Introducing Steeleye Mk.3
Steeleye's most famous line-up, the band that took folk-rock into the charts and around the concert - halls of the world, lasted five years - from January '72 to December '76. This band introduced folk songs to tens of thousands who had never been near a folk club and was so successful that Tim Hart could claim "we are the first people to come out of the folk club scene since Ewan MacColl to actually do some thing to English folk music".
And yet, when this line-up first got together, there were gloomy prophecies that the band was now doomed to failure. Tyger and Martin two of the most distinguished and popular members, had left and their replacements were almost completely unknown. Bob Johnson, the new guitarist had played on the folk scene with Peter Knight and before that had been a session musician working with P.J. Proby and Gary Glitter (back in the days when he was called Paul Raven). At the time he joined Steeleye, Bob had almost given up the music business and was working in computers,
Rick Kemp, the new bass player, had worked around the northern club circuit with regional celebrities like Johnny Small and the Little People. He then built up an enviable reputation, at least among fellow musicians, during the years he spent backing the still under-estimated Michael Chapman. He was already a Steeleye enthusiast when he was asked to join the band, "but 1 thought they all came from somewhere down in the country. I expected Dorset accents, not London accents". He had another surprise. "I joined in order to play with Martin Carthy, no one told me that he was leaving. So I've had to wait five and a half years to be in the band with him......"
The arrival of Bob and Rick changed Steeleye almost instantly. Coming from the rock world, they brought with them an understanding of amplified styles. Bob "played more chords", and was more of a solid rock guitarist than a guitar virtuoso. Rick played a more melodic, less percussive bass, but was well-experienced in playing in heavily amplified bands. Steeleye's whole attitude to their work changed at this time. They were no longer a collection of individuals, but a unified band. Solo careers on the side were stopped. The band was to be a full-time serious occupation. To mark the change they found a new manager, Jo Lustig, and he signed them to Chrysalis Records.
The Irish Club, off Eaton Square, is an elegant but comfortably tatty establishment stranded in elegant Belgravia. Here the band spent the whole of January '72 rehearsing, with frequent alchoholic interruptions from The Dubliners and Planxty, who were both staying there. As the new Steeleye developed greater confidence, they decided to entirely re-think their repertoire and perform a completely different set of traditional songs.
Here the style was set for the next five years, Maddy was responsible for suggesting most of the new material, with ideas from Bob and Tim coming in second. Maddy and Tim would usually sing the suggested material to the assembled band and arrangements would be worked out from there. Increasingly the band now wrote their own rock-orientated melodies to traditional lyrics if they felt the existing tune was unsuitable or if there was no known tune. Bob worked out the melody and arrangement for King Henry, recorded on the first album and was later responsible for most of Steeleye's best-known 'heavy' songs' from Thomas the Rhymer and Seven © Boyesen Enterprises Ltd 1978Hundred Elves to Long Lankin.
Each of the five members of the new band was a vocalist, so they were keen to work out unaccompanied harmony songs and continue with the style that Steeleye Mk.2 had pioneered with The King. At first they considered studying plainsong and then Bob suggested they should work out an arrangement of a carol he had heard at Christmas. This was 'Gaudete', which was included almost apologetically on the new line-up's first album, Below The Salt. Two years later it was to be Steeleye's biggest and best-known hit.
The band played their first concert in Bath on January 28, '72, and warmed up with a deliberately low-key British tour before triumphantly making their London debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on March 10. After more British and European dates the band went up to Edinburgh to rehearse the musical drama Kidnapped. In the autumn there was another extensive British tour, followed by their first American shows, supporting Procol Harum. By this time the first Chrysalis Steeleye album, Below The Salt had been released.
For the following four years, Steeleye Mk.3 kept up the pressure and scarcely allowed themselves any time off. There were three more American tours, two chaotic Australian tours, concerts all across Europe, and five more albums. The band had the same manager, Jo Lustig until the end of '74, after which they were managed by Tony Secunda.
Within the band, there was only once change in all this period and that was the inevitable addition of a sixth member, a drummer. For years they had managed without one but after the Parcel of Rogues album (on which Rick had helped out by drumming on two tracks), a new Spanner obviously had to be found. So Nigel Pegrum joined the band in June '73.
He was chosen after being recommended to the band by Charles Shaar Murray of the New Musical Express. Previously he had been with a band called Gnidrolog, who had not succeeded partly because no-one could spell or pronounce their name. Nigel proved a major asset, for apart from his sympathetic drumming he could play oboe and flute. After a few warm-up concerts in Britain and Ireland, he was thrown right in the deep end as Steeleye toured the massive American stadiums with Jethro Tull.
© Boyesen Enterprises Ltd 1978