Oysterband (or the Oyster Band, as they used to be called) are one of the few outfits still burning with the fire of punk, but who manage to combine it with the ideals and knowledge of English folk music -- a balancing act they've made into a fine art over the years. And they have deep roots in the U.K. folk scene, emerging from both the Whitstable Oyster Co. Ceilidh Band, which formed in 1975, and Fiddler's Dram, a group put together in 1973 by Dave Arbus, whose fiddle work has graced releases by East of Eden and the Who. Alan Prosser, Ian Telfer, and Chris Taylor were also in Fiddler's Dram, whose moment of fame arrived in 1979 with the British hit single "Day Trip to Bangor" -- released after they'd split up. They reconvened for a last album when Ian Kearey joined them. He also became part of the band's alter ego, the roots-oriented Oyster Ceilidh Band, as they'd become by then.
With Fiddler's Dram no longer extant, the members put their energies into the newly renamed Oyster Band in 1981, playing gigs around England and self-releasing albums on their own Pukka label. It wasn't until 1986 that their first "commercial" release arrived, Step Outside (produced by Clive Gregson), with its rocking treatment of the maypole song "Hal-An-Tow" and what's now become an Oyster classic, "Another Quiet Night in England." It established them as a force on a fairly moribund English roots scene and they capitalized on it as they continued to release albums, mixing folk tunes and original material with a curious taste in covers, ranging from an incendiary version of New Order's "Love Vigilantes" (which put it into the folkier context it deserved) to Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time." More than anything, however, the bandmembers grew in stature as writers, railing against the politics of Margaret Thatcher and then her successor, and they built up their reputation during the '90s, helped by a relatively stable lineup. Perhaps their pinnacle came in 1990, when they collaborated with folksinger June Tabor on Freedom and Rain, very much a rock album covering songs by Billy Bragg, Richard Thompson, and others.
From there, though, they've become a critically acclaimed force in English roots music, even if they've never managed to break through to a wide audience. Released in 1995, The Shouting End of Life saw them at their most political, while the long-awaited Here I Stand in 1999 reasserted their supremacy in their particular field, as songwriters, instrumentalists, and singers. The band returned in 2002 after the longest recording layoff of its career with Rise Above, which included eight originals and two English traditional numbers, and featured the work of Irish piper James O'Grady throughout. It was yet another sign that old punks never die -- they keep refusing to compromise. Meet You There arrived in 2007, followed by The Oxford Girl & Other Stories, the latter of which marked the group's 30th anniversary. In 2011, the band reunited with June Tabor for the riveting Ragged Kingdom. Diamonds on the Water arrived in 2015. ~ Chris Nickson