This was one group who never became tax exiles, never disappeared to Malibu, never deserted British audiences. Every year since '72 Steeleye have given at least one extensive British tour. They always regarded themselves as very much a "London band" (though Maddy and Tim came from St. Albans, a few miles north) and many of their best concerts were those in the capital.
The first big London concert after Steeleye Mk.2's appearance at Cecil Sharp House, was at the Festival Hall on September 31, '72 Rick and Bob had just joined the band and had never played at such a prestigous venue but they did themselves proud. Apart from all the folk-rock songs the band added in a country song 'Cup Of Coffee' and a close-harmony version of the Four Seasons ''Rag Doll'.
Next January they were at the Royal Albert Hall for the first time performing at the Fanfare For Europe show which 'celebrated' Britain's entry in to the Common Market. Edward Heath, then Prime Minister was in the audience and he generously described Steeleye as "enormous fun". The band included 'Saucy Sailor' in their set, and that prompted the Daily Express to run the classic ghastly headline - "Pop Fan Heath At Saucy Sailor Show".
Later in '73, Steeleye staggered jet-lagged off a plane from San Francisco to headline before a record crowd of 20,000 at the Cambridge Folk Festival. They had recently performed alongside Sha Na Na and decided to end their set with a series of rock 'n' roll tunes. For the encore Maddy was disguised in a blonde wig and had high heels and a mini and the rest of the band were hidden beneath leather jackets and greasy hair. As they climbed on stage the compere Derek Brimstone thought the festival had been invaded by genuine rockers and he tried to throw Peter Knight out. The band were back at the Albert Hall in October '73, and particularly impressed 'The Times'. "For using elements as divergent as classic folk balladry to Gregorian chant, from Vaughan Williams lyricism to Sha Na Na foolishness and making each ring with absolute credibility, Steeleye Span moves to the head of the class".
When they returned to the hall next May, the band ended with a selection of patriotic songs like 'Hearts of Oak' and 'Rule Brittania'. To perform them, Maddy dressed as a nurse, Nigel as a boy-scout, Pete as a commando, Bob as a vicar, and Tim as a deep-sea diver. The Mummers' Play was also in the set and dressing up had become a band obsession. So much so that the day after the Albert Hall show Rick arrived for a concert in Eastlbourne in full drag. He had shaved the back of his hands and his side-burns and was wearing a dress stockings and a blonde wig. When he arrived at the hall, Bob was on stage checking the sound and he sat in the front row, gazing up at him admiringly Bob responded to this adoring beauty by playing a few flash guitar licks then ambling across to chat her up. It took him several hours to recover when she revealed herself as Rick Kemp.
In the summer of "75, Steeleye invented an extra member of the band 'Mr.Steeleye', an actor dressed as a bizarre cross between jester and superman in a mask, cloak and thigh-level silver boots. He made a startling London debut in the late afternoon of a hot summer's day when the band were playing in the open air at Crystal Palace. There was a small lake dividing the stage from the audience and it was planned that Mr.Steeleye should first dance with Maddy, then get in a small boat and row across the lake to dance with the crowds. Half way across he was set upon by fans who were splashing around in the water. As the boat tipped over and the band tried to keep playing while watching. Mr. Steeleye suddenly yelled that he couldn't swim. A soaked actor eventually made it to the bank, After that there was no way Steve Harley could successfully come on to top the bill.
On October '24, '76, Steeleye were at Hammersmith Odeon and gave a concert that will be remembered in the foot-notes of rock history for one of the wilder stunts of the Seventies. The concert promoter, the band's manager and his assistant made holes in the roof of the auditorium, and during the final encore, 'The Mason's Apron' they threw down over eight thousand pounds - the takings from the concert - onto the amazed audience below. The pound notes continued to float down for almost five minutes. At first the audience refused to believe what was happening and sat looking bemused as the money fell around them. Then suddenly there was a mad scramble. It was to be over a year after that before Steeleye Span returned to London. When they came back to Hammersmith it was as a brand new band.
© Boyesen Enterprises Ltd 1978