Ashley Hutchings was the co-founder of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. Also the founder of the Albion Band. As such he has been involved in the formation of three of the biggest bands in English folk music.
As a teenager he began playing the 'wash tub' or 'tea chest' type of home-made bass, but soon (wisely) changed to an electric bass guitar, which is the instrument he has continued to play ever since.
In 1966, he formed the Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra with Simon Nicol. This evolved into Fairport Convention formed in 1967. He is said to have liked the album Liege and Lief, and wanted to keep Fairport Convention on the same style of Folk-rock with a repertoire based on traditional music, but there were indications that other members of the group did not want to follow that path, and wanted to include more original material.
He left Fairport Convention in 1969 and formed Steeleye Span.
In late 1971 he formed the Albion Country Band to back Shirley Collins who was then his wife. The line-up included Simon Nichol, Richard Thompson and John Kirkpatrick. The album No Roses is regarded as a major landmark in English folk music.
Soon afterwards, in 1972, Morris On was released with some of the same band members. As well as Ashley Hutchings it includes John Kirkpatrick, Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks and Barry Dransfield. John Kirkpatrick is the principal performer on the album and it could have been portrayed as his album. Guitars and fiddle are present but not especially evident. It was then one of only a few commercial recordings of morris music, and has proved to have an enduring popularity, and especially much loved by those who bought the original vinyl album at the time. However it is a bit dated and has a short playing time. I would suggest that newcomers to the 'family' buy it's Grandson instead (see below).
Tracks on this CD: Morris call, Greensleeves, Nutting girl, Medley:( Old woman tossed up in a blanket, Shepherd's hey, Trunkles ), Staines Morris, Medley:( Lads a Bunchum, Young Collins ), Vandals of Hammerwich, Medley:( Willow tree, Bean setting, Shooting ), I'll Go and Enlist for a Sailor, Princess Royal, Cuckoo's Nest, Morris off.
Actually Morris On is not so much of a morris album as is suggested by the name. True, it makes much use of the morris repertoire of tunes, and uses various squeezeboxes, but it also has quite a number of songs. Only perhaps about half the album is instrumental, and some is in a more general ceili style or like scottish ceili music. There are just a few notable tracks which reproduce typical morris music. Lads a Bunchum and Young Collins have the sounds of sticks and even the dance calls.
The Albion Band gradually formed from a number of related projects.
In January 1974 the Etchingham Steam Band emerged from some of the members of the Albion Country Band and Shirley Collins. They did not release any recordings.
The Albion Dance Band was formed in 1975 with Simon Nicol and others. It lasted until 1977.
In 1978, Hutchings formed the Albion Band, which notably included Ric Sanders on violin, who later joined Fairport Convention to replace Dave Swarbrick. The Albion Band has endured ever since, but has gone through numerous changes of personnel, and some changes of musical style. Each of their albums seems to be a varied mixture of different types of songs and some instrumentals.
According to the official Albion Band site, they split up in Autumn 2002 with "no current plans" to continue.
Past members include (as listed on their site, and in alphabetical order) Phil Beer, Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins, John Kirkpatrick, Chris Leslie, Cathy Lesurf, Dave Mattacks, Julie Matthews, Simon Nicol, Ric Sanders, John Tams, Richard Thompson and Chris While.
Son of Morris On was released in 1976 following the same theme of a mix of songs and tunes based on the morris repertoire and as good as Morris On itself, though seems to have been less popular. Different personnel, only Hutchings and Dave Mattacks remain from Morris On and it notably included Simon Nichol, Martin Carthy and John Tams. It has distinctly more guitar than Morris On.
Tracks on Son of Morris On:
Winster Processional, Monck's March, Old Hog or None, As I was Going To Banbury, The Happy Man, Medley:( Fieldtown Processonal / Glorishears ), Bob and Joan, Ladies of Pleasure, Bring Your Fiddle, Medley:( Jockey to the Fair / Room for the Cuckolds ), Saturday Night, Medley:( Roasted Woman / Rigs Of Marlow / Getting Upstairs ), Medley:( Ye Wild Morris / The Wild Morris, The Postman's Knock, Ring O Bells, The Gallant Hussar, Bonnets So Blue, Old Hog or None (reprise), Y'Acre of Land (CD only), Cotswold Tune (CD only).
Note that although there are a large number of tracks, some are very short novelty items including some spoken word.
Much later, in 2003 came Grandson of Morris On. Something of the same formula of including a mix of songs and instrumental dance tunes, but quite different in musical style, perhaps largely because of the different personnel. It also stands taller than its relatives at about 55 minutes. I prefer it to the others, it has a higher standard of musicianship and is better sound quality than the previous two. The main instrument is the melodeon, highly appropriate for morris, and most is ably played by Simon Care who must be regarded as the principal performer on the album replacing the role of John Kirkpatrick on Morris On.
It has an all-star list of contributors including 3 great fiddlers, Rick Sanders, Phil Beer, and Chris Leslie, some of whom sing a bit. Martin Brinsford (pictured) is also present and there's a rare opportunity to hear him perform solo.
There is some particularly stylish melodeon playing in typical morris style which appears on two tracks (Tom Long's Post and The Snake) and is by little-known players Mark Rogers and Sharon Kilyon. Another notable track is Gloucester Hornpipe played as an acoustic guitar duet by Phil Beer and Jon Moore.
Whilst I consider this to be a very good album, it has missed the opportunity of being a GREAT album, because it seems that insufficient time was allowed for rehearsal and recording re-takes. Some electric guitar hints at being a touch of genius, but at times becomes incongruous, and some tracks are faded out which gives an impression of salvaging a presentable track from one which went wrong. However, the long playing time makes up for it at there is plenty of good music here.
Tracks on Grandson of Morris On:
The Blue Eyed Stranger / The Curly-headed ploughboy, Le Halle Place, The Life of a Fool, The Quaker's Wife, Shepherds' Hey / Orange in Bloom, Tom Long's Post, Jupiter's Return / Bold Eric / Tailor's Buttons, Little Johnny England, Hi-ho-fiddle-dee-dee, Black Joke, Gloucester Hornpipe / Mr Trill's Song, Sweet Jenny Jones, Horatio, Garland Gay, Saturday Night / Bobbing Joe / Beaux Badby, He sits there, Glorishears, The Snake, This is the Morris my Friend, Four Up, Four Up (Reprise).
Great Grandson of Morris On lacks the really big names of its 'parent', but perhaps for other reasons it is not up to the high standard of its predecessors.
Tracks on Great Grandson of Morris On:
At The May Day Celebrations, Swaggering Boney, Banbury Bill / Shepherds' Hey, Winster Morris Reel, London Pride, Now Mind You This, Highland Mary, The Field And The Farm, The Devil's Details / The Low Down, Comes The Morris Dancer In, Bonny Green Garters, Every Year When The Wakes Come Along, First Day At T'Mill, The Godley Hill Set, Happy The Age, The Rose, Jack-In-The-Green On Saturday Night, Under The Old Myrtle Tree / Morning Star / Billy Boy / Banks Of The Dee, Washing Day.
Diversity and variety are a common feature of many of the albums from Ashley Hutchings and the Albion Band. They have proved to be successful and popular, so perhaps it is what people want. As a personal preference I regard diversity as something of a disadvantage. It is as if they are presenting a 'showcase' for what the band can do, rather than an end-product. I prefer to play a whole album to reflect or create a mood and so prefer a consistency of style throughout.
The Official Ashley Hutchings web page: www.folkicons.co.uk/ashley.htm
The Official Albion Band web page: www.folkicons.co.uk/albion.htm
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