Being an ardent fan of the band for the past 35 years, a chance to go and see them again was just too good to pass up. My home is in Chester, which is only about 35 miles away from Southport (as the crow flies), but being a busy Saturday and having to negotiate the Mersey tunnel and the traffic in Liverpool, in order to arrive at the theatre on time, we set off good and early. Southport, for the uninitiated, is one of the jewels in the crown on the Lancashire coast. It is a fine example of mainly post Georgian/Victorian architecture and is a very smart town.
The weather was cold but dry and the journey took one and a half-hours. Sometimes it seems that 90% of the traffic lights in the north of England lie between Chester and Southport! We arrived 10 minutes before the start of the concert. In the foyer of the theatre, we met several familiar faces, many of them organisers and singers from folk clubs in the Northwest and Lancashire area, and the usual banter and pleasantries were exchanged.
Inside the theatre it was a case of ‘spot the celebrity in the audience’ — with a band of this calibre they always attract one or two — in this case, mostly local semi-pro artists and a couple of familiar radio/TV performers. As the theatre filled you could feel the excitement in the air. When the safety curtain went up the stage was arranged in the now-familiar Steeleye setup. The stage was lit with a bluish-grey tinge using small uplighting and individual spots from directly above each artist’s microphone, with the occasional spotlight shining from the back of the auditorium on Maddy or the main vocalist for that particular song.
This was to be Steeleye Span’s Greatest Hits: The Reunion Tour 2002, starting Friday 29th November and finishing Friday 20th December. There were to be 17 concerts in 21 days, this time with Maddy Prior, the voice of Steeleye Span for 28 years, returning after a five-year sabbatical. Peter Knight was there on fiddle, making him the band’s longest-serving member with 32 years; Rick Kemp on bass, providing the band’s driving sound in the 70s and 80’s, and on the drum stool Liam Genockey.
Sadly, Bob Johnson, Steeleye’s lead guitarist is not on the tour due to a minor heart condition — it was felt that the pace of the tour was too strenuous. Although not on the tour, Bob was part of the band for the recording of their latest double CD album ‘Present’ . Former Albion Band guitarist and singer Ken Nicol is taking Bob’s place on the tour. As many know, Ken is already a competent musician and singer in his own right, and he did an excellent job of emulating Bob Johnson’s guitar style throughout the whole performance.
The playlist for the concert and the album, ‘Present,’ was selected from votes placed online by fans on the Park Records Web site. The results are as follows: Disc One: 1. Sir James The Rose 2. Hard Times of Old England 3. Cam Ye O’Er Frae France 4. Thomas The Rhymer 5. Lyke Wake Dirge 6. Black Jack Davey 7. Two Magicians 8. Blackleg Miner Disc Two: 1. When I Was On Horseback 2. John Barleycorn 3. Long Lankin 4. Misty Moisty Morning 5. Let Her Go Down 6. Gaudete 7. The Weaver And The Factory Maid 8. Drink Down The Moon .
I found it interesting to note that none of the songs chosen are from the band’s three latest albums, but come from the albums issued in the 70’s and 80’s. I have to confess to being just a tiny bit disappointed that there is no new material on this album.
The band’s first song was the ‘The King’ and for this and the next song ‘Black Jack Davy,’ I noticed a few slight nervous errors, but most of them were down to the sound engineer not getting his act together with the balance of the instruments. In fact, the only thing that marred a near-perfect performance was the fact that it was hard to hear some of the bass and Peter’s fiddle due to Ken’s guitar being just a little too loud in the mix. (It’s a thankless job being the sound man; he gets the blame for everything!). The rest of the concert continued with the playlist as per the album, and was absolutely stunning. At the end they took three encores, and to be perfectly honest they could have taken five or six!
Every one of the thousand or so that were in the audience must have returned home feeling they had been very well entertained. One of the nicer touches of the concert was the appearance of Rose Kemp, daughter of Rick and Maddy who is only sweet 17, but already showing promise as a fine singer — she is clearly being groomed for the ‘family business’. The teaming up of her voice with Maddy’s sounded excellent when she joined the band on stage to sing the chorus to a couple of numbers. It is good to see younger people coming into folk music and I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more this young lady in the not-too-distant future.
I know it is hard to put a band together with a lineup that creates that little bit of extra magic, but I have said it before and I will say it again: ‘This is the line up, they are the Steeleye Span that everyone remembers and loves.’ Long may they reign!
P.S. Note to Steeleye: While you are back together, a new album wouldn’t be a bad thing.
You can buy the album online at the Park Records Web site (link above).
(Southport, Lancashire, UK, December 7, 2002)