The reunion of this classic band came about after the discovery, in early 2011, of some previously unheard live recordings made by their former sound engineer on a couple of cassette tapes that have languished in the back of his wardrobe for the last 25 years. These recordings, made at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1986, exhibit a power and commitment that was never fully captured in the studio, so a live album release immediately became inevitable. With an album to promote, live performances were the obvious next step. So, with everyone truly inspired by the might of these recorded performances, Home Service is once again back in business.
Home Service was originally formed from the creative nucleus of the Albion Band line-up that produced the classic “Rise Up Like the Sun” album, singer and songwriter John Tams feeling the need to explore more contemporary themes in his writing and its musical interpretation. Songs like “Walk my Way”, “Alright Jack” and ”Sorrow” were anthemic observations on the unfairness of Thatcherite Britain and its social inequalities. The crushing irony is that they sound as potent now as they did then, thereby making this band’s work as relevant as ever.
Home Service was also born out of a desire to work with a brass section, an idea which emerged when trumpet player Howard Evans joined the Albion Band to work on Bill Bryden’s original production of “Lark Rise” at the National Theatre.
During its relatively short life in the mid-eighties, Home Service produced three albums (all still available from Fledg’ling Records), headlined at major festivals including Cambridge, Cropredy and Dranouter. They toured extensively, but were probably seen and heard by the greatest number of people when they provided music for the National Theatre’s highly acclaimed production of “The Mysteries”. This epic trilogy adapted by poet Tony Harrison, ran for many years at the National and Lyceum Theatres, was filmed for television and reprised for the Millennium Celebrations. One of the band’s three albums is derived from the music for this production.
The third album, “Alright Jack”, as well as featuring some of John Tams’ most socially aware songs, also boasts one of the band’s finest achievements, their reworking of composer Percy Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy” orchestral suite. Here, the band reinterpret the work, imagining how Grainger may have presented it decades later, using the instruments, technology and rock rhythm section of a new musical era.
All the more cause for celebration, then, alongside news of an impending band reunion for a series of high-profile festival performances later this year, is the release of this album taken from a recently-discovered live tape recorded at 1986's Cambridge Folk Festival, an occasion which unquestionably represents Home Service at its absolute peak. Even though Bill Caddick had left the group by then, Home Service live was still the very mightiest of sounds that could grace any stage, with nothing remotely comparable in the folk-rock arena in terms of maximum visceral and emotional impact. The solid-state original songwriting (and of course John Tams' supreme singing voice), the unmistakable, signature magisterial brass section, Graeme's searingly majestic electric guitar lines soaring aloft, Michael's punchy yet quirkily sensitive percussion, all augmented by Andy Findon's saxes/flute, Steve King's keyboards and Jonathan Davie's bass – all adding up to a truly glorious noise.
Material for this 1986 live set is principally drawn from the Alright Jack album, released the previous year (including parts of its Lincolnshire Posy suite), and (naturally) contains the "big favourites": its title song, the iconic Scarecrow, the rousing Sorrow/Babylon, Lewk Up and Rose Of Allendale. Added in for good measure are especially neck-prickling performances of Peat Bog Soldiers (incorporating the stirring Battle Pavanne) and the shanty Walk My Way (both from the band's eponymous debut LP), as well as the gorgeous Albion number Snow Falls.
Graeme's restoration of the music from the original ¼-inch analogue cassette tape source is nothing short of miraculous, and the sheer force and immediacy of the occasion really is so close to being there! My only question is whether the actual concert running order has been altered during the restoration process (for listener consideration); and OK, so the digipack's photo was taken not at the festival itself but at a gig at the Half Moon, Putney around six weeks earlier, but I'm sure this is the closest available visual counterpart that could be found to illustrate the stunning audio soundtrack.
This incandescent, incendiary, and absolutely magnificent performance is a totally essential purchase: no argument.
David Kidman June 2011
I cannot quite believe what has happened to us in the past year. A band we all thought was long dead and cremated attempts a reunion after 25 years (could well have been ill-advised, after a glance at the then-and-now photo gallery!), rises from the ashes, becomes the buzz of the major summer festivals, outsells all others with an album of live performances of its old repertoire, and is suddenly more popular and more in demand than it ever was in its heyday. Hang on, I may have got that wrong – this could be its heyday – starting right now…with our BBC Radio 2 award for BEST LIVE ACT!!!
And just to prove I’m not exaggerating, take a look at a selection of the reviews…
We filled the place twice over, though with no justification for complacency at that point, as it was pretty obvious that the familiarly hot sweaty room was entirely packed with all the chums and colleagues we’d ever known.
The real test was to come when we hit the masses at Cambridge, Cropredy, Sidmouth, Towersey, Broadstairs and Shrewsbury.
We needn’t have worried. With each show we gained confidence, personally and collectively, as a tremendous new team spirit emerged - We kicked up a storm to monumentous response from the audiences, and most certainly made just tribute to the memory of the late great Howard Evans.
The band met at the beginning of October to discuss future plans, which will include more touring, both in this country and Europe – the US is a huge challenge but remains on the wish list also. Work will commence on new material for a brand new album, and all those of you who have so enthusiastically posted on FaceBook begging us to carry on with the work need not fear – we plan to take it a little more seriously this time around and give Home Service our very best shot.
Jon Davie comments:
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