Maybe that’s because a good part of their repertoire runs back centuries or, perhaps, it’s the band’s merry demeanor, but there’s no air of legend about STEELEYE SPAN. Quite the contrary, the intimacy of “Hugh’s Room” only intensified the communal pull of the British band’s performance. From opener “The Blackleg Miner” to the a cappella encore of “Somewhere Along The Road” the quintet were tapping into the audience’s tribal consciousness, all the while rocking their folk rather hard. This aspect, not so obvious from the ensemble’s records became clear on-stage, as Maddy Prior, the only original member in the ranks, reclaimed her position as a forerunner of current metal’s female front.
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Her vocals rose above the harmonies of the multipart “Cadgwith Anthem” and the clang of its robbers theme which segued into “Jack Hall” to be taken up by bassist Alex Kemp. The son of Prior and the absent Rick Kemp – and a perfect example of STEELEYE not giving a damn about the rustic authenticity of their attire – also lent a voice to the sparse riffs of “Edward” and left rap he excels in outside of SPAN to Julian Littman who delivered some sharp rhymes on “Boys Of Bedlam.” The guitarist shone on the electrically charged “King Henry” wherein Maddy was adding fine howling, yet “The Saucy Sailor” saw an acoustic six-string passed to drummer Liam Genockey for the sage-looking veteran to contrast his heavy touch on “When I Was On Horseback.”
Its psych edge was echoing the swirl of “Dark Morris” from the band’s latest album, based on “Wintersmith” by the recently departed Terry Pratchett, this piece seeing Jessie May Smart’s overdriven fiddle do the dance. The violinist brings a whiff of innocence to the group’s show: she’s listening attentively, if with a smile, to Prior’s stories about the songs’ background and is duetting with Maddy on “My Johnny Was A Shoemaker,” one from the times when the ensemble had two female vocalists, but Jessie’s very instrumental in rendering the STEELEYE SPAN’s sound freshly focused.
That’s what makes the Brits very invigorating – never more so, perhaps, as on “All Around My Hat” with the punters joining in the rock ‘n’ roll celebration of the traditional idiom lapping into the modern. That’s where the legendary roots feed the tree of life.
Photos: © Eugene Bychkov exclusively for DME