TWO NEW "EYES" ON THE FUTURE
© Melody Maker
18th Dec 1971
How are Steeleye Span going to sound without Ashley Hutchings and Martin Carthy?
The first indication is Tim Hart's stated attitude that "it's all music, why define it." In effect it could mean that Steeleye's specialised repertoire will move to make way for a wider range including contemporary songs, such as Rab Noakes' "Somebody Counts on Me."
New members Bob Johnson and Rick Kemp are in such positions in the line-up that they cannot help but be noticed however they play. Both have been considerably influenced by rock music. Rick Kemp played electric bass with Mike Chapman, and Bob Johnson came into folk music through rock playing guitar in a folk duo with Peter Knight before the latter joined Steeleye.
With the freedom in the group's selection of material that can be envisaged the two musicians should have ample opportunity to draw on experience rather than having to follow old patterns. It remains to be seen what effect Bob will have upon the vocals.
At the practices Rick has had with Tim, Maddy Prior and Peter Knight he is reported to have used wah-wah pedal on the electric bass. "His whole approach to bass playing is different", said Tim. "Tyger isn't a melodic bass player. He works basically around the chords, whereas Rick plays far more melodically. Tyger in a lot of ways was a lot more compatible to Martin's music than he was to ours - Peter's, Maddy's and mine, whereas Rick is far more compatible to ours." Tim was particularly excited about the new roads opened by the combination, although he added that whatever happened they were not about to become a heavy group and they almost certainly would not be adding a drummer. The crux of the reshuffle in his view was quite evidently the shedding of Martin's and Tyger's specialisation in traditional forms.
"Tyger and Martin both had preconceptions about the music which Pete and I didn't have," he explained. "Because we didn't have any we followed their lead. Bob hasn't got any, and Rick certainly hasn't" The former situation has led to Martin arranging a great deal of their material, and in Tim's estimation an album that sounded in parts like Martin Carthy with a backing group.
One of his aims for the new group was to create "a sound that doesn't owe an identifiable amount to any one member of the group. "I think the rift was mainly musical. There was nothing personal. "Although the reason for Martin leaving was largely personal it wasn't to the extent that we're not good friends." According to Tim, the musical reasons for Martin's withdrawal centred around a disagreement over what was to replace Tyger. Martin wanted another instrumentalist and the other three preferred another bass guitarist with a fuller exploration of the dulcimer and fiddle.
One might wonder why the new line-up didn't adopt a new name altogether. Obviously the long-standing members consider that there is enough of the old character remaining to justify the retention, and besides Tim made a point with his analogy of the Byrds' fluctuating membership. Many of Steeleye's gigs are at "rock" venues, and their audiences probably have far fewer preconceptions of the group than a folk gathering would have. Therefore the group's willingness to adapt should be easily reflected in their audiences.
The work involved in launching new material means that Tim and Maddy will not be accepting folk club bookings "for quite a while". This doesn't indicate a permanent departure for the duo. In fact things have been going overwell for them in the clubs, amounting to as many people turned away as getting in to see them in some places.
The group's desire to have a record representative of them as they are now will probably see them in the studios in February and March. Steeleye may or may not have spurned their burden as electric traddies, but the weight was still there. Would there be a place for it in the future? Tim's reply indicated that they intended to present their contemporary material with the same consideration as the traditional. "The thing about folk music is that you get to the point where you realise how much there is. I did; you just tumble headlong into it. You get terribly intellectual. Then you come out the other side and get folk music in perspective with other music. "I messed out on the Beatles and the Rolling Stones because I was totally involved in folk.
At the moment I am buying about a dozen records a week trying to catch up with music I've missed out on over the past few years. It's almost like a folk puberty which you have to go through. "I think this is what Tyger is going through at the moment. He's got to come out the other end and play non-specialised music again."