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The Journey

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Album Review

While Fairport Convention was busy transforming the art of reuniting former lineups into a way of life, Steeleye Span, fellow giants of the British folk-rock scene, tended to steer away from their old pals' act, preferring to continue plowing their unique furrow with as little nostalgic fanfare as possible. The one exception to this rule occurred in 1995, when every previous incarnation of the band was reborn for one night only, in aid of the War Child charity. The Journey is the warts-and-all document of that event. Formed in 1969, the first Steeleye Span lineup — featuring Maddy Prior, Tim Hart, Ashley Hutchings, and Gay and Terry Woods — never played a single concert during their own brief lifespan. Though Terry Woods was not present for the reunion, still the six songs that open The Journey represent a historic debut, the first ever performance by the band who recorded the album Hark the Village Wait. They are joined on banjo by Martin Carthy, who then takes center stage to reanimate his own stint with Steeleye, from 1971-1972 (tracks seven-11). There, in turn, listeners are introduced to violinist Peter Knight, whose spectral playing would come to dominate the band's third lineup, that which started life in the folk clubs and wound up headlining arenas through the early to mid-'70s. Despite a frankly eccentric selection of songs (tracks 12-16), the team effortlessly recaptures the visceral power of what was, at its best, one of the greatest rock & roll shows on earth. In commercial terms, Steeleye Span disappeared in 1977, following the Rocket Cottage album. In reality, they released one more LP, reuniting with Martin Carthy for Storm Force 10 and their own underrated live album. Three songs opening disc two recollect this oft-overlooked incarnation and suggest that, as is so often the case, posterity has committed a grave disservice. Steeleye Span broke up in 1978, then spent much of the next decade attempting sundry comebacks; it was the early '90s before a truly stable new lineup materialized, based around the twin vocals of Prior and the returning Gay Woods. This lineup plays out the concert with vivacious style before the entire cast returns to the stage for two final encores, the group's impetuous a cappella rearrangement of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" and a manic medley of traditional jigs. Warm, crystalline sound and a fact-packed booklet round out the package, but all you really need to know is just how fabulous The Journey is. Maybe they should start doing it every year.


Formed: 1970

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Aside from Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span was the most successful and enduring British folk-rock band. The parallels between the bands are numerous: both updated traditional British folk material with rock arrangements, both featured an excellent female lead singer (Sandy Denny for Fairport, Maddy Prior for Steeleye Span), both frequently employed multi-part harmonies, and both mixed original and traditional songs. Although Fairport was more innovative in its early days, Steeleye Span was arguably...
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