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June Tabor, Bristol Old Vic Feb 6

February 11, 2010

Words and music about Britain as an island surrounded by treacherous (this winter’s word) seas. You needed to be in the mood for this, and the mood was mostly pretty dark. That suits June Tabor’s richly dark voice, too – as well as her general approach to British history and traditions, I think. An evening of songs and stories about the sea focussed on storms, shipwrecks, the privations of life on the ocean, perils of overfishing and sailing off to war, or being left onshore when your man disappears over the horizon. “Will she find the jolly button in the second half?”, the chap behind asked his companion at the interval. Er, no, though we did get one cheery ditty in the middle of a trio about cannibalism as a survival tactic when you are adrift.

Sea shanties and jolly tars weren’t the point, though. And it all worked splendidly, held together by the sterling efforts of five musicians – especially the understated brilliance of Huw Warren at the piano, tilted slightly downhill on the Old Vic’s stage as if  playing on board a boat. Warren and Tabor in duo are a sound worth going a long way to hear, and her intros are as poised and beautifully delivered as the songs. She conveys a real care for the material, much of it recovered from obscure sources, and makes you care too. Simon Russell Beale came along as well and delilvered some equally well-chosen readings with aplomb, though I reckon Tabor could have done them perfectly well. If her glorious voice had not led her to song she would have been a pretty good actor.

A one off, this, but one to treasure. The music came across beautifully in the old theatre’s space – all folk tunes old and new, so rhythmically stiff-to-jaunty with simple tunes, but the flexibility of Tabor’s phrasing lifts the simplest lyric to a new level. These words of the sea really meant something and the whole thing left a rich impression of an old artistic seam there for the mining.

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One Comment leave one →
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