THIS IS A TRANSCRIPT FROM A BBC RADIO 2 PROGRAMME CALLED ‘FOLK ON 2’ THE PROGRAMME WAS BROADCAST IN 1994 AND FEATURES
JIM LLOYD TALKING TO BOB JOHNSON
about the first
TWENTYFIVE YEARS OF STEELEYE SPAN
J.L: "This is Jim Lloyd with 'Folk on 2' tonight we celebrate 25 years of Steeleye Span."
SONG: ‘All Around My Hat’ From the album ‘All Around My Hat’
J.L: "The Steeleye Span anthem which as sent several thousand of their fans singing along at the Cambridge folk festival this year as will many more over the next few weeks on Steeleye's twenty-fifth anniversary tour which starts next Sunday in Rhyl."
"As I said, tonight we are celebrating their silver jubilee and with me is Bob Johnson who is standing in for Maddy Prior unfortunately not able to join us this evening."
"Welcome Bob, how many years have you being with Steeleye".
B.J: "Well I'm a bit of a new boy really, I've only being in it about twenty-three I think".
J.L: "Does that make you the second longest serving member after Maddy".
B.J: "No Peter Knight the violin player, the three of us really, he joined just before I did".
J.L: "Well lets go right back to before you were with Steeleye Span. Let's go right back to the first track of the first album Steeleye ever made."
SONGS: ‘A Calling-on Song’ and ‘The Blacksmith’. From the album: 'Hark! The Village Wait'
J.L: "That's the original Steeleye Span, 'Hark! The Village Wait', Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, Ashley Hutchings and Terry and Gay Woods. How did the original band come about Bob."
B.J: "Well it came out of a particular era, a particular moment in time when people were talking about doing such a thing and this was really Ashley's idea and it was his idea to put Terry and Gay and Tim and Maddy together and make this album and I think it was inspired, actually. And of cause he had done that with Fairport Convention with Liege and Lief which again is a seminal album."
J.L: "You mentioned Gay Woods there, you've actually got some news about Gay Woods haven't you."
B.J: "Well yes, we are going to have Gay singing with Maddy and with us on this our 25 year Anniversary tour and what a fitting way to round off the 25 years, not that we are finishing, ha,ha there's a satisfying circularity to that and her voice actually blends beautifully with Maddy's, as you can probably hear that on the last two songs."
J.L: "Well let's move on from that first Steeleye Span and after that Martin Carthy joined the band didn't he."
B.J: "Yes that particular line up that we just heard never really got on the road it sort of finished in the studio, I don't know why, some political problems, what ever! And so the next idea what was had was to ask Martin to join and I think that again was a stunningly good idea, extremely interesting.”
“It was also felt that Steeleye needed another instrumentalist and so Peter Knight was asked to join, again particularly interesting because he had a very heavy classical background as much as a folk background and so you know, the sparks would fly and we would see what came out of this.”
“I think it was a wonderful era and it reminds me of, can I bring Muddy Waters into this, Jim, the movement when a lot of American folk music came up from the deep south and went to Chicago and Muddy Waters was a prime example of that, of a Mississippi singer who went to Chicago, plugged in, didn't change anything just plugged in and played it like it was. And sorry Martin if you are listening, but this is how I see you as a white Muddy Waters.”
“This particular track we are going to play, has this wonderful stark guitar playing from Martin who's playing in a tuning, having refused to adapt to any modern cord structure, rather like Muddy Waters did. And it's just absolutely wonderful, it's minimal, it's hard, there are no drums on it and yet it's as heavy as any 'heavy metal' song I've heard."
SONG: 'Female Drummer' From the album 'Please To See The King'
J.L: "Female Drummer from 'Please To See The King'. The second Steeleye album and it was shortly after that Bob that you joined the band."
B.J: "Yes!, I don't really know why Martin and Ashley left, they just did and it was jolly good for me because I was dragged screaming from my pensionable day job ha,ha, which I was really frilled that I left and I'd being playing with Peter anyway in folk clubs before as a duo and I had a background in rock music and I had a academic interest in traditional music which went back as far has my schooling, really. So here was a prime, you know, opportunity to sort of let my hair down, ha,ha.”
