The initial idea by soon-to-be ex Fairport leader Ashley Hutchings, was a band that would explore the electrification of traditional music from the British Isles. It started after discussions at the '69 Keele folk festival in June between Ashley; Maddy Prior & Tim Hart and Dave & Toni Arthur. They discussed their dissatisfaction of the isolationist nature of the British Folk scene and an unwillingness to consider an 'electric' approach to traditional music from within the folk scene, rather than it coming from the Rock side which it had so far. In the car on the way home after the festival Tim, Maddy and Ashley also got the seal of approval of Bert Lloyd for what they were planning. Ashley had already explored the use of traditional music in Rock setting with Fairport Convention, culminating in 'Liege and Lief' in Dec 1969. Ashley left Fairport to continue this 'Folk Rock' experiment because the remaining members of Fairport had seen it as a one-off experiment.
Ashley initially tried to form a band with Sweeney's Men (Irvine, Moynihan and Woods) but Irvine and Moynihan left after a falling out, leaving Ashley with only Terry Woods (and his wife Gay who had come from Ireland to join Terry). He then considered the Pegg's, but they wanted to explore a more experimental direction. After an unsuccessful approach to the Dransfield brothers Ashley then called upon Maddy and Tim, recalling their discussions at Keele. According to Maddy, Ashley and the Woods happened to be staying with them at the time of the Sweeney's men splitting up so it was the obvious choice that her and Tim join. Tim and Maddy were at a point where they were to keen to expand their own sound having been successful as a duo on the folk club scene.
The band rehearsed at Tim and Maddy's flat in the last few weeks of 1969. It was announced on 22nd November in the NME that Ashley had left Fairport, arguably the birth date of Steeleye!
Described by Martin Carthy (who suggested it) :
The name of the band, Steeleye Span, comes from a song about 100 – 150 years old. There’s this place called Horkstow Grange (the name of the folk song) up in Lincolnshire; the foreman there was a man called John Bolin, and there was a waggoner called John ‘Steeleye’ Span who worked there too… and both men obviously hated each other’s guts. They eventually had an enormous punch-up and the whole thing is commemorated in the ballad. Well the song has got changed somewhere along the line so that Steeleye Span is now a miser, and John Bolin is his foreman. In the song, Span takes every opportunity to shit on Bolin, who eventually loses his cool and hangs one on him. Then Span, instead of belting him back, takes revenge through the courts.
The birth of Electric Folk
January / February. With Ashley's success from Fairport Convention they managed to get the successful producer Sandy Roberton as their manager, who had recently joined B&C records after working for RCA, and who were keen on getting into 'underground music'. This gave them the funds and the equipment they needed to go and live together in Winterbourne Stoke, a small village in Wiltshire, where they practised for 3 months 'getting it together’. Later described by Ashley as 'Two couples and a referee'. Although they all found the music inspiring, living so close created strains amongst the two chalk and cheese couples and 3 months of living this way proved too much...
'One week late in March' - Recorded the debut album.
31st March : BBC 'Top gear' Session (aired 11th April 1970).
The only appearance of original band while they were recording the first album, but it has never Surfaced. It was noted on 'The Journey' sleeve notes that the recording was lost. Full details are available on the 'BBC Sessions' page.
Date per Melody Maker. The recording of the new album was fractious with the living arrangements spilling over into the recording sessions, and with one song still to finish Gay and Terry left. The reasons highlighted blamed mainly Tim and Terry for both being strong personalities and not getting on, in part because Tim & Maddy continued to gig together during the rehearsals.
As far as Terry and Gay were concerned there was an agreement that if anyone left, the band split up and the remaining members were not to continue using the name Steeleye Span. This 'betrayal' almost certainly accounted for Terry Woods never appearing with the band again, including the 1995 big Reunion concert where he was the only member to not appear. Terry and Gay went onto record albums together as 'The Woods Band'.
RCA Records. Recorded at Sound Techniques studio, Chelsea. Released June 1970.
Released after the band split up and after Martin had joined, this debut album was mostly traditional material apart from the opener - 'A Calling-On Song' which was written by Ashley based on an old tune (Earsdon Sword Dance'). 'Fisherman's Wife' Lyrics were written by Ewan MacColl. As became the accepted way for a Steeleye album, all the members brought different songs to the recording sessions.
Guest drummers were Gerry Conway and Dave Mattacks, both of whom performed later with the band in the 90's. A 'Wait' is a Tudor village/town band or musician. No outtakes have appeared from the sessions but it's believed one song was recorded but not included (see below).
