Thursday, 27 February 2014

Live in 2014: Oysterband at The Courtyard, Hereford

A long trip up the A465 led us over the border to Hereford and The Courtyard Theatre.

It is set in a new purpose built entertainment complex with gallery and cinema area. 

The Courtyard was the setting for the first gig in the tour by Oysterband, who are currently promoting their new album Diamonds On The Water.

It is the first album without long serving member Ray 'Chopper' Cooper, who left the band last year to concentrate on his solo career. A few months ago I managed to catch Oysterband who now have their producer Al Scott on bass and mandolin and at that gig had Adrian Oxall on Cello. Adrian could not make this gig so we saw Ian Telfer compliment his violin with a Korg keyboard from which he conjures a lot of the  cello sounds found on various songs.

I have to say from the off that Diamonds On The Water, in my humble opinion, is the best album the band have ever produced. The loss of Ray seems have re-energised the band both in songwriting and performance and I'm sure we will see the same when Ray releases his second solo album Palace of Tears in May. The loss of a key member always forces the band to revisit the older material for reinterpretation and sound.

I have been to many Oysterband gigs over the years and I've seen them at their boisterous best and their gigs of delicate thunder. The new album sees the band in a more reflective mood and it is one of their quietest but also more considered offerings. 

From the opening acapella vocals of A Clown's Heart, the band give us a show of beauty and joy. 

They play a lot of songs from the new album, obviously and they sound excellent in the company of the Oysterband standards.

Highlights of the new material included the opening A Clown's Heart, the title track Diamonds On The Water and The Wilderness.

The beautiful surprise for me was the addition of female vocalist Rowan Godel, who produced some sublime backing vocals and contributed lead vocals in the gorgeous versions of Street Of Dreams and a totally stripped down Oxford Girl. She appears on the new album on several songs and the band played a particularly uplifting version of No Ordinary Girl with Rowan proving how good a vocalist she is and a lovely version of Lay Your Dreams Down Gently, in which she duets with John Jones and is one of the best songs on Diamonds...

Rowan Godel photo courtesy of Paul Chandler

Let me say a bit about the venue. It is a lovely new building with a smallish tiered theatre. The sound was excellent but it did seem a little soulless. 
The show was literally a show of two halves with a 20 minute interval. A bit of advice - order your interval drinks before the gig as the bar area was very busy due to the cinema crowds that were also in the building.

The merch stall at the interval was VERY busy with people buying their discs ready for the band to sign after the gig. The Oysters have always been approachable and will happily talk to their supporters after gigs.

One more thing, they don't like you taking photos here. I could have had some beautiful photos from my seat but was stopped taking them. Even though my phone has no flash. But as you can see I did manage to get a couple before the light shone on me and the photo police stepped in.

The band also played some of the brilliant standards for which they are well known including The Road To Santiago & When I'm Up I Can't Get Down

And for this Welshman and his colleague, it was a brilliant surprise to hear the Oysters version of the Bells Of Rhymney.

By now, there were quite a few Oyster fans, especially up the front area with me, who would have loved to have got up and danced about but this was the most polite Oysterband show I have ever attended. Polite applause was the order of the day in Hereford.

The band came back for the encore with the great (and topical - in title) Here Comes The Flood and  John Jones did manage to get the crowd up for this one song. They closed the show with the totally, and I mean totally acoustic (no mics) version of the new album closer Like A Swimmer In The Ocean. Just beguling. I'm even sure I saw a tear in John Jones' eye at the end.

So overall, a triumphant Oysterband performance enhanced by the new interpretations of some of the classics, the brilliant new songs and the sublime addition of Rowan Godel. May they continue to grace us.

And come back to Wales before the end of the year please.

Here is a video of Rowan Godel with Al Scott - they revelation of the show for me.

Twitter - @oysterband1 

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