“And I did, and this next song, although not an illustration of any kind of rock influences. I'm so happy about having found, 'Gaudete' and the odd thing is I heard it in my father-in-laws church, when I was sitting in the congregation, sung my a group of Cambridge scholars and I did actually think that sounds like a hit, which was a bizarre thing to think about a unaccompanied Latin chant, I've never thought it since about anything.”
“God I was right, I wish I could be right, but there you go, you only get one chance in your life and we did it and 'Gaudete' bless it, has being performed all over world and performed in the snow in 'Times Squire' for 'CBS Television', it's being performed in American clubs and lo on 'Top Of The Pops' and coming from a rock background I'd always wanted to be on 'Top Of The Pops' and when I finally got on there, we were holding candles, we were choreographed holding candles and I think 'Pans People' (Dance group) were dressed as nuns or something, and walking in front. Still does not stop it being a beautiful song, 'Gaudete'."
SONG: 'Gaudete' From the album 'Below The Salt'
J.L: "And I suppose that was really the record that made it for you, you said you were on 'Pop Of The Pops' with that, was that the break through point for 'Steeleye'.
B.J: "Yes, that and some other factors I think that all went together, yes it was the beginning of the move away from being a underground sort of band, played only by dear 'John Peel' (DJ) and playing the university circuit, to the kind of slightly more, upmarket 'Queen Elizabeth Hall', 'Royal Albert Hall' you know, that sort of thing and it was being engineered in a way, steered by our manager at the time."
J.L: "Well that is, has I say is the point in which you joined 'Steeleye Span' and I think it's true to say your own musical influences start coming though now."
B.J: "Yes, they started on that particular album that 'Saucy Sailor' was from, with 'King Henry'. But the next album 'Parcel Of Rogues' got a little bit more, ha, ha, I found my feet a bit more. I tended, I've always tended to go into the big ballads, big stories for my sources of material and particularly mythology, elf's, fairies, witches, goblins I think that started at school reading the 'Hobbit', I think at primary school.”
“This particular song as a very hard sort of guitar part to it, a hard sound, I felt that these sorts of songs had hard messages and maybe they should be played hard rather than just on acoustic guitars. One little interesting, (this is called 'Alison Gross' this next song) it as some very distorted guitar cords at the end, which at the time people hated, people came up to me saying "we had ruined that song, with that awful noise, funnily enough last week a Scottish journalist phoned to talk about this tour and said "I particularly like those 'Jimi Hendrix’s cords at they end of 'Alison Gross' ", well why didn't you tell me then, ha, ha."
SONG: 'Alison Gross' From the album 'Parcel Of Rogues'
J.L: "Alison Gross from the 'Parcel Of Rogues' album. And after that, sort of rock`n`roll, that's when you introduced the drummer which was a move that was criticised quite a lot at the time, why did you do it Bob."
B.J: "Yer, actually to be honest with you it's quite difficult to remember why we did it at the time, it seemed like a very good idea. I think we thought that it would, having a drummer to just hold the rhythm, which allowed us to play around, because Rick and I were having a pretty old, Rick was the bass player, having a hell of a job holding everything together with no drums at the time.”
“And also it coincided with the move towards bigger venues, bigger stadiums, we were playing stadiums in the end in America. The big touring syndrome. The way the bands were going in the seventies, huge stage shows. And so this next album which we called 'Now We Are Six' because we then became six, Nigel Pegrum joined on drums, was the beginning of this extraordinary period of my life, which I remember vaguely through a alcoholic haze, but it seems to revolve around one hell of a lot of tours of America.”
“And this song is very much, it's one of the big ballads I put together and chrysalis in a desperate attempt to sort of break us in America, cut it down to three minutes and at least it was a single but there we go. It's called 'Thomas the Rythmer'"
SONG: 'Thomas The Rythmer' From the album 'Now We Are Six'
J.L: "And 'Thomas The Rythmer' comes from the period as you say, when it was really beginning to develop for you and this was a time too when you got 'Peter Sellers' involved with the band. How did that come about."
B.J: "Well it was, you know, as you say time, it was a wacky period and anything went. We were doing this little sea shanty and we needed some ukulele on it and I remembered I had heard 'Peter Sellers' playing ukulele on a old album 'Songs For Swingin' Sellers', I had when I was a little boy, because I was a big fan of 'Peters' and I thought this will be a hoot, let's ask him along, so we did and lo he said yes, some what puzzled I remember he was very tense and puzzled in the studio because he couldn't play very well and he was sort of wondering why he was there and we were all sitting in the booth beginning to feel tense and puzzled and wondering why he was there and suddenly, I think to relieve the tension he went (Goon noises) all over the track, we all fell about, everybody rolled on the floor clutching their sides and suddenly we knew that's why he was there.”
