineties the band adopted a more overtly political stance, recording the harder The Shouting End of Life and collaborating with Chumbawamba to record "Farewell to the Crown", released as the B-side of the Tubthumping single. But recent releases Deep Dark Ocean, Here I Stand, Rise Above and Meet You There have seen the band return to a softer, more melodic sound while recent tours under the banner The Big Session have seen the band offer exposure to several young, emerging folk musicians like Dan Donnelly, The Handsome Family as well as veterans such as June Tabor. James O'Grady (Uilleann pipes, fiddle, flute, vocals) regularly appeared on the Oysters' albums and tours in the last few years.
John Jones, James O'Grady and Ian Telfer provided vocals and instrumentation on Chumbawamba's album A Singsong and a Scrap, and Oysterband provided vocals for the song "Hull or Hell" on The Boy Bands Have Won.
In 2007, long standing drummer Lee Partis took a sabbatical break to be able to concentrate on his work as a psychotherapist, counselling in prisons. In August 2008, he confirmed he would be leaving the band permanently. The band then appointed Dilwyn Davies as replacement drummer.
Following a 30th anniversary concert in December 2008 the band took a six-month sabbatical, during which John Jones and Chopper both made solo albums.
The band returned to the studio in 2011, teaming up once again with June Tabor and releasing Ragged Kingdom in September at a sell-out concert at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. For at least some dates on the Ragged Kingdom tour, they are also joined on bass and guitar by Al Scott, who produced the album. On 8 February 2012 June Tabor and Oysterband won Best Traditional Song, Best Album and Best Group at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Ragged Kingdom, with Tabor also winning Folk Singer of the Year.
Ray Cooper announced in December 2012 that he would leave the band at the end of the Ragged Kingdom tour in February 2013, to pursue a solo career. Adrian Oxaal, formerly of rock band James, replaced him on a few gigs late in 2012, and took over in 2013, although it was unclear whether he would become a full-time member of Oysterband. The band also featured Al Scott on bass at some gigs.
Regular Music presents Oysterband: 40th Anniversary Tour
Oysterband, the multi-award-winning outfit that brought passion, power and not a little poetry to folk and roots music, enter their 40th year as vital and creative as ever! Oysterband still play with that spirit of the punk ceilidh band that roared through people’s lives all those years ago. But the growing depth and sensitivity of their songwriting, coupled with the strength of John Jones’ voice and their remarkable musicianship, have lifted their music into a richer, more acoustic era.
On this tour, the band will play two sets each night, one featuring their highly-influential album Holy Bandits in its entirety, the second a selection of older gems from their vast back catalogue of songs such as Hal-an-Tow, Love Vigilantes, 20th of April, Bells of Rhymney, Bright Morning Star as well as some of the finest new songs in the modern folk repertoire.
A New Song: My Country Too
»This was written overnight in a fit of exasperation when Theresa May hijacked Brexit to call an opportunistic general election, breaking repeated promises not to; but that was just the catalyst. We wrote this because it's something we really wanted to say, and because everywhere we've been on tour lately, we've found other people wanting to say similar things. We know not everyone who listens to Oysterband shares our politics, but if the song expresses your feelings too, please pass it on.«
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: June 2017.
Photo Credits: Oysterband: (1) unknown/website, (2),(3) by Walkin' Tom, (4) by Karsten Rube.