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Oyster Band - A Basket of Oysters

J.J. I wish we did have a really good word for it, because I’m not keen on ‘Barn Dance’ or ‘Country Dance’ because they put people off.

I.T. There was nothing desperately ideological about it, just for greater snappiness.

J.J. I love that combination of dance and song. I wish British audiences were more aware of the idea that you can go along and listen to something without being regimented in chairs. You can have a few pints, you can dance some of the evening as part of it.

Oyster Band
Oyster Band at Bracknell Festival, 1985 Photo: Ian Anderson

Maybe it would be a great improvement to some clubs if they just had listening music for the first half and then shoved the chairs away when people had loosened up. I’ve seen it happen locally and it has been great fun, a scratch band one night when the guest didn’t turn up.

J.J. Jim Lloyd’s been doing that on his concerts, finishing up with a dance. And we’ve been starting to have guest song acts on our local ceilidhs again. It just needs a good M.C. for the first bit.

Maybe one of the reasons why dances have been a growing business at the same time as there have been people expressing boredom with folk song clubs is the better socialising chances? One club around here has been very successful by having two intervals and less floor spots – more time to socialise and not so much of the less attractive music.

I.T. There’s nothing wrong with that – there’s nothing naughty about going to a club for social reasons, that’s ridiculous. A club will thrive better if it’s a focus for people who go along, if they like to meet each other.

J.J. Many people would lament the passing of the Whitstable club – but it served its purpose because for four or five years it brought together musicians and singers in a terrific atmosphere. When it finished, it had spawned us as a band, ceilidhs going on where people met for social reasons, two Morris sides, a Mummers side, a Mediaeval dance group and numerous sessions that were going on, even on the same night as the club. It brought those people together and all those activities proliferated from it. The social atmosphere was one of the greatest arguments against the club in its later years – it had a bloody miserable landlord, a cold room, and having to sit through what had become rather mediocre music (Dixie, forgive me). People were ready to drift off.

Interestingly, all the things you enumerated that were spawned from a sitting-in-rows club were much more socially inclined.

I.T. Absolutely – which rather suggests that it was that part of it which was the main point for a lot of people. All those things are still going.

J.J. Six or seven years on, we still run ceilidhs in our own area that are packed out, 200 people in a hall. I’m sure part of that is because people are meeting – they stand in front of the stage in massive groups and talk! Cathy used to say “I hate it when our crowd come… all they do is natter, they never do any dancing!”

Years ago, like many people in song clubs, I used to get miffed if somebody dared talk, and you get the compere going “shhh… shhh…” but I’ve come round to thinking that if you’re generating a good atmosphere with the music, and people are talking a little because they’re enjoying that atmosphere you’ve created with the music, it doesn’t matter You’ll hold the listeners if the music’s good. It’s different if it’s downright oblivious rudeness of course. Surely folk music, of all music, is social music rather than art music?

From Southern Rag 15, January 1983


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