It has been long known that one track was excluded (maybe partially recorded) because the band split before the album was completed. Thanks to interviews by Simon Jones it can be confirmed that the Terry Woods instrumental 'Noisey Johnny' was this intended track. Terry did not give the band permission to include it after the split. Terry and Gay went on to record it for their 1971 'The Woods Band' album. (link below) The tune is named after Steeleye's first roadie Johnny Butler (pictured on the rear of the Hark! sleeve) who had 'wind' problems! No one knows if it was actually recorded by Steeleye.
The band had effectively split up when the Wood's initially left. Ashley went off to pursue a project with Bob and Carole Pegg. However, Tim Hart was keen to continue the project and called up Martin Carthy to see if he would be interested. Martin had seen his playing partner of 3 years - Dave Swarbrick - join Fairport (Carthy had turned down Fairport) and was in his words 'living out of a suitcase', having just split up from his first wife. All these factors made Martin think "Why not", he "just fancied it...it was this huge thing - why not?" This then encouraged Ashley to leave the Pegg's, with whom he was working with again to come back and try again with Steeleye. As Maddy said, Martin joining gave Steeleye 'A stamp of approval' amongst the Folk audience. These four practised for 2 months at the Vicarage, St Albans (Tim's Parents) but soon realised they needed another multi-instrumentalist as they were too guitar heavy.
The significance of Martin joining cannot be underestimated. As well as providing a folk 'legitimacy' Martin also drove the group to being a fully electric band. Martin described the first album as 'mainly acoustic'. Martin's reputation also gave the band a boost in being able to start touring and get gigs straight away as there was considerable interest in seeing how he would play in an electric band - having only played acoustic guitar so far.
Peter Knight had been seen playing in the folk clubs, particularly the Irish Folk scene in London, so was known to Ashley, Tim and Maddy, having performed with Maddy on TV recently. He had also done some gigs with Bob Johnson. Peter was classically trained which appealed to Martin and Tim as they had a good musical knowledge themselves but wanted to explore more complex arrangements. This then completed the first Steeleye line up that went out and played live and produced two classic Electric Folk Albums.
23rd June: BBC Radio John Peel Session (aired 27th June as a 'Top Gear' episode).
This is almost certainly the first performance of the new band. Full details of this, and all the BBC sessions that are references in the timeline, are on the 'BBC Sessions' page which has track listings, availability and other information. The tracks are available on 2006 Re-issue of 'Please to see the King' and is often repeated by the BBC in better quality.
As rare as live recordings of the band are, it is fortunate that what I believe to be the very first appearance of this line up was recorded and is still available.
Lark in the Morning; The King; Prince Charlie Stuart; Hitler's Downfall/The Hag With The Money.
This is mentioned by Tim Hart as the "first ever public appearance" of the band. These tracks (except for Prince Charlie Stuart) are available on the 2009 Castle CD Reissue of 'Please to see the King', the tracks are not in order though and listed incorrectly in places on the CD (i.e. Lark in the Morning as TopGear). Note that [thanks to info from Simon Jones and Chris Haines] the performance below on YouTube listed as being from a 1971 'Top Gear' session is actually this Music Room appearance. No one is certain of the actual date of recording but it was broadcast on the 18th October 1970. Judging by comments it was almost certainly in July around the same time as the two sessions above. In an article on July 18th in MM John Pearse mentions Peter Knight now playing with them and says the group 'is really brilliant and so original'. He would have almost certainly recorded the programme by then to make the comments.
It is a truly remarkable early performance of Steeleye and hopefully the full show will be made available one day. The programme was actually in part about how to make your own Dulcimer, and Tim's was shown extensively, hence the keen interest the presenter, Sean Davis, has in watching Tim! He used to run the recording studio at Cecil Sharp House in the 60’s and 70’s. The man in the armchair on the left is John Pearse, singer, guitar/bouzouki teacher. It has been said that the session took place in his flat. He also interviews the band in the show (the picture below) and a clip is available 'here' on this programme about Martin Carthy, its about 8.26m in. Only one track, 'The Lark in the Morning', has surfaced so far on video, below.
25 minute show with 6 acts (including Alan Brown and Justine.) Thanks to Chris Boland we know that one song 'Cold, Haily, Windy Night' was played. Probably the bands first TV appearance but may have been recorded after the 'Music Room', Sadly not seen since. Fragments exist from the programme but not known exactly what.
Sept/Oct/Nov. Mainly UK Universities
30th Sept Salford University . Freshers gig. 1st Proper Concert for the band.
