Oyster Band, Step Outside (Cooking Vinyl, 1986)  

Step Outside has my favourite lyrics from this group on it, to wit

'Oi', said God, 'listen to me'
'Keep your hands off the apple tree'
Eve and Adam wondered why
Made some cider and gave it a try
God came back and he made a row
'Go and toil by the sweat of your brow!'
The snake said: 'To hell with the daily bread'
He showed 'em how to do the latest dance instead
and it's The Old Dance - and a crooked dance too
Step outside the law
Play the tune on your damned old fiddle
It'll burn you up like straw

as it mixes the two things I most like in this group which is their biting social commentary and their use of folk motifs which feel very, very old even when they aren't. Unlike later recordings, which feature little in the way of traditional material, Step Outside has four out of nine cuts that are of a definite traditional origin -- 'Hal-An-Tow', 'Molly Bond', 'Gaol Song', and 'Bold Riley' -- with the other five written by various members of the band: 'Flatlands', 'Another Quiet Night In England', 'Bully In The Alley', 'The Day That The Ship Goes Down', and 'The Old Dance'. There's not just one catchy song, not a single song that doesn't stay in my head for a long, long time after hearing, and that includes 'Molly Bond' which may be one of the most depressing.

The Oysterband (or the Oyster Band, as it was first known in its early post-folk phase of being) are one of the few folk-rock bands with a touch of punk that also has a deep, loving knowledge of English folk music. As you may know, they emerged 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 had graced releases by East of Eden and the Who. Prosser, Telfer, and Taylor were also in Fiddler's Dram, a band best known for the British hit single 'Day Trip to Bangor (Didn't We Have a Lovely Time)'.

So we have a band that sounds more like the Oyster Ceilidh Band sans Cathy Lesurf singing, as John Jones is now the lead singer. Do keep in mind that the band was a dance band as later Cathy Lesurf had the role of caller at dances; John Jones does a riff off being a caller from time to time on their recordings including in 'The Old Dance'.

The band here is John Jones, lead vocals, melodeon; Ian Kearey, vocals, bass guitar, guitar, and 12-string guitar; Russell Lax, drums; Alan Prosser, vocals and guitars; Ian Telfer, fiddle, tenor saxophone, and keyboards; with Clive Gregson (the producer here) on additional keyboards. Not much is showing yet of the bitter, almost punk attitude that will show up on what I call their 'Fuck You Maggie!' effort known as The Shouting End Of Life. (Not that I disagree with them -- Thatcher was a bitch all the way to her most rotten soul.) Oh, there's social commentary here as 'Flatlands' (written by Ian Telfer), 'Another Quiet Night In England' (written by John Jones and Ian Telfer), 'Ashes To Ashes' (written by Ian Telfer, Ian Kearey, and Alan Prosser), 'Bully In The Alley' (written by Ian Telfer and John Jones), 'The Day That The Ship Goes Down' (written by Ian Telfer and John Jones), and 'The Old Dance' (written by Ian Telfer)' all comment on the state of all things nasty England in the Eighties. It's just that the music itself isn't quite as in-your-fucking-face as it is five years later on The Shouting End Of Life.

Not surprisingly, the band at this point reminds me strongly of Chumbawamba, a British punk band that uses folk motifs as well. (John Jones; James O'Grady, the Uillean Piper with the Oysterband on Rise Above, Big Session -- Volume 1,and the 25 EP; and Ian Telfer provided vocals and instrumentation on Chumbawamba's album A Singsong and a Scrap, and somebody from the band provided vocals for the song 'Hull or Hell' on The Boy Bands Have Won. Not to forget the Tubthumper recording and the 'She's Got All The Friends That Money Can Buy' single. Jones also provides vocals on 'Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire'.) So it's a band evolving fast but still firmly rooted in its past -- Step Outside is a very strong album from a band that always is spot on!

[Iain Nicholas Mackenzie]