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OAK "Country Songs And Music" Musical Traditions MTCD327-8

An aural banquet! The Topic album Welcome To Our Fair from 1971 reissued at long last with extra live tracks from Club gigs to make a beautifully-packaged double CD. Oak were Tony Engle (uh, huh that one!) on anglo concertina, Danny Stradling on tambourine, Rod Stradling on melodeon and Peta Webb on fiddle. All sang, and they'd known each other since the mid-60s.Coming together in late 1970, and splitting in 1972, I saw them at Stainsby Festival that year. Their mesmerising performance resonates with me yet, tuning me in to English Country Music of a Walter Bulwer/Oscar Woods persuasion that had me, essentially a rock drummer spending an enjoyable five years playing for dances and song spots behind an enormous bass drum with triangles, wood blocks etc. - which is more than you need to know!

All Oak members had been absorbed by and in, the music and songs of the tradition as it still existed in the late 1960s and had spent hours in the company of players such as Scan Tester and Bob Cann and singers the like of Percy Webb and Phoebe Smith on their home territory quite apart from visiting real-thing guests seen at legendary eclectic Clubs, the Fighting Cocks and The Fox. Drawing on all the material they liked, this would have been the first time many of us had ever heard The New Rigged Ship/Rig-a-Jig-Jig set; I thought it quite experimental but then I'd never been to Suffolk!

A breath of fresh air and streets ahead at the time, this distinctive collection seems more relevant than ever and there's no disputing the roots authenticity of this immensely satisfying music. Danny's voice is perhaps a little strident for these ears but was there/is there any finer tambourine player since Motown's Jack Ashford!? To hear Peta sing Roving Around The County Tyrone (from northern Irish Traveller Lal Smith) remains utterly compelling and all in all this is vital stuff. Forget Sgt. Pepper, this record changed my life. It's substantial and it still works.

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 55 of The Living Tradition magazine.