Photo: Ian Burgess


Having talked with Gay Woods about the recent Steeleye tour and her solo plans, I wanted to talk about the album ‘Bedlam Born’ which has sparked much renewed interest in the band and particularly her part in it. The obvious place to start was 'White Cliffs of Dover' because the arrangement of the track is a deliberate contrast to the original recording, conjuring up as it does, the view that the country has fallen short of the ideals and aspirations so commonly associated with the lyric. The sleeve note dedicate the track to ‘anti G. M. crop activists, the homeless and those who didn’t make it to see the beautiful white cliffs’ and was written by Gay so I asked her first if the song was one of her projects…….

Yes, it was….what about it? Ha ha! Lots of people are taking that as good, you know, taking it seriously. I think that’s wonderful. They’re amazed that it could have the connotations to relate to problems in today’s life.

The sleeve notes are quite interesting. Maybe without them…

It would have gone by

Maybe. Perhaps as just a new musical treatment

It’s important to do a bit of education/teaching when you are doing some of your songs otherwise it can just go over peoples heads. You have to just invite them into what you have in your head.

Then they understand it more

Yes, and I would like that, because then you get more value out of it. The audiences teach you so much; they come up and say things, or how they applaud and where they react. You learn from them .The best episode was the one about ‘The Stuttering Lovers’, when we did it in Bradford and I announced it and said this was for anyone whoever stammers in their speech (which I find quite attractive) and there was a bit of applause from one section of the audience and I realised that it maybe was the local stammering club. And I thought, we mustn’t leave anybody out because I hadn’t thought of it in that way at all. Like for instance you might include a song about people with red hair so that they are included. We’ll have to get something out for maybe people with lisps!

Why did ‘Stuttering Lovers’ get missed off the album?

They just didn’t put it on. It’s a pity because it’s loved by everyone. It’s nonsense but what a piece of nonsense!

There was also ‘Staring Robin', which was not put on. Was that because they didn’t think the fans were up to it?

Ha ha! That wasn’t allowed on. Well I’ll tell you what. Tim had put an effect on his voice in recording it and when I heard the effect I said ‘Tim, you know you’re really pushing it. Would you not just take the effect off the voice and leave it where it is’ And he said ‘no’ so it just didn’t go on. It had just gone way out of the category. But it stands up on the stage – well some people don’t like it at all.

Finishing the set on tour with ‘Staring Robin’ and then ‘White Cliffs’ was quite a poke in the eye wasn’t it?

Yes, it was.

So how did people respond to that?

Well just from a general point of view, we on the stage thought they enjoyed it. Finishing with ‘White Cliffs’ some audiences were just stunned, especially with the good lighting and Tim would just let the machine continue these queer noises. I’m sure lots of them were used to the ‘foldy roll-didley-I-die’ ending. Ha ha! But there you have it!

It’s certainly moved away from the traditional approach hasn’t it?

Ha Ha! Well it’s a traditional song! The words have such meaning.

And that meaning is not lost in your interpretation, if anything, it’s highlighted.

Yes, it is. The fact that there are still people without a roof over their head at night in England is disgraceful. There has to be somewhere that anyone can have just shelter for the night.

What has been the response to ‘Bedlam Born’? Is it up on ‘Horkstow Grange‘?

I’d say it is. I have no numbers yet but it was certainly flying out. I’ve never signed so many copies of a CD on both tours. That’s just my observation and the amount that were shoved under my nose to sign and the fact we had to have more sent out on various gigs.

The band always said ‘Horkstow Grange’ was a transition album so is this the finished product?

Ha ha! God knows what we’ll do next. That’ll be interesting won’t it!

Along with all these new songs there’s things like, ‘We Poor Labouring Men’ which is more traditional.

It was Bob’s farewell record as well. In actual fact there is about three records in there. The one thing about Steeleye Span is it is just such a mixed bag. But in a way it has its charm. I don’t think many people got that song about fly-fishing – it ’s clever and that’s the kind of stuff he (Peter Knight) writes.

Peter is a fantastic tunesmith though isn’t he? The stuff he puts onto your songs is superb; he reads your music really well.

Good! Being a Virgo I get earthy about my music! Ha ha! I like to have the emotion expressed in certain places not leaving it to willy-nilly.

When Peter has put something down, a solo or whatever, on your track, are you aware that he has enhanced it, do you talk about what he is going to play?

No, I ask him what to play, dare I say I tell him what to play. No I ask him! For instance on ‘Bonny Irish Boy’ on ‘Horkstow Grange', I asked him if he would, please, use the Viola. And he did, for me. Because I asked him nicely! We have actually changed the arrangement of ‘Beyond the Dreaming Place’ because I wasn’t happy with it. We have strung the two verses together. It’s much better now. It’s still being worked on although it’s recorded. I don’t think it’s finished…

You work well with Tim as well don’t you?

Extraordinarily well yes. We don’t even have to talk in the studio. It was just a delight to be in it with him.

He is quite lively as well isn’t he, in his musical taste. Very similar to you?

Yes, very broad, like myself, into everything.

‘There Was A Wealthy Merchant’ is a great song isn’t it ?

It’s absolutely gorgeous, so beautiful. He only did it twice on the tour. There’s another one we didn’t put on. We have these rehearsal cassettes and I just put it on the other day and it’s Tim’s melody as well. We’ll definitely put that on something. Maybe on mine!

Your voice blends well with Tim’s in sharing the vocal.

It’s lovely the way the key changes as well. That came about because we couldn’t decide on a key because I could sing it up or down so he said why don’t we do it in two keys? And I said, "Why don’t you take the first bit and I’ll take the girly bits’ and it worked out really well. I was supposed to sing the whole song but I said, ‘Tim you’re singing it so beautifully’ and he said ‘But I can’t find the key’ so I said ‘You sing it in your key and I’ll sing it in mine’. That’s how that was born. Isn’t it really for your daughter that song? It’s a real daughter’s song. I love it. I always think of my daughter because he’s singing about "He had a beautiful daughter’ and it’s all about their lives unfolding and what they will do.

Have You heard the original? (Jack-A-Roe by the Grateful Dead).

No I haven’t.

I just wondered how it differed from that because Tim wrote the music didn’t he?

He did. He adapted it, it’s a bit rocky and I said I didn’t want to hear it. I’d have just got lost. He did listen to it but he found it was just to brash for the words so that’s why he set to work.

It’s nice though isn’t it? To be able to do the rocky and the softer….like ‘Connemara’

Everybody loves that. Do you know why I like it and why I think many people like it; it’s the slowness of it. It hangs in the air like some kind of eastern... a sort of Buddhist quality of slowness. Just working with those kinds of energies.

And the imagery as well.

The words are just beautiful, the silver and the blue.

What else did you have a hand in?

A lot of it was all of us apart from Bob’s. What was Bob’s? The beggar one? A lot of that, the harmonies were all my directorship because he thought it was just going to be a plain song with him singing but I got stuck in. It sounds like I put cabbage leaves in it but it put a bit more of the witchy voice.

Richard Hollis said of you that you had so many voices!

Yes, it’s scary! I’ve always had them but it was the Auto Da Fe years that brought that out, these crazy voices I have in there. I’m not schizophrenic though honestly!

Nick Clark was talking to Gay Woods on 11th November 2000 on behalf of The Unofficial Steeleye Span Website.