Tag Archives: Maddy Prior

Interview with Maddy Prior ahead of Steeleye Span’s 50th anniversary tour

This article was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here

Steeleye Span are celebrating 50 years with an anniversary tour. Ahead of their gig at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November, Darren Johnson talks to founder member Maddy Prior.

DJ: You start your winter tour very soon. What can we expect from this fiftieth anniversary tour?

MP: Well we started in the Spring – this is the second part of it. We do some songs from our new album which is called Established 1969 and some classic pieces which are part of our catalogue if you like, so it’s a sort of a mixture. We always do a mixture actually.

One of the things that I like about Steeleye Span is that you vary your set-list from tour to tour. There are old favourites in there but they tend to be a different set of old favourites each time.

We try to keep it varied. If you sing a song for a long time you want to leave it to ‘green up’ as it were. You leave it fallow for a year or two so it sort of greens up again and you have a fresh look at it. And quite often we do slight readjustments of the arrangements and things like that. Sometimes we completely re-arrange them.

You’re at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November. Steeleye Span has had quite a connection with Hastings over the years, hasn’t it?

Yes we do. There’s Liam (Genockey) our drummer – he’s been here forever. And also now there’s Roger Carey in the band as the bass player – so there’s quite a strong connection. And we’re rehearsing here at the moment in Hastings. And also, of course, Peter (Knight) was here for a long time as well. So, as you say, we’ve got strong connections here and we always come here regularly over the years. It’s strong on our map!

For the benefit of our readers who might not have kept up with who’s in the band these days, can you quickly talk us through who’s playing in Steeleye Span these days?

Well, we’ve got some new blood as it were. Violeta Barrena is on fiddle for this tour. She shares the fiddle slot with Jesse May Smart, but Jesse’s just had a baby so she’s taken a back seat for this tour. They’re both brilliant players and they’re both really good improvisers. We’ve got Roger Carey on the bass, Spud Sinclair on guitar and Liam Genockey on the drums. Julian Littman on guitar and Benji Kirkpatrick on various things – guitar, sitar, mandolin. Julian plays keyboards as well, so there’s quite a lot of variety instrumentally. I think that’s everybody – now we are seven!

Can you see Steeleye Span carrying on without you at some point in the future, or would that be like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger?

I don’t know. I’ve no idea. But I think Steeleye is mainly about the material. A lot of which came in with Bob Johnson. Peter Knight brought quite a lot in. Rick Kemp brought quite a lot in. This new band – we’ve done another album of traditional material very largely – which we play around with. We write new tunes and get tunes from all sorts of places. But it’s the material that I think is the point of the exercise really.

So that suggests that there could be some form of Steeleye Span continuing without Maddy Prior?

Are you trying to bump me off?? No, it is something that’s talked about. If you think about it as a small family firm that could go on forever. Just getting to know how the material works is the issue if you like, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t.

Have there been times when being Maddy Prior folk rock icon has got in the way of other musical projects you wanted to pursue or are you happy it’s never stopped you doing anything else you wanted to do?

I don’t think it’s stopped me doing anything I wanted to do. It’s usually helpful on the whole. There’s nothing I’ve missed out on. We were on Top Of The Pops. That was the biggest thing of the day. And we’ve done a lot of tours of big venues and we’ve worked with material that I dearly love.

There aren’t many people on the folk circuit who’ve done Top Of The Pops. Was that a bit of a culture shock?

We had done a lot of work by then. Sell-out tours and so on – it wasn’t out of nowhere. We were well-known by the time we had those songs and we were on the same week as Noddy Holder and Slade, so that was quite interesting.

When you look around at younger bands – and a number say they’ve been influenced by Steeleye Span – do you feel optimistic about the future of the UK folk scene?

Absolutely. There’s so many brilliant young players. They’ve got their chops together fantastically well and they’re interested in the music and there’s a big movement, so it will be interesting to see what happens and where it goes. But the music comes in and out of fashion and we have revivals every so often, but it never quite goes away. Folk music became extremely unfashionable but that’s all it is – fashion. I’ve been literally right outside of the curve and then it comes back to the middle a bit. It’s part of our heritage and it comes knocking on the door every so often.