“So in fact he did play ukulele, as you can hear throughout this track and there are some rather naughty 'goon' noises in the middle which you can spot, but also I think you must listen out for Peters wonderful, throughout of this, not 'Peter Sellers' 'Peter Knights' wonderful violin playing in the back, it's unobtrusive but beautiful and tight behind all the little verses.This is called 'New York Girls'."
SONG: 'New York Girls' From the album 'Commoners Crown'
J.L: "Their were the two 'Peters', Sellers and Knight, with that."
B.J: "Still makes me laugh."
J.L: "Well you've got your own version of that."
B.J: "Well Yer I'm afraid so, in fact he covered the whole track with these noises, ha, ha and we didn't know if we could release it or not and I think at the time it was considered not, so a couple were allowed in, but I do have a little version at home which I play for amusement, it's covered in 'Goon' noises."
J.L: "Bring it in next time. It was after that Bob that really, Steeleye went mega wasn't it with 'All Around My Hat'."
B.J: "Yer this was the big one, this was it really, this was 'Andy Warhol’s' you know, 15 minutes of fame, what ever you like. It was fantastic, it was planned, it was a planned assault on a unsuspecting would. We asked 'Mike Batt' to produce the record, partly because he had a lot of commercial success with the 'Wombles', but also because he wrote and scored in a very English kind of way and we thought in would be interesting experiment, in fact he did, he was wonderful he didn't impose himself on us, he helped.”
“It lead to all manner of things, in fact I thought the good thing is I managed to get on 'Top Of The Pops' with a guitar instead of a candle, ha ,ha, it was great fun. There was, I still love playing the song 'All Around My Hat' I'm still proud of what we did, that is a traditional song in a fast six/eight jig rhythm, it just happens to have a rocky six/eight jig rhythm and it got a lot of people in this country singing a song that's part of their tradition without them having to analyse it, but just enjoy it, I think it's wonderful."
J.L: "Well we've already started the programme with that so we will not play it now, but one of the things about it for me, with that particular album is the success of that track really obscured a lot of other good material that was on the album."
B.J: "Yes there is some good stuff on there, I think my favourite is 'Black Jack Davy', I remember at school singing the Raggle Taggle Gypsy's', the 'Lonnie Donigan version of 'The Gypsy Davy' and so on and so on, it's a kind of recurring social theme of rich ladies having a fling with a bit of rough. Maddy calls it the power of lust, she's probably right, this is exactly what it's about. It's called 'Black Jack Davy'."
SONG: ‘Black Jack Day’ From the album ‘All Around My Hat’
J.L: "I know that particular song means quite a lot to you , Bob."
B.J: "Yes I think it's because it's a kind of human behaviour, the rich lady, she has everything, she has the goose feather bed, sheets turned down so bravely ho, the beautiful shoes, she runs away and leaves it all and would rather sleep on the cold hard ground with the Black Jack Davy. It spins on down the generations, it spins on down though the centuries, certain patterns of human behaviour.”
“They change with culture and the cultural revolution in their expression, but the behaviour carries on. I find that fascinating from a psychological point of view and I know so does Maddy and I think that's really one of the reasons why we still are enthusiastic and energetic about our singing and playing on stage, we never lose that, we climb inside these songs we relive them, there are still of interest for us, that's why we are still going."
J.L: "Well going back to that 'All Around My Hat' period and the 'Black Jack Davy' there, that was really the point at which you were under enormous pressure as a band."
B.J: "Yes it was inevitable really wasn't it, it's like em, it tuck off, we were touring or recording or rehearsing, one of those three non-stop all through the year, many tours of America, tours of Australia. It was founded on the notion I think which came from record companies and management in those days which was that a band had maybe five years and then they were dead you know, you really had to know how to work them. So they worked us and of coarse in the end, we cooked the goose that laid the golden egg really, we just folded to exhaustion I think.”
“Couple of years off and we came back and we came back with this album 'Sails Of Silver' and we came back at a level that we could handle, manage and enjoy, and at which we have stayed ever since. One that is focused upon the music rather than upon the 'Bizz' as it were.”
