Oysterband play this year’s Southdowns Folk Festival with a date at the Regis Centre, Bognor on September, Saturday 24 as they head towards their 40th anniversary next year.
Or maybe this year.
“There is a bit of debate,” laughs co-founder and singer John Jones. “I think, like most people, we try to be younger than we are, but actually we are really going to celebrate it next year, the full year.
“To start with, the band was really a fairly-loose collection of people with a love of ceilidh music who played together for a while without having a name. It wasn’t really until 1977 that we became The Oyster Ceilidh Band, playing in Whitstable. The oyster came from Whitstable, and we all met at Whitstable Folk Song Club.
“I was there right from the start, as has been Ian Telfer, just a group of people having fun playing ceilidh music and discovering traditional music, and then we discovered magically that we could write songs. In the early days, I wasn’t even the singer. I became the singer because I loved singing and wanted to do it.
“We switched into the mains and decided to be the best folk rock band in Britain and then the best folk rock band in the world. I think we have done pretty well.”
To survive so long and so well, there has to be chemistry there, John says: “People say there is a magic, but you have to have a bunch of people that complement each other, and you have also got to know how far you can push each other.
“But I think it is also because we have had the creative side. I write the songs, and I also love performing live. Live performance has always been the lifeblood of the band. You have got to have an addiction to life performance. The travel gets harder, but I still love being on stage. It makes sense of who I am and what I am and who we are. I still feel that magic on stage.
“In a sense when we first started playing loud folk rock, we were breaking up the continuity.
“We were the shot in the arm. We wanted to be the radical edge. We wanted to be the disturbance. It seemed that folk music was going through a very complacent phase and didn’t know where it was.
“ There was Billy Bragg around and The Pogues around, but we wanted to be the catalyst. We wanted to be restless, but now all these years later, there is so much folk around that it seems like we are the continuity!”
And they showed that continuity recently with a double best-of album: “The first CD was pretty much what people would expect, and the second was so much stuff that had never seen the light of day. For whatever reason back in the 80s and 90s, it was stuff that it didn’t seem appropriate to put on, but which now for the fans is like gold dust. It is a look into the wider world of the band, and it was quite fresh for us to hear it, things that you barely remember doing.
“But actually, sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. You write something and you are thinking you don’t know where it would fit on an album and so you don’t use it, and then when you listen to it, you realise it is the more reflective songs, the more off-the-wall material, and you realise there were other elements to your creativity and that maybe we were more eclectic than we thought we were at the time.”
Also coming up over the festival weekend are Steve Tilston, Cara Dillon and the duo India Electric Co. www.southdownsfolkfest.co.uk. Tickets on www.WeGotTickets.com.
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