Tag Archives: Maddy Prior

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

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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/

2015-12-14 20.59.25

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.

2014-08-30 14.14.25

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/