STEELEYE SPAN & FRIENDS
The Journey, at The Forum, London
by Simon Jones
© Folk Roots, No.149
The grin on Martin Carthy's mug was as wide as the Thames. A mix of pleasure, remembrance and relief, his smirk summed up perfectly Maddy Prior's pre-show note, "whatever happens, it'll be fun". No Cropredy this, a once-and-only shot for charity let's encapsulate 25 years, give it a rather weighty title and raise loads of dosh for the less fortunate. Steeleye got the evening; their cousins, allies and direct descendants the afternoon. In truth there was too much to cram into a few brief hours, but everybody had a damn good try.
Highlights pre-Span... Miss Eliza Carthy's electric blue dress and her and Nancy Kerr's fine new ensemble The Kings Of Calicutt; John Kirkpatrick's new band breathing anew the Home Service/Albion axis; Waterson/Carthy’s stately, rustic eminence which caught the moment and the crowd.
Next Ashley Hutchings, John Tams, assorted ex-Albions and the splendid Brian Glover (that's better, that's Tetley) as God wit an excerpt from The Mysteries. Wonderful stuff lots of thees, thous, verities and a quick "Look up there in the circle, it's Jesus! "We were tearful as Tams intoned a hushed Lay Me Low, candles aloft; you really do wonder why this guy is seemingly lost to regular performance in a void of film scores and incidental music.
And so to the main business... Steeleyes rolled on and rolled off in various configurations, some familiar, some brief, some downright puzzling (for instance, why did Tim Hart do a bunk during the re-creation of the Storm Force Ten band?) and yes, all Spanners were there well, bar a couple of short-stay bassists and Terry Woods.
Prior, Hart, Hutchings, Gay Woods; Steeleye Mark One (with Carthy on banjo and Kirkpatrick depping for the absent Terry Woods and Michael Gregory sat in on drums) finally performed together on a stage 25 years late, telling softly electric folk tales, whilst Peter Knight, Carthy and Ashley Hutchings showed they'd lost none of their intricate, weaving melody when the second line-up rollicked through Lark In The Morning. "Wot, no Lovely On The Water?' "quoth our editor, mock-miffed. Meanwhile, the next Span motored on with a distinctly h.m. Cam Ye O'er Frae France, feedback, noise, scorching electric lutes and all that, Bob Johnson in rare, raw form. Maddy turned out in one of her twirling frocks, a 1974 specimen.
Too rarely heard, Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Rick Kemp and Nigel Pegrum gave forth with the amiable folk/boogie of '77/'78, The Maid & The Palmer a bit wobbly, but still a skirling classic. Before giving a set of polkas a right old run around. "Bloody 'ell," muttered Martin Appleby of country dancin' rockers, Stomp. " If those guys got it together again all of us could pack up." Many a true word spoken in jest.
And for the home stretch, Steeleye '95 complete thankfully with the vocal warmth of returned Gay Woods, sampled new material, mature, less hurried and cloaked in a pastoral ambience, quickly blown clear by Thomas The Rhymer sounding almost, er..., loutish! Album soon chums. And of course there was the obligatory, bring 'em all out finale Rave On.., very canny, led to inevitably a massed choral Gaudete. All on stage was slaps on the back, hugs, handshakes, thank you's and goodnight.
So there it was, 34 songs - if not the Ed's favourite almost four hours of Steeleye Spans going All Around Black Jack Lankin. I don't know, 25 years and they're off again as soon as this is over Young at heart, what a glorious racket.
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