2nd Oct Southampton uni
3rd Colchester, Sussex Uni
4th Epping Tech College
8th Belsize Park Country Club
9th London Cecil Sharp House
10th London Central Poly
11th Southall Farx Club
15th Bristol Uni
24th Manchester Uni. w. Trees
1st Nov: Little Theatre, Newport Folk Club, Newport. [Thanks Stephen!]
5th Watford Town Hall . With the Strawbs & Al Stewart.
6th Plymouth Van Dyke
7th London Uni College - with Fotheringay Support
8th Leeds Poly
(80+ appearances) 2 Albums and Band changes at the end of the year
In an article in ‘Beats Instrumental’ Sandy Roberton says that he has set a limit of 10 Steeleye Gigs and 10 Solo gigs per month for the Band members to help ensure longevity, this crops up in a few articles. This also ties in with the very open understanding that the band members would continue with solo gigs and projects alongside Steeleye.
7th Jan: Grimsby Town Hall
10th Jan: Warwick Uni. Review said Steeleye are 'one of the brightest prospects for 1971..' and that after the performance 'the most hardened traditionalists cannot fail to be won over'.
13th Jan: Bounds Green Folk Club. w.Peelers, Bonded Book & June Tabor
15th Jan Hampstead Country Club. w. Paladin
16th: Manchester UMIST
25th: Oxford Town Hall (With the Dransfield's)
January - Rehearsals for Please to see the King.
21st Jan: BBC Radio 1: Sounds of the 70's. Aired 4th Feb.
Recorded during recording of new album. Tracks Appear on 2006 re-issue of 'Please to the See the King'. Full details on the 'BBC Sessions' page.
2nd Southampton Uni. with Tir-na-Nog
18th: Mountford Hall, Liverpool. with Dransfields & Mr Fox
With changes in the band a second album was quickly needed and the result was a very dense, ground breaking heavy 'electric-folk' album with no drums (decision led by Martin) and was a sound that would define the bands early years. It reached 45 in the charts and was widely regarded as an electric folk masterpiece, getting the attention of critics and influential Radio DJ's like John Peel.
The cover to the original LP was in a lovely hessian material. All songs are traditional and a later castle CD reissue (2003) included a series of Off-air recordings of BBC sessions. Produced by Sandy Roberton and released on B&C records. The title is a reference to the 'Cutty Wren' ceremony where a Wren is paraded like a King on 26th Dec.
3rd April NME - Meet the Band!
19th - 23rd Royal Court Theatre (upstairs) London
Written by Keith Dewhurst, directed by Bill Brydon the play featured various actors, including Brian Glover and of course all members of Steeleye. The play was a mixture of singing and acting and enacted the British army's retreat at Corunna in Spain under Wellington. Songs from the play featured on the next two albums and included: Cold Haily Windy Night; The Female Drummer; The Lark in the Morning. Other songs were original Dewhurst songs, sometimes with music by Steeleye as well as other traditional songs/Jigs.
Maddy said she enjoyed Corunna more than 'Kidnapped' as it was more experimental and the band had the chance to act.
See the Corunna tour below for song list and programme exerts.
4th June: Tim Hart and Maddy Prior Album: Summer Solstice (B&C).
With Tim and Maddy continuing to tour they took the opportunity to release a 3rd album as a duo, the first after Steeleye had started. Recorded under B&C which gave them the opportunity to take more time to produce a more full sounding record with guest musicians and using multi track production techniques & overdubbing which they were unable to afford on their first two albums.
As was accepted with this line up, the band members all had other musical interests that they carried on pursuing alongside Band commitments.
1st June Cantebury, Kent Uni
2nd Hornsey Town Hall
3rd Croydon, Fairefield
4th Liverpool St George
5th Liverpool St George
6th Harrogate Opera House. Ashton Gardner & Dyke
7th Bedford Uni
8th Southampton UNi
11th Manchester Uni
? London Country Club
Recorded on 30th June and broadcast on the 13th July with Fairport Convention. Was meant to be a small 'made for TV' concert advertised locally as a 'Free Beach Party' where people were encouraged to 'Do Your Thing'. But people heard there was a free 'Festival' so turned up in their hundreds and then thousands. The crew had only expected a few locals so had to set up new speakers so everyone could hear it. The bands did some additional songs to keep the crowd happy but when they finished more and more were still turning up and apparently burned down the stage in protest of their not actually being a festival! A really unique chance to see this line up in a live gig. High Quality video Below.
The Lark in the Morning; Reels- Dowd's favorite-£10 Float-Morning Dew; The Female Drummer.
2nd - 4th July Loughborough (Keele) Folk Festival [Included famous debate regarding amplification of Folk].
