photo: Sarah Harvey
It was always going to be difficult job for me doing an objective review of Steeleye Span’s concert at Hastings during their 2017 tour. Having one of my dearest and longest friends from childhood days playing bass and me being responsible for dragging him over to the Eastbourne Congress Theatre in 1974 to see them for the first time, it was indeed a incredible thrill for me to see him play with them on a tour. I could have never ever imagined all those years ago that I would be sitting in the audience watching him playing with them.
So with my warning of bias well and truly out in the open, I will have a go at objectivity.
I saw Steeleye Span a year ago when Rik Kemp was playing bass. That concert was very much based around the new album ‘Dodgy Bastards’, which at that time was yet to be released. I am not a mad fan of folk music but have always been a fan of Steeleye Span since they have always managed to create a such a rich blend of folk and my first love of Progressive Rock. Dodgy Bastards was very much towards the latter and clearly showed a big influence of the newer and relatively younger members of the band.
Many bands have more recently started to play albums in full during the first half of their sets. 10 c.c. did this at The Eastbourne Congress Theatre last year with ‘Sheet Music’ to good effect, and WASP did it during their infamous visit to Hastings a few months back with ‘The The Crimson Idol’ (Even though there was no 2nd set to speak of in that particular case…. less said about that the better). I quite like this approach and it was a delight to hear Steeleye Span’s contribution to this concept with their very first 1970 album ‘Hark! The Village Wait’. I hadn’t heard this album for so many years and it was such a joy to hear it once again played in full, this time live and without the scratches despite Andrew ‘Spud’ Sinclair suggesting they had tried to replicate these to give it an authentic feel. I had truly forgotten how diverse this album was musically. I loved the way it was performed at the concert and as is traditional with folk-orientated pieces there is always a story attached. Most of the members of the band took turns in the story-telling although I must admit smiling at Benji’s humorous attempt to combine Richie Blackmore and Peter Green in his introduction of ‘The Hills Of Greenmore’. Keep on rocking in the free world Benji! I was waiting for Roger’s turn to introduce a song because anyone who knows Roger will know one of his other incredible abilities for impressions. I know he would have had me in tears and stitches (and probably the audience as well) and for the sake of my mascara it is probably just as well he didn’t have a go.
The second half started with ‘Cruel Brother’ taken from the latest album ‘Dodgy Bastards’ and then moved to mixture of assorted songs from the 1970s to the more progressive rockiness of the present day. ‘Alison Gross’ from 1973 ‘Parcel of Rogues’, ‘Little Sir Hugh’ from 1986 ‘ Commoners Crown’, the epic ‘Tam Lin’ from 1986 ‘Back In Line’ culminating in the wonderful ‘The Dark Morris Song’ from the 2013 album ‘The Wintersmith’.
The enthusiasm of the audience made it pretty obvious that there was going to be an encore and it duly arrived with the enduring classic ‘All Around My Hat’, complete with a chorus competently provided without accompaniment, by the audience. This blended into the wonderful title track off the most recent album ‘Dodgy Bastards’, a cheerful jig with a twist of prog and an ideal platform for Jessie May Smart to demonstrate her wonderful high-energy violin. One of the enduring qualities of Steeleye Span is their vocal harmonies and these were delivered beautifully from the outset with their first song ‘A Calling-On Song’. Maddie Prior remains the key vocal presence of the band. Her enthusiasm, and clear enjoyment of her music is something to behold and she remains the primary ingredient that drives all things Steeleye Span. For me Maddie Prior is Steeleye Span, no Maddie, no Steeleye! Our very own local lad drummer Liam Genockey, apart from Maddie, remains the longest serving Steeleye Span member and along with Roger, as ever provides that quality driving backbone to the band.
If you have read any of my other reviews or postings you may have noticed my love of the violin in rock music and Steeleye is yet another band where the violin plays such a pivotal part of their repertoire. I first saw violinist Jessie May Smart on last year’s Steeleye tour and I was struck with the amazing energy and excitement that goes into her playing. She is a huge talent who handles the early Steeleye compositions with ease and clearly influences the more modern works.
Between guitarists Andrew Spud Sinclar and Julian Littman, they supplied the rockiness to the raunchier elements of the set, whilst at the same time creating the folkiness (if there is such a word) to the more traditional folk compositions. And being the prog rock fan I am loved the live performance of Julian’s composition ‘ The Dark Morris Song’, which features a repeated complicated riff that was played with incredible tightness and expertise by everyone in the band.
The other newest member of the band for this tour is multi-string instrumentalist, Benji Kirkpatrick. Being a very skilled and experienced musician and singer, it was clear to see he was at ease with Steeleye’s music and he fitted in faultlessly. Having mentioned earlier about Benji’s introduction to ‘The Hills Of Greenmore’…. many of the stories attached to Steeleye’s songs are quite dark and macabre although Benji managed to throw us all with his amusing account of travelling down to Hastings in the van and going past Flimwell. He described his wonder of how people Flim well, the art of flimming, and the world flimming championships. I await with high anticipation at a new Steeleye Span song written by Benji about the act of Flimming in Flimwell, which to those of us in Hastings who travel the A21 regularly, is sure to include the words ‘infuriating’, ‘queue’, and ‘traffic lights’.
That brings me to Roger Carey and I make no apologies for gushing over his wonderful playing ability. If you know Roger, you will know about his amazing qualities and I am always staggered at his astonishing ability to learn songs and lyrics, and then play them to perfection each time. I have nowadays come to expect that whenever I see Roger play in whatever band he plays in, he will just get on with it and deliver impeccably, and of course with Steeleye it was delivery in the same effortless perfection. Just remarkable. I had read some comments of performances earlier in the tour regarding the sound quality of the band although that may have been something to do with the venues where Steeleye were playing. However, it may be to do with the good acoustics at St.Mary In The Castle, but I can only say that I thought the sound was well balanced and the volume at a level suitable for the music. At the foot of this review is a set-list as I remember it…. bearing in mind my memory is nowhere near as good as Roger’s, so excuse any small errors, but I think it is generally as I remember.
Speaking of Roger’s ability to remember things, I spoke to Roger after the concert who recalled our visit to The Congress all those years ago to see Steeleye Span supported by Gryphon. He reminded me in detail about the concert, even down to how I dragged him along on the train, and even who we spoke to on the way home. It reminds me of how life moves around in circles and in the end it makes us realise that how we feel now is as result of all those experiences all those years ago. Just so proud of Roger. Finally, Roger told me the thoughts of the band and how they saw it as the best gig on the tour so far, both from the togetherness, audience enthusiasm and the two-way engagement. I could clearly see that they were enjoying the Hastings experience during the encore. Let’s face it, Hastings people have a rich open-armed appreciation of all its music and is not frightened to show it. Welcome Steeleye… to the Hastings experience. Come back and experience it again soon!
Sarah Harvey – (c) December 16th, 2017 http://1066-media.com
A Calling-On Song
All Things Are Quite Silent
The Hills of Greenmore
My Johnny Was a Shoemaker
Lowlands of Holland
One Night as I Lay on My Bed
Little Sir Hugh
When I Was on Horseback
The Dark Morris Song
All Around My Hat