Ahead of the tour and particularly ahead of the gig in Hastings, is there anything else you’d like to leave us with?

The band is really, really good at the moment. I had a look at us on Wikipedia and it was brilliant because every so often it said “They came back to form” and I thought that was a hell of a good way of putting it. Because over fifty years you’re not going to be perfect all the way through and it’s been like that. But we’ve been very largely led by the songs so if the songs are good we’ve tended to be better. But we found with different people coming in, they bring different energies and different musical styles and that’s what we’ve been like in Steeleye – things change!

Steeleye Span 50th Anniversary Tour Thursday 21 November, 7.30m. St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings TN34 3AF. Tickets £26.95 including booking fee available from 01323 841414 and online.

Related posts:

Interview with Julian Littman

Review: Steeleye Span at Ashford 2019

Review: Steeleye Span at Hastings 2017

 

 

Live review: Steeleye Span at St Mary the Virgin Church, Ashford 13/4/19

It’s 2019 and yet another band are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. That post beat-boom period of the late 60s to early 1970s was a period of exceptional creativity in popular music, perhaps unparalleled. From hard rock, glam rock, prog rock and, indeed, folk rock so many bands and styles made their mark and we are lucky to have a good number of them still touring today.

Steeleye Span are not resting on their laurels, however. This tour is about far more than a career retrospective from the band’s weighty back catalogue. The band have a new album out and songs from that are given as much prominence in the set as some of the old favourites. The album is not officially released until June but it’s available for sale on the tour so you can get a sneak preview via both the stage and the merch desk. In contrast to the epic prog-folk of the band’s Wintersmith album of a few years ago Est’d 1969 is very much in the spirit of the band’s ‘classic era’ early 70s albums, both in terms of song choices and overall sound. A version of Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’, an adaptation of John Masefield’s poem ‘Roadways’ and various traditional ballads from the album are among the songs performed tonight. Of course, there is room, too, for a good number of Steeleye Span favourites like ‘One Misty Moisty Morning, Alison Gross and Black Jack Davey. A new song, the beautiful ‘Reclaimed’ written by Prior’s daughter and sung a capella forms part of the encore, along with the ever-present ‘All Around My Hat’.

With a line-up that’s always been evolving only Maddy Prior remains from the band’s earliest days. Unlike those other veterans of the folk rock scene, Fairport Convention (whose fluctuating line-up has stabilised in recent decades), Steeleye Span continues to evolve. Jessie May Smart, who replaced long-standing fiddle player Peter Knight a few years ago, is currently on maternity leave so her place on this tour is ably filled by classical violinist Violeta Barrena. Lining up alongside Maddy Prior, the rest of the band’s current members are Julian Littman, Andrew Sinclair, Roger Carey, Liam Genockey and Benji Kirkpatrick. Talented players all, they bring a fantastic assortment of instruments, sounds and techniques with them, not to mention a rich array of voices.

Although rightly celebrated as icons of folk rock this band have always continued to vary their style, their set-list and, very often, their line-up from tour to tour which means there’s always an element of the unexpected and nearly always something very special to look forward to. Long may that continue.

Set-list

Harvest
One Misty Moisty Morning
The Elf Knight
The January Man
Alison Gross
Old Matron
Thomas The Rhymer
Tam Lin
Roadways
Black Jack Davy
Little Sir Hugh
The Weaver And The Factory Maid
King Henry
Seventeen Come Sunday
Domestic
Reclaimed
All Around My Hat

http://steeleyespan.org.uk/

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Related reviews:

Steeleye Span live 2017

Interview with Julian Littman

Steeleye Span live 2015

Steeleye Span live 2014

 

 

Live review: Steeleye Span at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 14/12/17

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

It’s only been a year since I last saw Steeleye Span but already, in this constantly evolving band, there have been a couple more line-up changes. In comes renowned ex-Bellowhead alumni, Benji Kirkpatrick, (whose father John also did a couple of stints in the band back in the day) alongside Roger Carey (who will be known to many Hastings gig-goers as a member of The Tabs) who replaces long-standing Steeleye bass-player, Rick Kemp.

