The audience at Wolverhampton’s intimate Arena Theatre falls silent.
Two thirds of Quercus (Pianist Huw Warren and Saxophonist Ian Ballamy) have exited the stage leaving June Tabor alone at the microphone. She mentions that the day (25 April 2015) marks the centenary of the start of the battle of Gallipoli and then proceeds to sing her acapella version of the haunting and harrowing 'And the band played Waltzing Matilda'. - a soldier's traumatic personal account of the battle. It is a tragic song that grows sadder with each verse. It’s a profound moment and I am wiping away tears.
A few songs later Quercus close their show with the melancholy, ‘All that I ask of you’, which speaks of how love lives on after we've physically ceased to be. I think there’s something in my eye again.
It's fair to say that I have never known of another singer who can interpret a song and deliver it in such a raw and affecting way as June Tabor. 'Nightfall' - the second album from the Quercus 'project' is full of such revelations.
Warren's gentle piano introduces opener 'Auld Lang Syne' and it's clear that this is not going to be a New Year singalong. Tabor, who knows that there are more verses than we realise, engages with the reflective heart of the song, Ballamy adds a sympathetic saxaphone.
Throughout Nightfall, Quercus reinterpret traditional folk songs as well as jazz standards, including a smouldering version of You Don't Know What Love Is that induces goose bumps.
Dylan's 'Don't think twice, it's alright' had been in Tabor and Warren's set for a long time and it's a delight to finally have a recorded version of it here. June's vocals follows the song as it moves from regret to rage to realisation. The final "I'm not saying you treaded me unkind/you just kind of wasted my precious time" is delivered with both remorse and bitterness. It is by far my favourite version of the song.
It's not just the unique blend of musical and vocal talents that make Quercus so special, it is also their choice of material and how they have decided to interpreted it that makes them so unique. I'm certain that I will be wiping away more tears the next time I see them perform live.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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