I’ve always thought of oak trees as being quintessentially English. Robin Hood is supposed to have sheltered under the Major Oak in Sherwood forest, King Charles II hid from his enemies in the Royal Oak and the indomitable English navy was built from the wood of that noble tree until the 19th century. But, apparently, there are approximately 600 species of oak, 250 of them growing in North America, 100 in China and the rest spread across Asia, Europe and North Africa. The English oak, quercus robur, is just one unremarkable species within its genus.
There is one Quercus, though, that deserves special recognition. It’s a collaboration between the English folk singer, June Tabor, the jazz saxophonist, Iain Ballamy, and the immensely versatile Welsh pianist, Huw Warren.
That trio was mentioned in these pages at the very end of 2016 when the Album of the Month was June Tabor’s compilation, Anthology. At the time those lackadaisical elves in the Crotchety Man research department reported that the band’s debut album, Quercus, was not on Spotify. That may have been true then and it is still the case that no such album is listed under the artist name, Quercus, but it can be found under June Tabor and under Iain Ballamy and under Huw Warren. The chief elf has been threatened with demotion to the ranks for this inexcusable blunder.
More recently, all but one of the tracks on the Quercus album have been made available as videos from the June Tabor topic on YouTube and the missing one, a piano solo, is available from the Huw Warren topic. I’ve chosen As I Roved Out as the latest Track of the Week.
This is a rather nice, traditional folk song arranged by the three members of Quercus. It tells of a man who gave up his love for the wealth and security that came from marrying a woman who owned land. But he regrets it to this day. He tries to explain himself to his true love with these words:
When misfortune falls sure no man can shun it
I was blindfolded I’ll ne’er deny
The song doesn’t explain what that misfortune was, so it’s difficult to know whether he deserves at least some sympathy from the listeners. Judging by the sadness in June Tabor’s deep, rich voice, the rueful notes of Huw Warren’s piano and the sorrowful tones of Iain Ballamy’s saxophone the minstrel’s regretful penance is deeply heartfelt. The hardest of lessons has been learnt and Crotchety Man feels only forgiveness for such a tragic mistake.