Ashley Hutchings left Fairport Convention after recording Liege and Lief in 1969. He wanted to pursue the idea of an electric folk-rock band which plays traditional English music. He got together Terry Woods. Terry's wife Gay Woods joined as lead singer. St Albans acoustic duo Tim Hart and Maddy Prior joined. That was the first band. Friend Martin Carthy suggested the name. Steeleye Span is a character in a Lincolnshire folk song.
See also the Maddy Prior page of this site for the early work of Tim Hart and Maddy Prior.
The first band consisted of Ashley Hutchings, (electric bass), Terry Woods, (vocals, guitar and banjo), Gay Woods, (vocals, concertina), Tim Hart, (vocals, guitar, duclimer), Maddy Prior, (vocals).
They recorded the first album Hark the Village Wait (A 'wait' is an old name for a musician, particularly a member of a small band of musicians attached to a town or village). They never performed live with this line-up.
Dave Mattacks and Gerry Conway shared the drumming role on this album.
In April 1970 Terry and Gay Woods left. Tim Hart held the group together. Martin Carthy joined, and soon after, Peter Knight.
The band now consisted of Ashley Hutchings, Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, Martin Carthy (vocals, guitar), and Peter Knight (violin, mandolin).
Please to See the King was recorded. This was followed by their third album, Ten Man Mop with the same line-up.
Notably these albums had no drums.
Although I haven't heard everything they did since, I think their early years were their best At least 3 of the personnel were major figures on the folk scene and now highly respected individuals in their own right.
The first 3 albums have been difficult to obtain on C.D. From 2003 this is of no concern because of the release of the album Lark in the Morning, The early years..
This is a 2 CD set offered at a very low price and contains all the tracks of the first three albums, and all in the original order too. Excellent value, especially when you consider that these early albums by Steeleye Span were some of their best recordings of all.
Complete list of tracks on this CD:
From Hark! The Village Wait:Calling-On Song, Blacksmith, Fisherman's Wife, Blackleg Miner, Dark-Eyed Sailor, Copshawholme Fair, All Things Are Quite Silent, Hills of Greenmore, My Johnny Was a Shoemaker, Lowlands of Holland, Twa Corbies, One Night as I Lay on My Bed.
From Please to See the King: Blacksmith, Cold, Haily, Windy Night, Jigs Medley: Bryan O' Lynn / The Hag With the Money, Prince Charlie Stuart, Boys of Bedlam, False Knight on the Road, Lark in the Morning, Female Drummer, The King, Lovely on the Water, Rave On.
From Ten Man Mop: Gower Wassail, Jigs: Paddy Clancy's Jig / Willie Clancy's Fancy, Four Nights Drunk, When I Was on Horseback, Marrowbones, Captain Coulston, Reels Medley: Dowd's Favorite / £10 Float / The Morning Dew, Wee Weaver, Skewball, General Taylor.
There is another excellent budget CD available in Britain, A Stack of Steeleye Span which contains a very good selection of tracks from the first three albums. At about £3.99 it is one of the best value CDs of all.
The caption on the CD cover says "Their Finest Folk Recordings 1973-1975" which is incorrect. It should be 1969-1971.
At the end of 1971 Ashley Hutchings left and later formed the Albion Band. Then Martin Carthy left over disagreement about who would replace Hutchings.
Without Ashley Hutchings the character of the band changed considerably at this time.
Rick Kemp (bass), Bob Johnson (guitar), joined. Previously rock players.
The next albums to be released were Below the Salt in 1972 and Parcel of Rogues in 1973. Both of these are highly regarded.
The single Gaudete (pronounced gau-de-te) was successful at Christmas 1973. This was sung in latin in vocal harmony with little or no instrumental content. For many it was the first time they had heard of Steeleye Span.
MIDI file - Gaudete. Click the logo.
Around 1974 Nigel Pegrum (drums) joined.
The group now consisted of Maddy Prior, Tim Hart, Peter Knight, Rick Kemp, Bob Johnson and Nigel Pegrum, and lasted nearly four years.
Instrumentally they were more like a conventional rock group, but with the addition of a violin. They made much use of vocal harmonies.
Albums: Now We Are Six and All Around My Hat.
In 1975 they had a top 10 single with All Around My Hat.
In May 77 Johnson and Knight left.
Martin Carthy re-joined and brought John Kirkpatrick (accordian).
This line-up of Steeleye Span lasted less than a year and they split up on 12 March 1978. This break up was thought to be permanent at the time.
Around the start of 1980 all members from the mid 70's line-up got back together and re-formed the group.
They released the album Silver Sails in 1980 with the group consisting of:
Maddy Prior - vocals
Tim Hart - vocals, guitar
Bob Johnson - vocals, guitar
Rick Kemp - vocals, bass
Peter Knight - vocals, keyboards, violin
Nigel Pegrum - drums, percussion, woodwind.
Again this line-up lasted a further 4 years until 1984 when founder member Tim Hart left. He had been performing with Maddy Prior since before they joined Steeleye Span. Now Maddy Prior was the only remaining original member.
Rick Kemp left in 1986.
Two replacements for Rick Kemp were tried in 1986, but Steeleye Span seem to have become inactive for the next 2 or 3 years and released no records.
In 1989 Tim Harries joined as a successful replacement for Rick Kemp.
Nigel Pegrum (drums) was the next long-standing member to leave in 1989. He was replaced by Liam Genockey.
In 1985, surprisingly, Gay Wood re-joined the band after having been absent since 1970.
In 1997, the unthinkable happened. Maddy Prior left. It is interesting to speculate that perhaps Gay Woods was brought into the group to allow Maddy Prior to leave.
This left Peter Knight as the most senior member of the band, having been with them since 1970 apart from the turbulent period at the end of the 70's.
In 2002 it seemed that Peter Knight was the only definite member of Steeleye Span but was intending to re-form the group in some form. This did indeed happen and they are still continuing to tour occasionally, including Maddy Prior.
Table showing Steeleye Span members.
This table is intentionally concise to show the overall picture.
Where possible the columns represent the start of each year.
Steeleye Span - By Peter Knight.
Steeleye Span - An excellent independent site in Germany with a vast amount of information about their recordings.
Park Records - The label for Steeleye Span and Maddy Prior's recent work. Pictures and information about her albums, some sound clips. Includes a short biography of Maddy Prior here.
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