Steeleye Span - Biography
By Nick Castro
Steeleye Span is one of the most iconic electric folk groups, along with Fairport Convention, from England. They have also had one of the longest running and chart toppingly successful careers of any band. They continue strong to this day. They have made a name for themselves whilst covering almost exclusively old traditional tunes in a rock format.
Their story began in 1969 when Ashley Hutchings, who would marry British folk singer Shirley Collins, left Fairport Convention shortly after the car crash, which killed their drummer and seriously injured the remaining members of the band. It has always been cited as having been differences musical in nature rather than anything else for this split. Hutchings is said to have wanted to pursue a more traditional repertoire which became possible when he found established folk duo Tim Hart and Maddy Prior and husband and wife team Gay and Terry Woods, who would split shortly after the first record Hark The Village Wait (1970 - Chrysalis). Maddy Prior would become one of the most famous singers of England alongside Sandy Denny, Jacqui Mcshee and Linda Thompson. Terry Woods was previously playing with Sweeney's Men and later would play with Dr. Strangely Strange, with his wife Gay, and in the 80's The Pogues. Unfortunately, the line-up from this first masterpiece of a record would never perform live since the Woods left right away to pursue their solo careers.
The Woods were quickly replaced by Martin Carthy, UK folk legend, and Peter Knight to record Please to See The King (1971 - Chrysalis) and Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again (1971 - Chrysalis). Carthy was already famous worldwide for his fine guitar playing and original interpretations of traditional tunes. After these two records Hutchings and Carthy would leave the band to be replaced by Rick Kemp and Bob Johnson, Kemp having played with artists such as King Crimson and Michael Chapman. Hutchings and Carthy left to pursue pure folk music and the remainder of Steeleye went in a more commercial rock direction.
By this time they were being managed by Jo Lustig, who had famously discovered Nico, Julie Felix and Pentangle and would later manage Ralph Mctell, The Cheiftains, Richard & Linda Thompson and the Dransfields, and who would push them in a more commercial direction. Anne Briggs was famously quoted as saying a large part of her disgust and reason for quitting the music business was Lustig.
This new line-up recorded Below the Salt (1972 - Chrysalis) and Parcel of Rogues (1973 - Chrysalis). The latter proved to be their most successful outing yet reaching the top 30 that year. They then added drummer Nigel Pegrum to assist in making Now We Are Six (1974 - Chrysalis), which was a reference to its place in the sequence of their albums as well as to the addition on a sixth member. This newest record was produced by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull fame and would feature a guest appearance by David Bowie on saxophone. This line-up would continue on to record Commoner's Crown (1975 - Chrysalis), which would feature Peter Sellers on electric ukelele, and All Around My Hat (1975 - Chrysalis) which would be their most successful album ever and with the title track being their biggest single.
Next came Rocket Cottage (1976 - Chrysalis) which was to be the monstrous follow-up to the previous year's effort but was victim to fickle fans turning to the new punk sensation. Steeleye saw their fame dissipate overnight as hippies donned safety pins and mohawks in lieu of bell bottoms and long hair. It was at this time that Johnson and Knight left and Carthy once again returned with the addition of accordionist John Kirkpatrick. They stayed just long enough to record Storm Force Ten (1977 - Chrysalis) and Live at Last (1978 - Chrysalis). Carthy and Kirkpatrick then left and Johnson and Knight rejoined, at the request of the label, bringing them back to their Now We Are Six line-up to record Sails of Silver (1980 - Chrysalis).
The eighties almost saw their demise as they went into a state respite. Occasionally they would surface for live shows but it would not be until six years later that they released another studio album, Back In Line (1986 - Shanachie), which featured original member Tim Hart. This move proved to provide a small jolt to the band who returned to the studio only two years later to record Tempted and Tried (1989 - Shanachie) though sadly without Kemp, who had stopped playing the previous year due to a shoulder injury.
Again after a seven year hiatus the band returned with Time (1996 - Shanachie). Gay Woods would return for this record and the next two, Horkstow Grange (1998 - Park Records) and Bedlam Born (2000 - Park Records), reuniting the two female vocalists for the first time since their first record in 1970. The latter albums also feature Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention.
They have since released They Called Her Babylon (2004 - Park Records), Winter (2004 - Park Records) and Bloody Men (2006 - Park Records).