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Oyster Band - A Basket of Oysters

Over the past couple of years, the Oyster Band have metamorphosed from a fine, fun dance band and refuge for the somewhat shell-shocked survivors of Fiddler’s Dram, into a first class across-the-board English song and dance band. Between their first album (Jack’s Alive, Dingles DIN309, 1980) and second (English Rock ’n’ Roll – The Early Years 1800-1850, Pukka YOP 1), they dropped the description “Ceilidh” Band from their name, shed several members, and are now equally at home in concert and in a ballroom.

Colin Irwin’s Rogue Folk feature in the last issue described them as “blossoming into a band playing a mixture of styles with real flair and ingenuity,” which was certainly borne out by the club gig they did shortly after this interview. Oysters John Jones and Ian Telfer were in conversation with Ian Anderson for Southern Rag; the other members of the current and definitely best line-up are Alan Prosser, Ian Kearey and Chris Taylor.

Apart from the fact that people are obviously aware of the Fiddler’s Dram connection there isn’t much known about where you all come from musically. How did you get to be Oysters?

I.T. I don’t know that we did do a lot, actually.

J.J. No – there was the acoustic Fiddler’s Dram four-piece, which had many permutations before I met them down in Canterbury. By then it was Alan, Ian, Chris and Cathy. Including the Dram, another bloke and myself who performed as a duo, and one or two other bands, we all arrived around the same time in the early ’70s and played at the Whitstable club. None of us were local apart from Chris Taylor.

What brought you there?

J.J. The University, as far as the Dram were concerned.

I.T. All except Chris were studying at the same college of Canterbury University, which spawned quite a few musicians actually.

Were any of you interested in folk music before that?

J.J. I’d started at Exeter – used to go down to the Jolly Porter club and got interested in traditional singing. I’d started to do some work on my own, playing accordeon and melodeon and singing when I was teaching in London, then got a job in Canterbury.

By the time the single of Day Trip To Bangor came out, I gather that Fiddler’s Dram had virtually stopped and you’d put all your eggs in the Oyster basket.

I.T. Yes – not explicitly but in practice it was very near the end of its days. The disenchantment with the poverty, of being so naive as to try and make a living as a band playing folk clubs – the four-piece Dram did scratch a sort of living for about three or four years, and at the end of that time I think we’d more or less used up our reserves of patience and tolerance of living in that way. It was just at that moment that Dingles decided they’d like to know how to deal with singles and they went through all their material and picked out that song.

From Southern Rag 15, January 1983


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