Folk collaboration for festival opener

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One of folk’s great collaborations - The Oysterband and June Tabor - will grace The Britfolk Footprint at Chichester Festival Theatre on February 7.

It’s an association which goes back more than 20 years, says Oysterband singer John Jones.

“She was an established artist in the 80s and we met her in 88 or 89. We admired her from a distance and she admired us, and we just hit it off.”

Together they produced the album Freedom & Rain: “It was very very successful. In one sense, it was a cult album that everyone referred to and it came in as one of the top ten folk records of the decade, according to Mojo magazine.

“June is like the essence of stillness in her delivery, and we are the most restless band. Somewhere along the line, that meeting, when it works and is successful, is really quite wonderful.”

John was with The Oysterband right from the start: “It came together at university in Canterbury at the time of punk in the late 70s. People were looking for something to do. It was just a loose collection of people. The band didn’t get really professional until 1985 when it signed to a record label. Before that, it was a ceilidh band.

“I was one of the founders. I came down to Canterbury and met these other guys. They were all doing different things, some from university, some had dropped out. If you weren’t involved in the punk scene, it just became a passion to do this.”

Surprisingly, though, John sees some cross-over at least: “Punk was really a lot of people getting into simple forms of music. If punk and folk have anything in common, then it is three chords!”

There the similarity ends, however. For the Oysterband, it was about finding an identity in the past: “It was about all these gorgeous tunes telling fantastic stories. It became like an underground thing for us. We got further and further and further into it and we realised that this was the sort of music that people used to make before TV or before radio or anything…”

The show is a curtain-raiser to the second Celtic Footprint Festival (February 10-12) at The Venue, Chichester.