If you think you’ve seen the run of charming but fairly samey faded seafront concert venues, Bexhill-on-Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion is something quite spectacular. A beautiful and lovingly restored 1930s modernist building it proves to be a worthy setting for Oysterband and June Tabor. Following an acoustic set from singer-songwriter (and talented guitarist) Sam Carter as support, the band initially do a set on their own featuring songs from their latest album, Diamonds on the Water, as well as older favourites. The Wilderness, one of the new ones, was inspired by the band’s trip to Canada where, on a day off from touring, they experienced the natural wonders but also the potential dangers of the Rocky Mountains and its fearsome bear population. “You’re not the master here” goes the chorus of this poignant reflection on man and nature.
After a short break, Oysterband perform their second set with guest singer, the great June Tabor. Both band and singer have illustrious back catalogues and both are stalwarts of the folk and festival scene. But the two combined produce something very special indeed. Their first collaboration was in 1990 on the acclaimed Freedom and Rain album. They followed this up with a further collaboration in 2011, Ragged Kingdom, and live collaborations have continued on and off for many years. Their set tonight delivers songs from both of these albums, a superb mix of traditional folk songs, like Bonny Bunch of Roses and Dark Eyed Sailor, together with inspired folk-rock covers of such marvellously un-folky material as Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, which Tabor and John Jones of Oysterband sing as a duo. Seeing is believing for anyone who has the slightest doubts about the beauty of these songs in the hands of Tabor and Oysterband.
The band has a distinctive sound. It’s folk-rock but, unlike their predecessors who pioneered the genre, having emerged in the late 70s rather than the late 60s the cultural references are different with a more contemporary feel and this is reflected in the sound. Allied with Tabor’s unique voice it is little wonder that this has been hailed as one of the most successful musical collaborations in the world of folk and folk-rock. The audience tonight is clearly in agreement. The appreciation and warm affection for both are clearly apparent throughout tonight’s performance.