Tonight’s performance is in two parts. While the second set is mainly a selection of well-known Steeleye Span favourites, the first takes us right back to the band’s debut album ‘Hark The Village Wait’ from 1970, which they perform in full from start to finish. For those who immediately, on hearing the name Steeleye Span, think of the band’s electrified rocked-up persona from their mid 70s commercial peak, the first couple of albums are an altogether more pastoral affair. Some would say this tends to be a neglected era of the band’s legacy so it’s nice to see the rejuvenated 2017 line-up take it on. They deliver stunningly beautiful versions of songs like ‘Black Leg Miner’, ‘The Dark-Eyed Sailor’ and ‘The Hills of Greenmoore’.

The second set takes in some familiar rocked-up classics from the band’s illustrious back catalogue, including everyone’s favourite ugly witch song ‘Alison Gross’, as well as a handful of more recent material like ‘The Dark Morris Song’ from the Terry Pratchett-inspired 2013 album ‘Wintersmith’ and a couple of songs from the new album, ‘Dodgy Bastards’.

On past tours I have seen Maddy Prior struggle a bit with some of the vocals but there are no such problems tonight. Maddy plays to her strengths and the vocals are shared out in such a way that her wonderfully distinctive voice remains an essential part of the performance but isn’t put into a position where it’s strained over songs she’s no longer suited to. She pulls off a magnificent vocal performance on the trad. arr. favourite ‘Tam Lin’, for example. But Steeleye Span as a band has always evolved, changed and adapted with each arrival of fresh blood and it would be entirely wrong to see it as little more than Maddy Prior’s backing band. It’s good, therefore, to see the newer members taking a prominent role vocally. In particular, the arrival of Julian Littman, Andrew ‘Spud’ Sinclair and, most recently, Benji Kirkpatrick has really breathed new life into the band.

They encore, of course, with ‘All Around My Hat’. It comes with an invitation from Maddy Prior for everyone to sing along. I do, of course, know all the words to this (my sister had to learn it for the Brownies when it made the charts back in the mid 70s and it has been imprinted on my brain ever since). Sing along? It would be rude not to.

From tonight’s performance it is clear that Steeleye Span has now really found its feet following the departure of long-standing fiddle maestro Peter Knight, back in 2013. Tonight’s performance is the best I’ve seen from the band in several years. Let’s hope the current line-up will be around for a while.

Set-list

First Set:
A Calling-On Song
The Blacksmith
Fisherman’s Wife
Blackleg Miner
Dark-Eyed Sailor
Copshawholme Fair
All Things Are Quite Silent
The Hills of Greenmore
My Johnny Was a Shoemaker
Lowlands of Holland
Twa Corbies
One Night as I Lay on My Bed

Second Set:
Cruel Brother
Alison Gross
Edward
Marrowbones
Little Sir Hugh
London
Tam Lin
The Dark Morris Song
All Around My Hat
Dodgy Bastards

http://steeleyespan.org.uk/

 

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Photo Credit: Richard Broady

Related posts:
Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band at Hastings 2016
Steeleye Span in London 2015
Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival 2014

Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 16/12/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Rounding off an outstanding year of Folk acts at St Mary in the Castle this year we had Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band. ‘Folk’ is a bit of a misnomer, however, in a set that embraced American gospel, Shakespeare. medieval tune sets, eighteenth century carols, jazz swing and a Latin-American cha-cha-cha – in Latin (!) – to name but a few.

Maddy Prior will be known to many as lead singer of folk-rockers, Steeleye Span.

But for a good number of years now she has joined forces with early music specialists, The Carnival Band, for what they term ‘Carols and Capers.’

While there is never any shortage of carol concerts and festive sing-alongs in Hastings, three things make an evening with Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band particularly special.

Firstly, there is the sheer range of songs and tunes covered. While there are some obvious Christmas favourites, like ‘While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flocks’ and ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ and ‘I Saw Three Ships’ many less well-known numbers and historical gems are unearthed, like ‘The Boar’s Head’ a 16th century English carol, as well as original material like ‘Bright Evening Star.’

