June Tabor’s voice is like a good stout ale - strong, deep in colour, with a body and richness that you won’t find in lighter fare and, once you come to appreciate it, it’s hard to accept anything else.
Already an established and experienced artist on the folk club scene, Tabor’s unaccompanied performances across the country bought her to the attention of Tony Engle of Topic Records, who initially approached her about a solo album in 1973.
Three years later she finally recorded Airs and Graces, which has been reissued as part of Topic’s Topic Treasures series, with expanded sleeve notes, unseen photos and bonus tracks included.
Her years of previous experience shows in the confidence and maturity with which she tackles the opening While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping - accompanied by Nic Jones’s sprightly guitar part, she flirts and dances around the metre of the song, slurring and blurring the words to fit the rhythm.
The majority of tracks are unaccompanied and the accompanied songs are thoughtfully tackled in a manner that progresses the songs without removing them from their folk club roots, or overshadowing the true star of the album - that voice and delivery.
The album is best known for the inclusion of The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, one of two contemporary songs amongst the otherwise traditional material. Tabor’s solo vocal performance is stunning, treading the line between indifferent reportage and emotional involvement. Her breathless delivery during the coda brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye and has lost none of its power to move in the forty plus years since recording.
Many of the songs will be familiar, but Tabor’s versions and performances vary enough from others to stand afresh. Airs and Graces has a timeless quality - the expanded liner notes provide context and information and the bonus tracks show how Tabor developed in the years before recording, but the original album is the star of the show.
Honest, earthy, beautiful and moving, it’s as good as a debut album can be, with a level of maturity and complexity often missing from first albums - though it must have frustrated those who were waiting for her to record, in taking her time to enter the studio Tabor proved once and for all that good things come to those that wait.Ben Morgan Brown
Released on Topic Records on 26 April 2019. Produced by Paul Brown.
1. While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping
2. Plains of Waterloo
3. Bonny May
5. The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
6. Young Waters
7. Waly Waly
8. The Merchants Son
9. Queen Among The Heather
10. Pull Down Lads
11. The Week Before Easter
12. The Fair Maid of Wallington
13. The Four Loom Weaver
14. The Royal Oak