There were two Steeleye tours in Australia, in August'74 (at the end of an American tour) and in August'75. Both were remarkable for "the incredible number of things that went wrong".
The first tour was certainly a classic of rock - tour chaos right from the moment the band arrived at Sydney at seven in the morning shattered after an American tour to be greeted with a full - scale press conference, TV interviews and then a TV Show. Next morning at six they were off for Melbourne, where they were greeted at the airport by a school choir singing tracks from Now We Are Six. The band went on to the TV studio to find the technicians had been told the show was cancelled and had gone home.
The same afternoon trying to escape back to Sydney they found all planes were grounded due to a strike so they had to drive - a mere 18 hours. Back in Sydney, Steeleye's road crew were not too happy having not known where the band had disappeared to and tempers really boiled over when Steeleye hosted a press reception and darts tournament the next day. A particularly bizarre and scantily-clad lady known as Madame Lash turned up uninvited and was particularly unimpressed when the road crew started playing with the tassles on her almost non-existent outfit. She threatened a roadie with a fork and he neatly replied by picking up a meat pie that Bob was about to eat and thrusting it in her face. The reception fell apart during the fight that followed and the roadie was left with a permanent scar.
From then on it was all downhill (apart, that is from full houses and enthusiastic audiences). In Sydney, the audience had been locked outside the hall in freezing cold weather so they could watch Steeleye arrive in a coach and four. "We didn't know it was planned", says Rick. "but it was a typical Steeleye stunt. Every time we did one it went dramatically wrong". At the same concert his bass failed to work for the first five songs.
Then in Brisbane Rick was standing on his head before the show and dislocated his shoulder so badly that the bones stuck out through his back. Backstage there was utter confusion as the band debated whether to perform or not. Nigel changed in and out of his costume three times. The promoter went out on stage to ask if there was a doctor in the house and Steeleye eventually appeared with Rick resting his arm on his bass. After the concert the promoter sent "the five ugliest women in Queensland" round to chat up the band which made the situation even worse.
As a result of that incident (and more because of yet more airport strikes and lengthy road trips) the band started to collapse. First manager Jo Lustig had to be sent home. then the tour manager collapsed. and then Bob Johnson ended up in hospital for a week in Perth. They limped back to England after getting round the world in exactly 80 days.
The second Australian tour a year later, began even more dramatically with the band having to run from the plane, their faces hidden in blankets to escape from the press. To make sure their concerts sold out, new manager Tony Secunda had devised a publicity stunt outrageously at variance with Steeleye's normal good-natured but respectable image. Appearing on Sydney's Radio 2JJ he announced that the band were to hold an unusual contest just turn up at their concert carrying their album and answer five easy questions about the band and you could win a male member of Steeleye to spend twelve hours with you after the show. The contest was only open to girls and the lucky lady could choose the band member she fancied most.
Which led to the inevitable hysterical press reaction and the concerts selling out. The Australian Daily Mirror ran a front page banner headline 'Pop Group Outrage' and demanded that Steeleye should abandon their sordid plan to degrade Australian womanhood or get out of the country. The Minister for Lands and Forests, Mr.Mason tried to cancel the concert where the contest was to be held and the Minister for Police. Mr. Waddy held an enquiry. The Anglican Dean of Sydney urged parents not to let their daughters go to the concert. Steeleye were instantly notorious - though most of the band didn't know about the stunt until it was underway.
The concert went ahead and so did the contest. The winner was Linda Raymond a 22-year old library assistant and she chose Bob Johnson. The mighty diggers of the Australian press were depressed to find that she chose to take her boy - friend along to the much-publicised 'night of love' After polite chat and a few drinks with Bob, Miss Raymond and her boy-friend left.
As the tour continued the band claim that "boredom and hysteria" was responsible for them behaving the way all archetypal rock stars are supposed to behave on tour. There were TV programmes in which the band all pretended to fall asleep or brought out glove puppets, there was synchronised coughing, arm-folding and leg-crossing. And there was a final incident in Adelaide, where the band had spent most of their time drinking with Irish musicians. On stage at the Apollo Theatre an ebullient Peter Knight invited all the audience back for drinks with the band at their hotel and even gave out the room numbers. After the show, Steeleye arrived back there to find the hotel beseiged by hundreds of fans. The band sneaked in through the back while the hotel staff tried desperately to get rid of the crowds.
© Boyesen Enterprises Ltd 1978