First visit to the Hexagon in Reading, a venue I had seen on TV previously when a snooker tournament used to be held here. Tonight though it hosts folk rock legends Steeleye Span, to a sadly half-full auditorium which is even more surprising as the support is another folk legend, Jacqui McShee of Pentangle.
She played a short set backed by a trio of musicians playing fiddle, guitar and percussion. Jacqui McShee’s voice is still strong and emotive, none more so than on Pentangle’s ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken?’ and she was well received by the audience, as well as doing a good trade in signed CD’s after her performance.
A very brief pause before Steeleye Span took to the stage for the first half of their set. Steeleye Span have undergone a few line-up changes in the past couple of years with Maddy Prior, Liam Genocky (drums, percussion) and Julian Littman (guitars) joined by Jesse May Stuart (violin), Andrew “Spud” Sinclair (guitars) with bassist Roger Carey and former Bellowhead member Benji Kirkpatrick (whose dad John was in the band in the mid-70′s), joining the band last year. This evolution of members certainly has breathed new energy and life into the band and their delivery of Steeleye Span’s vast back catalogue.
Starting off with ‘The Dark Morris Song’ from the Terry Pratchett-inspired 2013 album ‘Wintersmith’, the band soon hit their stride. The set list covered from their debut album right up to their yet-to-be-recorded album due out next year as they celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. First half highlights included ‘Harvest/The Gleaning’, ‘January Man’ and a rollicking run through the title track of their last album ‘Dodgy Bastards’.
Maddy Prior leads the song when required and is happy to sing backing vocals when either Julian Littman or Benji Kirkpatrick take the lead vocal. One of the band’s strengths is the harmony vocals they create with all bar drummer Liam Genocky singing.
After an interval, in which Maddy Prior was out in the bar handing out flyers to her upcoming Carnival Band dates and next year’s musical workshops she hosts – that’s dedication to your music right there – we were back for a second set which started with ‘Long Lankin’.
One of the darker songs they sing (and let’s be honest many folk songs involve murder and/or a dead body), it has an almost prog rock feel at times. The same applies to ‘Roadways’, with lyrics from a poem by John Masefield, which featured “Spud” Sinclair on vocals, who is a fine guitarist and adds another dimension to the Steeleye Span sound.
‘Blackleg Miner’ and ‘Alison Gross’ sounded as good as ever and all too soon the band were taking the well deserved applause as the show finished.
For encores we had a song to be featured on their upcoming album, ‘Reclaiming’ written by Rose Kemp (daughter of Maddy Prior and former member Rick Kemp), that allowed the band sung acapella, a real show stopper as their vocals blend wonderfully. Of course ‘All Around My Hat’ closed the evening off and it was delivered in a typically lively style.
As they enter their fiftieth year Steeleye Span are a band reborn, adding real energy not only into the newer songs, bit giving older songs a lift. A delight to witness live and long may they continue!
Review by Jason Ritchie
Interview with Julian Littman
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