Ashley Hutchings - Biography
BY J Poet
Ashley Hutchings was one of the prime movers of Britain’s folk revival, a bassist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, bandleader, writer and record producer. He was a founder of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band and has written music for films, TV and theater as well as contributing to dozens of seminal British folk/rock albums. He’s currently unaffiliated with a band, but continues his Christmastide performances with the Albion Christmas Band. He received a Good Tradition trophy from the BBC for his contributions to British folk music and shared the award for Most influential Folk Album of All Time for Fairport’s Liege and Lief in 2007.
Hutchings was a well known guitarist while still a teen. When he became interested in skiffle and American blues, he met Simon Nicol and they started working to put together a band that would fuse California pop a la the Mama and Papas, skiffle, and British folk music. They rehearsed in Nicol’s home, Fairport House, which gave the new band its name. Hutchings moved to bass when Richard Thompson joined the band. He stayed with the band for their first four albums Fairport Convention (1968 Island UK, A&M US), What We Did on Our Holidays (1969 Island UK, A&M US) Unhalfbricking (1969 Island UK, A&M US), and Liege and Lief (1969 Island UK, A&M US), with a traditional sound that was based on songs Hutchings researched at the English Folk Dance & Song Society Library at Cecil Sharp House.
When Fairport took a more rock approach to their songs, the traditionally minded Hutchings left and started Steeleye Span with Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, and Terry and Gay Woods, soon to be joined by folk legend Martin Carthy. Hark! The Village Wait (1970 RCA UK) was more acoustic and folky than Fairport; Please to See the King (1971 Chrysalis UK) and Ten Man Mop (1972 Chrysalis UK) balanced traditional and electric arrangements, with Maddy Prior’s vocals beginning to dominate the band’s sound. When Steeleye Span decided to follow Fairport’s more commercial path, Hutchings and Carthy left.
Hutchings started his first version of The Albion Country Band and made The Compleat Dancing Master (1974 Island UK, Antilles US) a blend of ancient music with light rock instrumentation, his first post-Fairport masterpiece. His interest in old English dances led to Rattlebone & Ploughjack (1976 Island UK), songs from Scots and eastern English traditions that were on the verge of dying out. The Albion band backed Shirley Collins, Hutchings' wife at the time, on her album No Roses (1971 Island UK, Antilles US.) Over the years as The Albion Country Band and The Albion Band they made Battle of the Field (1976 Island UK), The Prospect Before Us (1977 Harvest UK), Rise Up like the Sun (1978 Harvest UK), Light Shining (1983 Albino UK), Under the Rose (1984 Spindrift UK), An Albion Journey (1988 Island UK), 1990 (1990 Topic UK), Acousticity (1993 Talking Elephant UK), Before Us Stands Yesterday (1993 Talking Elephant UK), and Road Moves (2001 Topic UK.)
Morris On was a side project that played ancient dance tunes with a less rock feel. They made a handful of great albums during their sporadic career including Morris On (1972 Island UK), a #1 folk hit that was on the charts for most of 1972, Son of Morris On (2006 Talking Elephant UK), an all star jam with Shirley Collins and most of the Fairport gang, Grandson of Morris On (2002 Talking Elephant UK), and Great Grandson of Morris On (2004 Talking Elephant UK.)
Hutchings wrote and produced a one man show about folk song collector Cecil Sharp, An Hour with Cecil Sharp and Ashley Hutchings (1986 Dambuster UK), which led him to start writing musical plays that combined British folk song and drama. He produced By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept: A Love Story (1987 Paradise and Thorns UK) and Sway With Me (1991 Albino), folk songs about trees and forests with singer Judy Dunlop.
The Ashley Hutchings All Stars, featuring Richard Thompson, made the live album As You Like It (1988 Making Waves UK). Twangin' and a Traddin' (2000 Multimedia UK) included Thompson and Nicol on a collection of early rock and skiffle hits credited to the Ashley Hutchings Big Beat Combo. In 2002, after The Albion Band finally called it quits, Hutchings put together The Rainbow Chasers for Some Colours Fly (2005 Talking Elephant UK), A Brilliant Light (2005 Secret UK), and Fortune Never Sleeps (2006 Talking Elephant UK).
More eclectic efforts include Folk Your Way to Fitness (1997 Talking Elephant UK) a folk aerobic workout record with Malcolm Rowe, Street Cries (2001 Topic), traditional broadside ballads updated and sung by June Tabor, Cara Dillon and Judy Dunlop, and Human Nature (2003 Talking Elephant UK, subtitled A Collection of New Songs Observing the Human Relationship With Creatures and Plants. Hutchings has several solid compilations of his work available. The Guv'nor (1997 Talking Elephant UK) is a four disc set that’s also available as single CDs and Burning Bright: the Ashley Hutchings Story (2005 Free Reed UK) is a boxed set of five CDs with 102 songs including collaborations, tracks produced for other artists and seminal Fairport and Albion material.