Steeleye Span

Steeleye Span is a British folk-rock band that has been active since 1970.



Steeleye Span was founded by Ashley Hutchings, the London-born bass player who had co-founded Fairport Convention in 1967. Fairport was involved in a road accident in 1969 in which the drummer, Martin Lamble, was killed and other bandmembers injured. They convalesced in a rented house near Winchester in Hampshire and worked on their album Liege And Lief. Despite the success of the album, Ashley Hutchings and the band's vocalist Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention in early 1970.

In part, Hutchings's departure was because he wanted to pursue a different, more traditional, direction than the other members of Fairport did at that time. However, Fairport's co-founder, guitarist Simon Nicol, says in an interview on the band's website [1] ( "Whatever the upfront reasons about musical differences and wanting to concentrate on traditional material, I think the accident was the underlying reason why Ashley felt he couldn't continue with us."

In the years since, Steeleye Span has seen a great many personnel changes but has maintained a strong continuity of tradition throughout. Their lead vocalist, Maddy Prior, was one of the main attractions of the band's music, being one of a handful of strong-but-melodically-voiced women in rock music in the 1970s (along with Sandy Denny, Renaissance's Annie Haslam, and Linda Thompson).

Steeleye Span is named after a character in the traditional song "Horkstow Grange", which they did not record until they released an album by that name in 1998. The song gives an account of a fight between John "Steeleye" Span and John Bowlin, neither of whom are proven to have been real people.

Steeleye Span's first album, Hark! The Village Wait (1970) was very unusual for the time, having two female singers. Their lineup at the time consisted or Prior and Hutchings, the husband/wife team of Terry (formerly of Sweeney's Men, later of The Pogues) and Gay Woods, and Tim Hart, who had been part of a duo with Prior. They were to undergo many personnel changes, with the Woods departing after their first album, at which point Peter Knight and veteran folk musician Martin Carthy joined. In 1972 they brough in Jo Lustig as their manager. He brought a more commercial sound to their recordings. On their fourth album, Below the Salt, in 1972, they had settled on a distinctive electrified rock sound, although they continued to play mostly very old material. Their early albums had no permanent drummer but in 1973 Nigel Pegrum joined them, playing flute as well as drums. Rick Kemp (bass) joined in 1972, replacing Hutchings who left at that time to move on to various more purely-folk projects. Kemp, also a member of the ceilidh dance band Whapweasel, is one of several members who have been on-and-off band members. Since 1972 the line-up has generally been that of a typical folk-rock band -- an electric guitar, electric bass, and drum kit -- supplemented by a fiddle and fronted by a female vocalist for most of their songs. During one of the many personnel changes there was a substitution of John Kirkpatrick on accordion for the fiddle. When John departed, fiddler Peter Knight returned in 1980 and has been with band ever since. Nigel Pegrum left in 1989, to be replaced by Liam Genockey. Liam and Peter were simultaneouly members of "Moire Music". This was a free-jazz band, with a classical flavour, led by Trevor Watts. In 1981 Isla St Clair presented a series of four television programmes called "The Song and The Story", about the history of some folk songs. It won the Prix Jeunesse. Isla sang the songs, and Steeleye Span did the backing instrumentals.

A recent book, Electric Folk by Britta Sweers (2005), devotes much space to the band.

Recording style

Their typical album is a collection of mostly traditional songs with one or two instrumental tracks of jigs and/or reels added in; the traditional songs often include some of the Child ballads. In their later albums there has been an increased tendency to include music written by the band members, but they have never gotten completely away from the traditional music, which draws upon both the English and the Celtic traditions. Recent tendencies to re-record previously released songs climaxed in Present (2002), a 2-disc set of new recordings of songs chosen by fans on a Steeleye web site as the best of their previous output.

All of their LP-era recordings have now been re-released on CD by the Shanachie label.


Steeleye Span has been performing, on and off, from their foundation to the present day. After a slight lull in the late 1990s and 2000 / 2001, Maddy Prior rejoined and the band undertook substantial UK tours.

Steeleye Span usually plays in theatres and arts centres but also performs at festivals. The band has recently toured extensively in Australia and closed 2004 with a gala performance in London's Paladium theatre. The current line-up of Maddy Prior (vocals), Ken Nicol (guitar, vocals), Rick Kemp (bass, vocals), Peter Knight (violin, piano, vocals), and Liam Genocky (drums and percussion) draws on past and current Steeleye Span repertoire and their concerts usually include their chart hit All Round My Hat. The final encore is often Gaudete, a 16th century Latin religious song performed a capella, an unusual ending for a non-classical modern concert.


(full-length albums, excluding reissue compilations and "irregular" live albums)


  • - Classic Rock Legends (2002)
  • - A Twentieth Anniversary Celebration (2003)
  • - The 35th Anniversary World Tour 2004 (2005)


  • Rave On/ Reels/ Female Drummer (1971)
  • Jigs and Reels (1972)
  • John Barleycorn Must Die / Bride's Favourite/Tansey's Fancy (1972)
  • Gaudete / The Holly and The Ivy (1973)
  • The Mooncoin Jig (1974)
  • New York Girls/ Two Magicians (1975)
  • All Around My Hat/ Black Jack Davy (1975)
  • Rave On/ False Knight On The Road (1976)
  • Hard Times of England/ Cadgwith Anthem (1976)
  • London/ Sligo Maid (1976)
  • Fighting For Strangers/ The Mooncoin Jig (1976)
  • The Boar's Head Carol/ Gaudete / Some Rival (1977)
  • Rag Doll/ Saucy Sailor (1978)
  • Sails of Silver/ Senior Service (1980)
  • Gone To America/ Let Her Go Down (1981)
  • Somewhere In London/ Lanercost (1985)
  • Padstow / First House in Connaught/ Sailor's Bonnet (1989)
  • Following Me/ Two Butchers (1989)
  • The Fox/ Jack Hall (1990)

"Gaudete" was released in 1973, intended for the Christmas market, but wasn't a hit. It was re-released in 1974 and reached the top ten. It is one of only two top 50 British hits to be sung in Latin. (The other was 12-year-old Charlotte Church who recorded "Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Requiem". In the 1980s Mike Oldfield had a top 10 hit with "In Dulci Jubilo" but this Latin song was performed as an instrumental.) "Gaudete" is one of only a handful of a capella performances to become hit singles. (Another notable example is "Only You" sung by the Flying Pickets.) When "Gaudete" was performed on "Top of the Pops", the resident dance troupe walked onto the set in medieval-style robes, holding candles and followed by the members of Steeleye Span.

At Christmas 1975 Steeleye Span scored again with "All Around My Hat". The song was produced by Mike Batt, better known for his hits with the Wombles. Peter Knight, the fiddler from Steeleye Span, was secretly a member of the Wombles. Batt's skill as a producer probably contributed much to the success of "All Around My Hat." This time on Top of the Pops Steeleye Span did a lively dance on the stage, with Maddy Prior flouncing around in a long dress with wide sleeves. At this point in their career the band indulged in picturesque clothes, much to the disapproval of the pop press. Despite touring almost every year since 1975, they have not had another hit, either in the singles chart or the album chart.

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