Trinity Theatre / Arts Centre, Tunbridge Wells, England. 2nd October 1998…. The first UK gig of Steeleye Span since Maddy Prior left in October 1997.
Well, having given the new album a good airing I knew that the band had some good material, so how would they perform without the person who in some peoples’ eyes ‘is’ Steeleye Span?
Now, first and foremost there is no one who is a bigger fan of Maddy than me, well … maybe most of the subscribers to Prior engagements, but I probably spend more money and time than is sensible or sane traveling round the country seeing the queen of British folk music.
So it was with some surprise that I can honestly say, with hand on heart, that I did not miss Maddy at all during the concert! The band did not seem incomplete in any way, They were composed, self-assured and if you had not seen them before, you would have been forgiven for thinking that they had played with this line-up for years!
The line-up was of course, Gay Woods, Bob Johnson, PeterKnight, Tim Harries, with Dave Mattacks on percussion and drums. Who knows whether Dave will become a permanent fixture, he certainly comes with a good pedigree, having played with Fairport Convention and the great Richard Thompson.
The setting was in an old Church although, once inside, you would never have known it as it had excellent tiered seating, allowing everyone a good view, and acoustically it was superb.
Now onto the gig itself.
The set list: 1) ‘Long Lankin,’ 2) ‘Prickly Bush,’ 3) ‘Erin gra mochroi *,’ 4) ‘Tricks of London*,’ 5) ‘One True Love*,’ 6) ‘Dark Eyed Sailor*,’ 7) ‘Horkstow Grange (Interval),’ 8) ‘The Old Turf Fire,’ 9) ‘Seagull,’ 10) ‘Black Jack Davy,’ 11) ‘Bonny Birdy,’ 12) ‘Water is Wide,’ 13) ‘Lord Randall,’ 14) ‘I Wish I’d Never Been Wed,’ 15) ‘Thomas the Rhymer,’ 16) ‘Old Maid in The Garrett,’ 17) ‘All Around My Hat,’ 18) ‘Jigs,’ and 19) ‘Gaudette’
The band sounded good from the word go. ‘Long Lankin’ was magical. Gay’s vocals were in total control and not overpowering in any way. After the opening song the audience gave the band an extended applause. This happened on several occasions throughout the gig, along with numerous shouts of appreciation.
In the songs marked with an * Bob played a steel strung acoustic guitar, which I don’t think I have seen him do in all the time I have been following the band, although I know he does play acoustic often on the albums.
The new songs all came over very well and it is certainly hats off to Peter who managed to get through ‘Bonny Birdy’ without fluffing his words! For those of you who don’t have the album yet, it is an old Scottish ballad with tongue twisting verses like ‘Then wi good white bread an farrow-cow-milk he bade her feed me aft, An ga her a little wee simmer-dale wanny, to ding me sindle and saft’! Try singing that after a couple of pints! I honestly thought he would have the words in front of him when he sang that one, but no, he did it all from memory, and it sounded as good as on the CD, in fact all the better for being live.
Bob sang lead vocals on ‘Black Jack Davy.’ It was fun trying to imagine him ‘kicking off his high heeled shoes, made of Spanish leather’!
Dave Mattacks played very sensitively throughout, which in the ‘acoustic guitar’ songs certainly gave the band a more ‘Below the Salt’ feel, but in the ‘biggies’ like ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ and ‘Long Lankin’, they still had the power to move the rafters!
Talking of ‘Thomas the Rhymer,’ I thought it was brave of Gay tackling a number which is seen very much as a Maddy song; however, she performed it very well. One thing I noticed is that even though Gay is obviously the central figure, she was in no way pushy or ‘this is my band now.’ It was almost the opposite, in that she seemed content to take a back seat until it was her turn to introduce a song.
Tim’s debut into the world of lead vocals went well after a slightly hesitant start, but once he got into it and relaxed he was fine! The song was ‘One True Love.’
One thing Steeleye are famous for is their close harmony vocals, and this came over excellently in Horkstow Grange, particularly Bob’s dulcet tones! This is the song where Steeleye gets its name.
True of all Steeleye members is a good sense of humour; and Gay is no exception, during the inevitable ‘Hat’ instead of singing ‘a small sprig of thyme,’ Gay changed it to ‘a small sprig of logic’ which I found most amusing. If I was going to make any criticism of the evening it would-be that I would have liked to have heard more of the new album, and maybe a few more really old classics from years gone by, but I am nitpicking really, It was an excellent gig and a relief to know that Steeleye Span, despite a major upheaval, have lived to tell the tale, and here’s wishing them every success for a good few years to come.
Next stop Edmonton!
(Tunbridge Wells, England, 2nd of October 1998)