Tabor doesn't fit easily into the folk stereotype. 'Men with pot bellies, beer tankards, morris dancing and the kind of 'cloggies' approach to folk music haven't got anything to do with the real wealth of music that's around,' she says. 'All traditional music tends to get labelled like that here, whereas in middle Europe - and definitely in France or Belgium - it doesn't have that association.' The electrical clarity of June Tabor's singing - like that of her inspiration the astonishing Anne Briggs - cuts, through the woolly image. As Norma Waterson said of Briggs: 'Before her, there was a twee style of women singing English folk songs - and she brought balls to it.'
Converts to Tabor's own style of balls include Elvis Costello (who has taken to writing songs for her: one of them is on her new album, Against the Streams) and Ian Telfer of the Oyster Band. 'If you can't appreciate June Tabor, you should just stop listening to music,' says Costello.
Watching Tabor perform is unforgettable. She sings in a low tenor voice which combines phenomenal musical control with the raw emotional edge of the European art song. Unaccompanied, she changes the colour of different notes at will and the dramatic quality of her phrasing smacks of Ute Lemper at her best. On her latest album, the tone ranges from the traditional ballad, 'False False', to Richard Thompson's intellectual and prickly 'Pavanne' to the devastating social power of 'He Fades Away', written by Alistair Hulett about the Wittenoom, an asbestos-mining city in Western Australia.
It's hard to shout requests in a June Tabor concert. But if you go and see this one to sample her new album, try and distract her into some of her old material as an encore. I recommend 'The King of Rome', which she confesses is an all-time favourite. It could be the only time in your life you cry over a pigeon.
June Tabor plays the Union Chapel, N1 (071-226 1686) Sat 8pm, pounds 8/pounds 6 Highbury and Islington
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