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Steeleye Span

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings - 10th December, 2015

Written By Andy Gunton

Spanning the years.

Seeing as Steeleye Span have been in existence for over 40 years, this was the first time that I’d actually seen them perform live. I do remember seeing them on Top of The Pops though, way back in 1975, playing their Top Ten hit single 'All Around My Hat'.

Good things come to those that wait I suppose?

Watching them at St Mary in the Castle in Hastings, on Thursday evening, I was reminded of a quote from ‘The Blues Brothers’ film. To paraphrase that quote, “We play both kinds of music, Folk and Rock”.

Steeleye Span are no traditional ‘finger in the ear’ Folk band, but can Rock out with the best of them, when the mood and song takes them. I even spotted a few power chords, and they almost strayed into Prog Rock territory on a couple of occasions too!

This was a varied and very enjoyable show, far more so than I expected, if I’m totally honest.

Starting off with a song dedicated to the people of Cumbria, who were suffering the after effects of flooding at the time of this gig, Steeleye Span’s two sets spanned almost their whole career, right up to airings of several tracks from their most recent album, 'Wintersmith', a collaboration with the late Sir Terry Pratchett.

The acoustics of St Mary in the Castle were used to great effect during the vocal harmonies of all six band members, something that really stood out. The musicianship was everything you’d expect from such a seasoned act too, but special mention should be made of the violin playing of new member Jesse May Smart, who used her instrument like a lead guitar at times.

As an ex drummer it's always hard to drag my eyes away from the playing of, local lad, Liam Genockey, and tonight was no exception. His unique style can be mesmerising at times.

And then of course there's Maddy Prior, who is still in great voice and obviously still enjoying performing, if her dance moves and smiles are anything to go by. She even ventured onto the floor of the auditorium during one song to perform a solo dance with a silk scarf, a kind of “dance of the one veil”.

One aspect of Folk gigs I always enjoy is the storytelling. Each song is introduced with an, often amusing, story about the song and its history, whether that be a tale of love, Elizabethan England, or press gangs, as was the case this evening.

The final song of Steeleye Span’s first set was introduced by Maddy Prior as a song that always comes around, “like death and taxes”, that song being of course “All Around My Hat”.
After being encouraged to do so, this provided the audience with a perfect opportunity to test the venues acoustics for themselves by singing along to the chorus, unaccompanied. I think it’s fair to say that Hastings passed that test with flying colours.
The interval provided another example of what sets a gig of this kind apart from many others, and also shows what a real sense of Community there is within the Folk fraternity. Where else would you be encouraged to buy raffle tickets, during that interval, by the lead singer. (Maddy Prior was sat by the side of the stage, selling those raffle tickets, after the gig too)
My colleague used the word “Homespun” to reflect this, I think I know what he means.

Stand out songs during the second set included ‘New York Girls’, complete with a story explaining how Peter Sellers rather bizarrely came to play ukulele on the original recording, 'Dark Morris', possibly the stand out track from ‘Wintersmith’, and a song which even included a short Rap section. Who would have thought that would happen at a Folk Rock gig?

All of this and still all over by 10pm, another pleasant change and one that maybe reflects the demographic of the audience?

Steeleye Span are a band with a long career, but they’re not standing still. Although steeped in history and tradition, they are still exploring the genre and moving forward, as those Rap and Prog sections show.

Long may they continue to do so.

For more about Steeleye Span visit: steeleyespan.org.uk

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