THE GAY WOODS INTERVIEW
by Nick Clark.
‘Audiences were certainly reluctant to see
electric music going into traditional folk’
Photo: Ian Burgess
PART THREE - HARK THE VILLAGE WAIT
In this, the final part of my interview with Gay Woods, I talked to her
about her participation in Steeleye’s first album, ‘Hark
the Village Wait’ back in 1970. As is well known, Gay left the band
after the record was made and had little contact with them until she rejoined
twenty-five years later. She told me about her involvement in the project and
the background to it and the events leading up to the creation of Britains
greatest folk rock group. I began by asking her what her impressions were of the
album nearly thirty years on.
It’s a lovely album because it just captured the five people at that time in
their lives - we were so young, what was I ?
Twenty-one or something.
When was ‘Hark the
It would have been late ‘69. I remember because it was wintertime and it was
snowing and all the rest of it.
What led up to it ?
Well, I was married to Terry Woods then and he went over to England and
met Ashley Hutchings and Ashley was wanting to form another band
after Fairport because he had left them and wanted to do his own thing
and Terry joined up. I went over to get a job as a typist - the old story
so Terry said that I could sing, because I had always sung here in
Ireland with my brothers and with Terry. I came from a singing family so
they said, ”Oh well, do you want to sing?". It was all very casual, there
was no record deal, nothing. We just did it - like the way kids do nowadays. We
had to set up in Ashley Hutching’s bedroom and sing a few songs and see
what we wanted. Then Tim and Maddy were asked and they decided to
give it a go and that was how it formed. Terry Woods and me moved down to
a place in Wiltshire and Ashley moved down south and Tim and Maddy
came into it whilst they were doing the folk club gigs.
Was it a loose arrangement then ?
Oh no, there was definitely a project. Ashley Hutchings and Terry
Woods were the mainstay - Terry had a huge repertoire of songs and a
huge energy as well for playing. He was really into it. So was Ashley -
he was the sort of driving force - the English connection. So we got a record
producer and we got a deal - RCA and we were just astonished. I got a job
as a typist and I had it about a week but I think that was the catalyst. When I
went off to work down in London, they got the deal. I got a lovely phone call
one day saying “Gay, we’ve got the deal- you’ve got the job”. I
was out there like a bullet!
What was the mood like in 1969 for traditional folk music?
Well it was very folk clubby, although Fairport had done ‘Liege and
Lief’ but before that in Ireland ‘Sweeney’s Men’ had brought
in Henry McCulloch to play electric guitar with them. I had been to the Cambridge
Folk Festival in 1968 to watch them and they were booed off the stage for
applying an electric guitar but they got on and they did their short set but
audiences were certainly reluctant to see electric music going into traditional
folk music stuff.
Do you think the album goes beyond what was being done at
I think it has a certain identity about it that no one else captured at that
time certainly. It has to do with the songs we chose how Ashley Hutchings
plays the bass - I love bass playing. I think it’s an integral part in that
change of how traditional music was carried on, particularly with the
instruments Terry Woods used. As well as that the two women singing - the
collision of nasally English singing and throaty Irish singing - just a big bowl
of ingredients that made it sound like it did with traces of sweetness. Although
I have to say the people weren’t sweet to each other whilst they did it.
That’s presumably why it didn’t last beyond one album
Then the fighting started because there were some clashes of personality so that
was the end of that!
Gerry Conway was on the thirtieth anniversary tour
- he did the original drumming on ‘Dark-Eyed Sailor'.
He did and it was lovely to sing it with him again. It was a joy. He’s really
the only one that could play it - I’ve told him that.
The album has gone through quite a few re-issues hasn’t
it? Were you aware of the burgeoning interest in it back in 1990 when Shanachie
put it out ?
No, I was completely out of Steeleye Span. I had no communication
whatsoever until one day, I think it was in October 1994, I had just got my
diploma and was about to begin more work to become a therapist and I got a
phonecall to say would I join them for one tour and I stayed with them. I
thought it would be for one tour - I really did. I didn’t want to get involved
in that world again but I am now - up to my ears.
And presumably happy with it?
Very happy with it and very happy with the music.
Have you got any particular favourites on ‘Hark
the Village Wait’ or
any of the other Steeleye albums?
I love Maddy’s rendition of ‘Searching for Lambs’ - I love that
song. I think the arrangement - Tim Harries did the arrangement - is
absolutely beautiful and I also love ‘Copshawholme Fair’- I love that
song because it mentions “Kale plants from Orange” or something and being a
farmer- well I’d love to be a farmer, I just love anything that mentions
vegetables. I love the words of that song.
Does the album stand up with what came afterwards?
Oh it’s completely different - it’s on it’s own - a completely different
sound from what they started to reproduce. There’s no fiddle in it, the fiddle
took over then. When Terry Woods and I went on to do our own stuff we
took an oath we would never have a fiddle because it had just become the club
sound. It’s great that Peter drops fiddle sometimes and plays keyboards
because he has that ability but at that time music became just folky music with
a fiddle riff - you had to have a fiddle in the sound.
From what you say you have presumably gone through the Steeleye
back catalogue pretty extensively?
Yes I did for a while. I listened to a lot of the stuff. I loved ‘Cruel
Mother’ off ‘Tempted and Tried’ -
that’s a very, very good record - I like that very much. The guitar solo is
exceptional. I think the album is one of their best. I haven’t listened to
everything - I couldn’t. Some of the stuff they wrote themselves, I’m not
very fond of that. I like the archaic songs. Music has changed so much and I
think it’s great that this band is still performing.
Is this forthcoming album, making two in three years, a
sign that Steeleye is more popular now than over the last two decades?
They hadn’t recorded because they had become stale and had got fed up with it
- which is only natural. I suppose when the new people came in and they had a
new singer who didn’t have voice problems (that held them back a lot because
Maddy couldn’t tour sometimes) they could just do what they liked. Touch wood
my voice is holding out and I love music so much. That is why we are going to
record again. Plus we are selling the stuff so there is renewed interest. I love
playing live, it’s my favourite way of playing. I love audiences and the
reaction we’ve got off the audiences on this tour has been fantastic. That’s
all you need to keep a band playing....
13th. Dec. 1999
This is the end of the Gay Woods interview. The interview is copyright
1999 to Nick Clark and reproduction in whole or in part is strictly
prohibited without permission of the copyright holder.