A midweek gig on Wednesday, on my way home from work, saw me checking into the Haymarket, Basingstoke to see Oysters3 – the three founding members of Oysterband, John Jones (vox, melodeon), Ian Telfer (fiddle, vox, tiny keyboard on rather high stand) and Alan Prosser (guitar, vox) on their acoustic tour, telling tales and singing songs from their 40 year history.
Having bumped into a bandmate and his friend in the car park, we journeyed through the alleyways of Basingstoke to find the venue. Wandered in, upstairs, over to the bar to be ripped off for a bottle of beer decanted into a plastic pint glass. We enter the auditorium and peer into the dark to find our seat numbers. Shortly after sitting down, a steward appears each side of the stage brandishing signs informing us that mobile phones and cameras were prohibited. Soon, the house lights dimmed and the stage lights came up revealing John, Ian and Alan who after saying hello, launched into one of their early instrumental ceilidh tunes.
The set was filled with old favourites from every era of their long musical career, interspersed with banter and stories, mainly told by Ian. due to it being dark and phones being prohibited on pain of death, I didn’t make any notes. And it was Wednesday but is now Sunday / Monday if you’re being horrendously accurate, so here follows a brief recap of the bits I can remember.
I don’t recall Ian being a great orator at full Oysterband gigs in the past, however he surpassed himself this evening. One anecdote was aired, which gave a local connection. Ian was an itinerant labourer back in the day, and lived in Basingstoke whilst they built the flyovers and similar road-based infrastructure. They hand-dug the pads for the piles at 2 x 3 (metres, yards or whatever) only to be told that they needed to be 3 x 2 to fit the bridge. Ian was rather happy with this as it meant more overtime.
Tales were recounted of tours in America, including one episode in a chilly Winnebago when thick winter duvets were “accidentally” borrowed from the houses of unsuspecting fans, and the stories behind favourite songs were told, then the favourite songs were played with the kind of tightness and skill that only comes from many years of playing them.
The first half ended with ‘When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down’ and the journey to the bar was repeated. Nothing to report on the bar front. Bottled ales (Fullers, if I remember correctly) at over £4 per pint, with the ubiquitous decanting into plastic glasses to be taken into the auditorium.
Musically, the second half was as good as the first, with that well-practised perfectly synchronised sound coming over throughout. The smoke machine received less comments during the second half as John was apparently able to see the audience again.
Ian’s recollections of touring in the States again came out, with the insight that Oysterband was once managed in the US by the manager of The Band, Dylan’s backing band in the mid sixties. This led on to a cover of their track, Take The Load Off Annie. The talking was quite useful at times, as Alan’s guitar was proving something of a bugger to keep in tune.
Overall, the gig was a good mix of old favourites and new material, with neither dominating. I’ve been going to see Oysterband for coming on twenty years now. I’ve seen them electric, acoustic and now stripped down to the core trio. Oysters3, though, was a lot more intimate. It was like watching a few mates playing in your local pub, chatting as they went, singing all the songs you like, but adding some new songs here and there to make it more interesting. Well and truly recommended.
Catch you next time…