“This particular song that I would like you to play from 'Sails Of Silver' is actually written by Peter, and not only is Peter a phenomenal improviser, but amongst all of this musical complexity that whizzes round in is mind, he has this incredible talent for writing strong, simple, powerful melodies and I think this is one of the finest examples, It's called 'Gone To America'."
SONG: 'Gone To America' From the album ‘Sails Of Silver’
J.L: "That's Peter Knight's 'Gone To America'. The usual powerful performance from Maddy Prior there."
B.J: "Yes, incredible, some of the low notes that she hits, there's a power in her voice, she was actually pregnant, she was very, very pregnant when she sang that and I remember her sitting down singing this. I was amazed at how much power she got out. That album was produced by Gus Dudgeon, Elton John's producer and I think Chrysalis were rather hoping that, you know lightning might strike twice, ha, ha and we were rather hoping it wouldn't."
J.L: "And it was after that album that Tim Hart left the band."
B.J: "Yes he did, I'm not really clear why. I think that he had probably reached a point in is life when he had enough touring and a whole way of being. And so he disappeared quietly. And well we now have our new line up, actually we don't change our line up every minute, I mean Fairport have had more line up changes than I have had hot dinners. It just sounds as though we have, I mean we now have a new drummer and a bass player who have being with us for the last five years. So I think that's fairly, I think we can call them grown up by now."
J.L: "And they are?"
B.J: "Liam Genhockey who plays drums and he's played with Gerry Rafferty amongst other people and Tim Harries on bass who is a very accomplished musician, he's played with Yes and Bill Bruford's Earthworks and this album was called 'Tempted And Tried' which I still find very difficult to say."
J.L: "And it's got I think, one of my, I'm sure one of my all time favourite Steeleye tracks, which is Padstow."
B.J: "Yes one of mine as well and typical of the way Maddy can hit upon these songs."
SONG: 'Padstow' From the album ‘Tempted And Tried’
J.L: "That's tremendous and straight out of the tradition too. The Padstow May day song. That brings us up, Bob to your, I was going to say your current album made two or three years ago now, 'Tonight's the Night' the last album you made and you made that over twenty years after Steeleye started. How would you say the group's developed musically over that time."
B.J: "I think it's a maturity, perhaps a subjugation of ego's to the song it's self.
J.L: "I'm sorry I asked ha, ha."
B.J: "That's all right don't worry ha, ha. This is recorded live and I think it illustrates you know, the point very well. This particular song is our version of a long ballad called Tam Lin, the song is in three parts and tells the story of Tam Lin who is captured and enchanted by the fairies and becomes the fairy queens 'toy boy' or lover and he's finally won back to this world after a almighty supernatural struggle involving the power of the love of a young maiden whom he's met in the woods. That's the story, but this is what you are getting because it is to long to play all of it.”
“This is the third and final part and it illustrates the rough and sadness of the fairy queen and this combination of anger and sorrow are classic symptoms of a deep loss, which is why I was fascinated by the ballad and I think we express that in our singing and playing in a way we could only do after twenty years, Maddy conveys all of these emotions in this song with great authority and maturity."
SONG: 'Tam Lin' From the album ‘Tonight’s The Night’
J.L: "Tam Lin, and that's really the way you see the future of Steeleye?"
B.J: "Yes, not that particular song but that involvement, that depth of understanding the music and interpreting it, yes."
J.L: "And you will be featuring that on the tour. We haven't told anyone when the tour is. It starts at Rhyl on the 13 November going on to Whitley Bay, Birmingham, Stoke, the 'Bottom Line' in London, Wycombe, Stevenage, Chichester, Inverness, That's a jump from Chichester to Inverness Bob? Motherwell, Aberdeen, Glenrothes, Bradford, Workington, Coventry, Croydon, Basingstoke, Aberystwyth, Swansea, Cardiff, Newark, Tewkesbury, Dartford, York, and the Burnley Mechanics Club.”
“Well Bob, thanks very much for being with us this evening and a pleasure too."
B.J: "Thank you very much."
J.L: "I'm Jim Lloyd, the producer was Jane Ward and we leave you with Steeleye Span."
REELS: ‘The First House in Connaught/Sailor's Bonnet.’ From the album ‘Tempted And Tried’