2nd August 1999

It was a stifling hot day in Summer when our party headed down 'sarf' to Oxfordshire and the sleepy village of Nettlebed for a rare Steeleye home gig - one of only a handful of live appearances in the run up to the thirtieth anniversary tour. We (being myself, wife Hazel and twins Hazel jr and Carolanne) arrived at the venue early enough to catch the soundcheck and were treated to a rare 'thrash' version of 'Bonny Birdy' After an hour at the front of the queue we got pretty good seats in a two hundred capacity hall. Having not seen the band since Maddy and Gay Woods sang together I was interested to see how the latter would take over the role from the genres 'first lady'.

We were not disappointed. As usual the band used the gig to run through a greatest hits type set list. In the show were 'Black Jack Davy'' ,'Long Lankin','Seagull' and a host of others.Predictably also there was a healthy range of tracks from the last two records,'Time' and 'Horkstow Grange' - thus resting all the stalwarts from 'Tempted And Tried'

Gay Woods was very different to the last time we had seen her. Her influence was very much on the band with its adoption of traditional Irish styles particularly during 'Erin' as she pounded away on the Bodhran to great effect. She also introduced many of the songs and was clearly at home in the more intimate and friendly setting of the club. Her wild and soulful voice greatly enhanced many of the old favourites and won new admirers including myself.

Behind her the band were prepared to contribute equally with their own particular songs. Bob Johnson became very popular with my twins when he introduced 'Tricks Of London' as being "For Hazel and Carolanne". Peter Knight was, as ever, note perfect in the haunting 'Water Is Wide' and Tim Harries stepped forward for an excellent 'One True Love'. Perhaps one of the most outstanding songs of the evening was 'Bonny Birdy' - played this time at normal speed and used as a vehicle for each of the members to solo. The total set lasted over two hours - no mean feat in the blistering heat. Guest drummer Dave Mattacks sweated profusely from early on - see the picture to prove it. When the show finally ended, the calls for encore were a good deal more than the usual politeness. The club members and visitors agreed with Gay Woods when she came back onto the stage and praised the bands ' great musicianship. The obligatory renditions of 'All Around My Hat' and 'Gaudete' wrapped up the evening.

After the show we were fortunate to be invited backstage where Gay Woods played the mother hen in rounding up the rest of the band for a photo and Bob explained that he thought 'Tricks of London' hadn't really worked that well and probably wouldn't be used again.

In conclusion, the 30th anniversary tour will be a chance to see Steeleye absolutely at the top of their game. They are clearly comfortable with each other and their standard of musicianship has never been higher. The input of Gay Woods and the strong Irish influence to their new songs has given a lot fresher feel to their material. Although it is probably heresy to say so, the band were better live than at anytime since 'Tonight's the Night'. If you are thinking of seeing Steeleye Span live, now is a pretty good time to do so.
Nick Clark