June Tabor at The Early Music Centre

I've hung back in telling you about this gig, mainly because I don't feel easy about making negative comments about live music. I'm a great believer in keeping music live and know from experience how dedicated artists are to their craft, so I wouldn't choose to be dissing the endeavours of someone I know to be one of the finest singers on the British folk scene.
Early Music Centre, York -
a deconsecrated church

I was so looking forward to this gig, mainly as I love June Tabor’s glorious voice. Expecting more in the vein of her successful collaboration with Oyster Band, I have to say, at the risk of upsetting many of her fans, I was hugely disappointed. Last year she won Folk Singer of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for the CD Ragged Kingdom - featuring an unforgettably haunting performance of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart. However, I found this recent gig an interesting experience which I wouldn't wish to repeat.

Undoubtedly the musicianship couldn’t be faulted, a stellar assembly of Huw Warren on piano, the fabulous Andy Cutting on melodeon and Mark Emerson on fiddle and viola.  Despite this, Tabor never seemed to connect with her audience. Described as chamber, I felt much of the material was more like parlour - no audience participation, with a hallowed and sanctimonious delivery. The only light relief was when she left the stage and Huw Warren was allowed to play one of his own compositions.
Oysterband with June Tabor
This was a cerebral performance. Throughout the two sets, it was hard to find any light and shade, all pieces were performed at a deliberately dirge-like pace.  No matter what the material, the mood remained the same - The Manchester Angel and The Oggie Man, two of my favourite folksongs, were performed with the same faultless austerity as a couple of Les Barker’s parodies.
The first set was devoted to songs from the sea from her 2011 CD Ashore

There is enough misery and pain in the world, and there's nothing wrong with music reflecting some of this, but there's also much to be celebrated. Maybe June Tabor doesn't feel like celebrating at the moment, but in my opinion she would benefit from lightening up a little and exploring some of the more joyous sounds that I'm sure her voice is capable of creating.

Throughout the performance the audience seemed cowed and never uttered a sound.  At the end when Tabor thanked us for not fidgeting, her comment that you could have heard a mouse’s fart perfectly describes the occasion. 


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