When I was on Horseback; Lark in the Morning; Gower Wassail; General Taylor
16th July Lewisham Concert Hall. w.Lindisfarne & Al Stewart.
17th July London Festival Hall In "The greatest folk event ever". Review in NME. 20 minute set including Lark in the Morning & Female Drummer.
One day festival with an estimated 60,000 visitors! Incredible String Band, Pentangle; Sandy Denny were other attendees. Tim and Maddy did a 'short but inspiring set' before Steeleye. The Steeleye set started with some issues in the mix/balance (a common issue for Steeleye at Folk Festivals!) but improved. Female Drummer, False Knight & The King featured. A review mentions Maddy Prior singing an 'emotive version' of 'The Dying Soldier'. A song which has never been referenced before or since, probably as part of her duo slot with Tim.
Little is known about the bands first proper appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival.
Thanks again to Peter for these unique are rare photos and as you can see Martin here with his Pink/Red Strat.
6th Aug. Plymouth, Van Dykes
25th Aug. The Stables, Higham w.Pigsty Hill Light Orchestra & The Songwainers
26th Aug. The Sportsman's Club, Accrington
31st Aug. Pipers Tuesday Folk Concert St Johns hall Penzance. Tickets 50p
Released 1st Oct by B&C records as a 'Maxi' single with Female Drummer/£10 Float reels. Long before the band introduced the 'Rockers Encore' they recorded this Buddy Holly classic for a 'bit of fun'. Apparently Tim and Maddy sung it in the car mainly to annoy Ashley, but he actually commented that it sounded quite good so they included it in the live set. Sandy and B&C thought it would do well as a 'novelty' single and hence the release. It included what sounded like scratches on the record but was intentional.
Although a surprising single from a set of folkies, it actually got plenty of airplay but no real chart success.
The first Proper Headlining British Tour. Support by Andy Roberts. 1st to have a programme.
Up to this point the band had played on a rather ad-hoc basis, reflecting that they were still a relatively small niche band, as well as the fact that they were fitting in gigs around the existing commitments. The set list also reflects this with quite a few songs brought from solo repertoires. This tour was the only major tour by this line up and by the end of it internally the band knew Ashley was going to leave.
SET LIST: Based on Manchester:
Four Nights Drunk, Jigs, We Beg your Leave ('Pace Egging song'), Gower Wassail, Lark In The Morning, Hornpipes (Pete & Maddy), Handsome Polly-O (Martin), I Live Not Where I Love (Tim & Maddy), Jigs, When I Was On Horseback, We Poor Labouring Men, Maddy's Poem 'The Hoop', Cold Haily Windy Night, Encore: Female Drummer, Rave On, Uncle Tom Cobbley.
3rd Oct Bristol Colston Hall
4th Southampton Guildhall
7th Leeds Uni
12th Free Trade Hall, Manchester
13th Abersytwyth Uni
14th Wawick Uni
15th Liverpool ST George
16th Leicester Uni
17th Birmingham Town Hall
18th Sheffield City Hall
19th Birmingham Town Hall. Review mentions these songs: 'We poor Labouring Folk' & 'Sweep Chimney Sweep'. The latter of course Martin would bring back in '77.
20th Barnsley Civic Centre
21st Newcastle City Hall
24th Croydon Greyhound
26th Norwich St Andrews Hall
27th Bournmouth Winter Garderns. 'Rag Folk' Festival
28th Oct. BBC Radio Sounds of the 70s with Pete Drummond. Per Radio Times synopsis: Radio 2's VHF channels join Radio 1 for two hours of progressive pop With Steeleye Span, Lindisfarme, Uriah Heep; Heads, Hands And Feet.
Nov/Dec: Ashley Hutchings and Martin Carthy Leave the band
On 27th Nov in Melody Maker (earliest date found) Ashley Hutchings announced he was leaving the Band. Internally he announced it during the October Tour. Maddy and Tim said it was because he didn't want to continue with the play 'Corunna' (A run had been lined up for the Autumn at the Old Vic) and because he didn't want to fly to America. For years Ashley said it was simply because he wanted to explore exclusively English traditional music rather than 'British', he said felt the music was becoming too 'Irish' and there was not enough English material. He said in '77 that Peter's interest was mainly Irish tunes whereas he had recently discovered Morris Dancing tunes and wanted to explore those further. (Hence the Albion Band). Ashley indicated since that he just felt he had finished what he set out to achieve and the band had run its course, he felt the 3rd album was too 'safe' and not as experimental.
