The news that Home Service are the latest group to hit the reunion trail has not exactly set the blogosphere on fire as yet. In fact, apart from a couple of mentions on the websites of those involved and the festivals where they’ve already announced they’ll be playing this summer, there’s been practically no reaction at all, which makes a brief note here all the more imperative.
Why do Home Service matter? Simply because they are one of the finest folk rock groups England has ever produced, right up there with Fairport Convention and the Albion Band. Their slim recorded output may not stack up against those groups’ in terms of quantity, but in Alright Jack and their music for The Mysteries they produced two of the key texts of the genre. And the history and line-up of Home Service is completely tangled up with those of Fairport and the Albion Band in any event. Thankfully, that history is recounted in useful detail here, so I don’t need to go over it again. The point is that Home Service represent the continuation and full flowering of the best record the Albion Band ever made, 1978’s Rise Up Like The Sun. The creative mind mostly responsible for that masterpiece was not Albion Band mainman Ashley Hutchings but Derby singer-songwriter John Tams, one of the unheralded geniuses of English music. Without wishing to devalue the contributions of anyone else, it was Tams’ work as singer and musical director, plus the superbly eloquent electric guitar of Graeme Taylor, that made Rise Up Like The Sun such a massively ambitious yet successful record.
And, needless to say, it was Tams and Taylor who carried that success into their next group, Home Service. The only occasions on which I ever saw them were three visits to the National Theatre in 2000, when they were the house band for Bill Bryden’s The Mysteries. I am so, so glad I made the effort to go to all three of those mystery plays (albeit in the wrong order, and not all on the same day – which would have been completely overwhelming). Together, they represent by far the most memorable and powerful experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre. These were promenade performances, with actors and audience mingling together on the floor of the theatre, and by the end of each play everyone was dancing together to the joyous sound of Home Service, who were playing somewhere above on the balcony.
I wish I could give more of a flavour of those three wonderful evenings, but there is hardly anything to prove that they ever really took place. The plays were never filmed, but the original 1985 production, of which the 2000 production was a revival, was filmed in its entirety and broadcast on Channel 4. Those precious tapes have, however, disappeared somewhere into corporate limbo. Never commercially released on VHS or DVD, they may once have been traded among enthusiasts, but the arthouse film website of which I’m a member currently has no copies circulating. There is also, or at any rate there used to be, a CD available of Home Service’s music for the trilogy. It’s well worth getting hold of, but it comes nowhere near capturing the ecstatic beauty of Home Service at full tilt.
At any rate, the reunion of Home Service has to be one of my most anticipated musical events of 2011. I can’t see them coming to play in Vienna, nor anywhere else in continental Europe for that matter, so a trip to England is definitely on the cards for sometime this year.