Secondly, there is the huge range of weird and wonderful instruments in use. There are violins and guitars and drums and a lovely deep double bass, of course. But there’s also the sound of medieval bagpipes, shawms (a horn-like reed instrument popular in renaissance music) and many other authentic replicas from our musical past.

Finally, there is the amazing amount you learn about music, history and culture during the course of the evening. Each of the players has a very evident passion for the history and background to the music they play. Did you know, for example, that the reason why ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ became so well-known was because the 17th century Anglican church would only permit a small number of biblically-approved passages to be sung during services, and this was the only Christmas number on the list?

All this and the unique, instantly recognisable and still-beautiful voice of the great Maddy Prior. Although it was de-consecrated as a place of worship several decades ago, St Mary in the Castle still makes for a wonderfully apt setting for a Christmas celebration like this, even for a hardened non-believer like myself.http://www.maddyprior.co.uk/http://www.carnivalband.com/

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Related reviews:

Maddy Prior, Hannah James & Giles Letwin
Steeleye Span live in London
Steeleye Span live at New Forest Folk Festival

Steeleye Span at Cadogan Hall, London 14/12/15

Although always described as a folk rock band, just how much weight Steeleye Span attach to one or the other of those two influences has tended to ebb and flow over time. They started off very folky, then got more rocky, then more folky, then more rocky… and so on and so on. At the moment we are at a particularly rock phase in Steeleye’s history.

Wintersmith, the Terry Pratchett-inspired 2013 album, set the band in a prog-infused direction and really gave guitarist/keyboardist, Julian Littman, a chance to come into his own and stamp his own influence on the band. It’s not a direction that’s going to please all fans but it’s one I’m certainly enjoying. “We keep movng forward – we’re not a Steeleye Span tribute act,” explains Maddy Prior at one point, as she introduces some of the newer material. And it is genuinely fascinating to witness.

We do get old songs from the back catalogue, even going back to the very first album. But the dark, heavy, progged-up feel of Wintersmith is carried through into much of the older material too, with lush keyboard passages, crunching bass lines and high-octane, melodic, screeching guitar solos. There have been a couple of personnel changes lately in this constantly-evolving band. New second guitarist, Spud Sinclair, and new fiddle player, Jessie May Smart, both bring something worthwhile to this latest musical direction the band are currently headed in. Smart is a versatile player, deftly moving from haunting and melodic to spiky and rocky, and she’s proving a worthy replacement for the legendary Peter Knight. Plus having another set of female backing vocals compliment’s Prior’s voice nicely.

It’s a well chosen selection of songs in the setlist for this tour. The excellent Wintersmith album is well-represented, of course, with songs like Crown of Ice, You and the brilliant The Dark Morris Song. But there’s some nice surprises, too. New York Girls, which I’ve always considered a fun but extremely lightweight novelty song from 1975’s Commoners Crown album (with Peter Sellers on ukele!), is transformed into something far more meaty and substantial. Cromwell’s Skull, a new song with (in the words of Rick Kemp) a real Floyd-ified bit at the end is absolutely fantastic and it’s great to see the band really rocking and progging it up. There’s the glam-folk 70s smash All Around My Hat, of course and there’s Blackleg Miner and Boys of Bedlam. But rather than encoring with the acapela Christmas hit, Gaudette, as on many previous the band all come back to stand at the mic stands to do a beautiful acapela Somewhere Along the Road, an old song of bass player, Rick Kemp, that has finally been given the Steeleye treatment.

The Steeleye Span bus continues to take us on a long, winding and unpredictable yet thoroughly satisfying journey.

http://steeleyespan.org.uk/

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Previous Review: Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival

Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival 30/8/14

The New Forest Folk Festival is a small-scale festival that takes place on a farm just outside the New Forest on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border . Although it’s only been going a couple of years and is tiny compared to some festivals, they have managed to attract some great acts and some pretty big names, too. Steeleye Span headlining on the Saturday night is quite a coup so kudos to the organisers.