Rick Kemp was asked to replace Ashley by Sandy Robertson, who knew Rick from session work. Rick agreed assuming that he would get the chance to play with Carthy. It is believed that this this line up did at least one experimental gig, either the 4th of Dec. or, if it didn't include Martin, maybe the Leyton Hall gig below. Rick also said he did a couple of gigs with Maddy & Tim, when Peter "Just happened to wander along". Could also be the Leyton one.
Rick may have done some further dates in December after the 'experimental' one. A review in Birmingham Daily post suggests he did, and in NME (below) it said that Rick will 'sit in on some gigs' before Christmas, although articles when Carthy left suggested Rick and Bob would join after rehearsals in January.
Subsequently Martin Carthy announced he is leaving at the end of the year, (5th Dec - NME). Carthy made it clear it was amicable and suggested it was because for him the 'balance' of the band was not right after Hutchings left. Subsequently it was confirmed that it was mainly because he did not want a Bass player to replace Ashley, but rather wanted a Multi Instrumentalist to explore different sounds. The others disagreed and Martin felt it appropriate that he leave as he was in the minority. Peter suggested Bob Johnson as a replacement for Martin, with whom he worked with as a duo. The public announcement of Carthy leaving and Rick and Bob joining were made at the same time.
Nov/Dec - various gigs -
Per MM article no Ashley from this point and 'band intend to play as a 4 piece'
27th: Hull Uni.
The Wren, Pace Egging Song, Jigs, Saucy Sailor, We Poor Labouring Men, False Knight On The Road, Sweep Chimney Sweep, Dancing At Whitsun (Pete & Tim), Jigs, Maddy's Poem 'Hydranger', Rab Noake's song, Female Drummer, Encore: Uncle Tom Cobbley
3rd Dec Stockport College of Technology
4th Dec Birmingham Town Hall. 'Diamond Jubilee Folk-In' Gig
Birmingham Daily post says the band are still 'numbed' by recent departure of Ashley, and the 'imminent departure of Martin' It also says "Rick Kemp, Ashley's replacement was 'introduced' so this, or the night before, or the Leyton Hall one below could be the experimental' gig that this line up did with Rick and maybe Martin.
Unknown date in December:
Leyton Town Hall - "almost Steeleye" line up of Maddy Prior, Tim Hart & Rick Kemp. Could also be the 'experimental' gig so not actually a Steeleye gig as such.
16th London College of Printing .
Included Sweep Chimney Sweep, Wee Weaver & Saucy Sailor. Possibly Rick played.
17th Little Theatre Middlesbrough.
Martin Carthy's last gig with this line up.
18th Dec. MM article says Rick has been practising with the band using wah wah peddles on the Bass and playing more melodically than Ashley.
11th Dec: NME Article - Interview with Tim. An informative piece as to the thoughts of Tim at this important time for the band and an ideal way to finish the story of these first 2 years. It is also confirmed that Tim & Maddy stopped taking bookings at this point.
"Hard on behind Tyger Hutchings' departure from Steeleye Span the band is to lose Martin Carthy at Christmas. So, when they play 'London college of Printing', Elephant and Castle next Thursday (16), just who will be performing? Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, of cause, and Peter Knight and Martin Carthy, who will still be with the line-up for a short while longer. "But there's just a chance," Tim Hart told me, "that we'll have our new bass player Rick Kemp sitting in with us on the gigs between now and Christmas." Rick, who played with Mick Chapman, will definitely join Steeleye, it was announced last week. Bob Johnson, who plays guitar, mandolin tenor banjo, and who was once half a duo with Peter Knight, will be Steeleye's other member. "Maddy and I," said Tim, "have already worked out half a dozen numbers with Peter and Rick. So there's only Bob to work in."
The half-dozen songs are from Tim and Maddy's duo repertoire. There have been persistent rumours that both would split, causing a total breakdown of the Span line-up. Tim firmly denies the suggestion. "Maybe," he said, "The confusion's arisen because Maddy and I have decided not to work as a duo for a while. We've been doing so much with the band we haven't had time to develop, as we'd like to. You get stale. While we're resting as a duo, we'll look at new repertoire, and we certainly intend to resume as a duo at a later stage. Some of our best duo repertoire is going into the band, where it'll be worked in and arranged."
"Martin's departure, like Tyger's, is quite amicable. We'll miss him, but it won't stop us doing the sort of trad songs we've always done; Bob Johnson will be quite able to take the melody lines, and the rest of us have always put in the harmonies. I can't see any great changes in our approach when Bob replaces Martin." "It's actually very difficult to say exactly what the new band will be doing, because we've so far had just one day's rehearsal together. We begin to work seriously at the beginning of January."