FolkWorld Live Review May 2003 by Colin Jones

The Big Session
Union Chapel, London 8th February 2003


An obvious idea when you see it, but still not done before now, so hats off to all concerned! The Oysterband, top rate British folksters with the drawing power to fill venues like the 2,000 capacity Union Chapel on their own, have instead brought along a slew of new and not-so-new faces for a large venue version of a pub session, hence the name of the event.

Material is a mix of participant's original compositions and traditional tunes, and the standard is, of course, exceptionally high. This should come as no surprise as most of the 'new blood' has very old blood running in its veins! Three of the young participants are Eliza Carthy (daughter of Martin and Norma Waterson), Benji Kirkpatrick (son of John) and Rose Kemp (daughter of Steeleye's Rick and Maddy Prior). All seem to have inherited a fair measure of their parents' talent if not their dress sense (Rose in particular failed this test). Alongside these more illustrious siblings we had the pleasure of James O'Grady (piper with the late Sin ), Ben Ivitsky (fiddler and long-time Eliza collaborator) and Jim Moray, described in the press release as a 'techno-traditionalist' but in fact, apart from one inventive sampled contribution, a singer-songwriter operating in the folk domain. His songs were the weakest of the show, but I haven't heard his album or seen him before so maybe he's the one to learn most from the tour.

The set started with Oysterband plus their extra member James O'Grady doing a tune from the Oyster's new album, then we slowly added guests throughout the first half; a nice song from Rose, the sampled version of Lord Bateman from Jim Moray, a few trad tunes for Benji to lead on, a duet of Irish tunes between Oyster Ian Telfer and James O'Grady, ending with Rose singing one of her mum's staples "False Knight On The Road' and the Oyster's tribute to oil refining, 'Moon Over Milford Haven'.

After a quick trad opening to the second half with another Steeleye favoiurite 'Please To See The King', we had Eliza come on and from then on, she and John Jones, MC for the night, kept things rattling along. A Liza and Ben fiddle duet, a Liza original song, a few traditional tunes with three fiddlers and James' whistle lifting us to the rafters, a final ensemble 'All Along The Watchtower (Cecil Sharpe remix)' and a couple of encores finishing with the Oysters 'Put Out The Lights', and it was all over.

Congratulations on all concerned for a great evening - it wasn't an Oyserband concert, it wasn't really anything usual, and for that we give thanks. Each participant brought something to the show, and the Oysterband were not only the glue that stuck it all together but also the ones who made it possible by allowing the tour to use their name to pull in the punters. Let's hope it happens again, and this time let's see if we can find some guests whose parents are not members of the folk aristocracy!

 

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