This is a slightly refreshed version of the band since their 2013 winter tour. Long-standing fiddle-player, Peter Knight, left Steeleye Span at the end of last year. The current crop of shows are therefore the first with his replacement, Jessie May Smart. Different members have come and gone over the years, of course, including seemingly irreplaceable ones. But what Steeleye have always managed to do is put together a convincing set of musicians that retains continuity with the previous line-up, draws on the rich back catalogue of the band while bringing in fresh blood or, in several cases, bringing back former members coming in for another crack at it. Smart has wisely resisted any attempt to become a Peter Knight tribute act (where would one start?) Nevertheless, she is a talented musician in her own right and as the band rocks out through their set she delivers some superb fiddle playing.

Just as they have form in successfully integrating new members alongside longstanding ones, so it is with the songs, too. We get a good selection of classic songs from previous decades. Thomas the Rhymer, The Weaver and the Factory Maid, Edward, Saucy Sailor and Bonny Black Hare are all included. But we also get a nice selection from their new album, too: the superb Wintersmith which came out last year. The Dark Morris Song and Wintersmith, inspired (like the whole album) by the writing of Terry Pratchett, are classics in themselves and easily stand up against the older material.

Julian Littman is a great lead guitarist. Joining the band four years ago he really came into his own on the Wintersmith album, contributing some writing credits and lead vocals as well as guitar. With Rick Kemp on bass, Liam Genockey on drums and multi-instrumentalist Peter Zorn, they provide classic folk rock backing to the wonderfully distinctive and beautifully clear voice of Maddy Prior. Steeleye Span have certainly not mellowed with age and their set is most definitely folk rock in all its glory, not simply folk with a bit of electrification thrown in.

As with all festivals when you see one of your favourite bands performing the time just flies by. And before long it’s all over bar the inevitable encore of All Around My Hat. “Don’t get all snooty about it being a hit,” Prior jokingly warned the crowd, “just sing the bloody thing.” And sing it is precisely what everyone did. Actually, I would never get snooty about All Around My Hat. For those, like me, who love both 70s glam rock and traditional English folk music – what’s not to like about Steeleye’s unique version of this song!

So, for those wondering whether it’s worth seeing Steeleye Span: “Is it still Steeleye without Peter Knight? Is Maddy’s voice still up to it? Is the stuff from their new album any good?” The answer is yes, yes and yes.

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Maddy Prior, Hannah James & Giles Lewin at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath 6/4/14

Haywards Heath on a drizzly Sunday evening.  We are seated in a very functional-looking municipal building in the heart of suburban south-east England. But when the trio come on stage the songs are most definitely very, very northern with a run of songs from the north-east and Cumbria. Brisk Young Window is a good opener, sung in harmony by the trio. For those familiar only with Prior’s folk rock workouts with Steeleye Span, Maddy Prior, Hannah James and Giles Lewin performing as a trio are very much at the trad end of the folk continuum. We get unaccompanied singing, as well as songs accompanied by James, a rising star of modern folk, on accordion and Lewin, who has long collaborated with Prior on the Carnival Band Christmas tours, on fiddle and assorted wind instruments. We even get James donning her clogs for some energetic and brilliantly rhythmic clog dancing.

The second half of tonight’s show begins with a beautifully sung version of The Blackleg Miner, something Steeleye followers will be well familiar with. This is followed by a lovely song from Hannah James, Serving Girl’s Holiday, which outlines a seemingly never-ending succession of tasks the domestic worker has to undertake on her so called “holiday”. As James points out, there was probably a lot of wry ironic humour in many traditional lyrics which perhaps gets lost as the years pass by. We then hear a succession of traditional songs from different parts of the world including America and Austria. A long brooding version of The Fabled Hare follows, with Hannah James’ accordion providing the perfect moody accompaniment for this epic tale of man versus hare “he is running for my dinner, I am running for my life…”

Before they return for an encore the trio finish their main set with a stunning version of Nick Harper’s The Field of the Cloth of Gold which, Prior explains, reflects on both 16th century royal diplomacy and a 21st Century Levellers festival appearance.  Beautifully sung, this was one of the highlights of a very enjoyable evening for me.  Before tonight I had only ever witnessed Prior either with Steeleye Span or singing Christmas carols with the Carnival Band, but it was great to see her in a different setting altogether and this is a folk trio that definitely work well together.

http://maddypriorwithgileslewinandhannahjames.viinyl.com/