REVIEW BY NICK CLARK, OCTOBER 1999
Steeleye Span Live at The Forum
Kentish Town, London
2nd September 1995
Four years after this historic concert events have conspired to allow the
release of a CD of the best of the evenings entertainments.For those that don't
know or can't remember, this was the night all the versions of Steeleye Span
came together to reprise some of their best work. With the exception of Terry
Woods from the first line up all the famous names that have appeared over the
bands twenty-five years put aside their differences and played together - even
the first line up that never managed it first time around.
The concert was the brainchild of Dave Hill, long time associate of the band and
actor."When I asked them if they'd do it they all agreed" he said,
"But that was because each one thought the others would refuse".
The result was the assembling of five line-ups including Tim Hart who had long
since retired to a Canary island and had to come up with a dulcimer to play
having not had one since quitting the band thirteen years previously. Other
members to give their time for the gig (in aid of the charity War Child)
included founder member Ashley Hutchings and folk legend Martin Carthy.The
organisation was fraught with problems.Drummer Nigel Pegrum had to be flown in
from Australia and the only member to span all the five line-ups - Maddy Prior
had been told to rest her voice after an operation. She was needed on stage for
the whole gig !
On the day, the hall in London was packed with folkies who watched Dave Hill
with friend Brian Glover and Martin Carthy and spouse warm up the afternoon
session before a rousing three hour finale of the ultimate Span concert.
For Span 1 Carthy sat in on banjo for Terry Woods who didn't show and Maddy and
Gay sang vocals. For the second version he moved onto electric guitar and the
band played early seventies material (the first version made only one album -
'Hark The Village Wait').He came back in the fourth version and the evening
concluded with a line-up that included the then regular drummer Liam
Genockey.The event was well-received by the press and even had a write up in The
Guardian. Their reviewer concluded, "Dave Hill did more than raise money
THE JOURNEY CD.
On the inner sleeve notes of this CD, concert organiser Dave Hill imagines the
complete line-ups of Steeleye Span playing together as something akin to a music
heaven that eventually - after twenty five years came true. We too shared in the
un-necessary elongation of that time period as Park have waited a further four
years to commit the event to record. Now, however, the wait is over and the
label have come up with a double CD pack of more than two hours decorated in a
beautifully packaged box with accompanying booklet. At £20 it may seem a little
steep but believe me it isn't. If you never buy another Steeleye live record you
should get this one. Why? Well it's very well recorded for one thing. The sound
is crystal clear - not easy to get in live venues - and the mixing is top
quality too. The crowd are there and enthusiastic but not affecting the
listening pleasure of the songs. One casualty, unfortunately, is the banter. If
you've ever been to a Steeleye gig you'll know the chat onstage and the song
introductions are key elements in the performance. I suppose that given the
length of the record, there was no chance to keep anything in which is
understandable but a pity nonetheless. However...back to the music.
One of the most eagerly anticipated sections of the show was the reunification
of the original Spanners who recorded the first album. They opened and are
represented on the first disc by six songs all from their album. They never sang
live together twenty-five years ago but you wouldn't know that from their
performance. It was amazingly close to the record and I confess to more than a
little tingle between the last line of 'A Calling On Song' and the first
striking of the drum for 'Blacksmith'. Twenty-five years on and after only three
days together the band were note perfect. Gay Woods, now back with them sang
well on 'Lowlands of Holland' (my personal fave) to close the set for Mark 1.
Going into Steeleye's most commercial period with the Mark 2 and 3 line-ups I
was surprised by their selections. They included 'Cold,Haily,Windy Night', some
jigs and the Mark 2 set ended with 'Lark In the Morning'. The same line-up -
still featuring Tim Hart as lead male vocalist - reminded me just what a
brilliant traditional folk voice the Spanners could call upon. It really added
to 'Gower Wassail' and continued to lead the line in the Mark 3 rendition of
'John Barleycorn'. I was disappointed at the absence of 'Gaudete' here but
pleased that 'Cam Ye O'er Frae France' - a staple of the bands touring set at
the time - was included. It really hit home - a powerful tour de force - that
contrasted well with many of the quieter accappella songs and reminded one that
Steeleye have always had a reputation for being at the louder end of folk rock.
Anyone waiting for the obligatory 'All Around My Hat' will be appeased at the
close of the Mark 3 performance on disc one.
The second record opens with the welcome arrival of the Mark 4 line-up -
created, according to the sleeve notes, to fulfil record and tour obligations.
Their only studio output 'Storm Force Ten' is represented by the song 'Sweep
Chimney Sweep' but along with 'Wife of the Soldier' and 'The Maid and the
Palmer' it represents a return to more traditional roots after the more
commercially successful earlier seventies line-ups. Perhaps this is not
surprising when you look at the musicians involved. This section is a welcome
addition to the set.
The final part of the second disc is given over to the then current line-up. Gay
returns to join Maddy Prior on vocals and the Mark 5 Spanners break into a new
set composed of material from their album in preparation, 'Time'. Listen out for
a new version of 'Twa Corbies' with much more instrumental clout but perhaps
lacking some of the soul of the original. The touring favourite, 'Harvest of the
Moon', came next and then a very fine version of The Water Is Wide'. Considering
that this must have been one of its first outings and with the benefit of
hindsight the latter number was sung so well by Gay Woods I have to say I
believe it better than the subsequent studio version and later live recordings.
The set closed with the traditional favourite, 'Thomas the Rhymer'.
And so to the encores - unusually perhaps an old single 'Rave On' was reprised
sounding, for all its minor alterations, like the record of years earlier and
then to conclude, further jigs - the popular 'Masons Apron' included allowing
for a typically big finish.
Altogether then an excellent piece of work. Some real highs in hearing the
earliest line-up perform and seeing how well the later ones had retained their
high level of energy. Again one can only admire the standard of musicianship in
coming into these songs with so little rehearsal and playing them so well - it
could easily have been a much-practised studio recording. Perhaps this is to be
expected given the musicians who have passed through Span in a quarter of a
century but it is still a delight to hear and a really good album. Now where's
the video to go with it?