Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Steeleye Span at the Beck Theatre



It's a good 14 years since I last saw Steeleye play. That was at the Festival Hall, if I remember rightly. Last night I saw them at the Beck in Hayes, which is a great little theatre with a good slope so that you can always see over the heads of the people in the row in front. Mind you, the drinks aren't cheap. £2 for a bottle of Coke! But hey, it's all part of the experience, especially once I had chucked a £2.50 slug brandy into it. Well, nobody was handing round the spliffs!

Maddy Prior must be my age at least and her hair, once long and black, is now short, silver and tipped with chestnut - it looked very nice. She is no longer the sylphlike dancer who whirled around the stage but she did manage an Irish jig in a statuesque fashion. Her voice has improved no end, though. What was once a slightly shrill soprano is now full and and she can belt out the bluesy notes when she wants to. Sadly, founder member Tim Hart passed away two years ago of lung cancer, on the La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands.

The audience had, like me, matured along with the band. The couple next to me said they were old hippies and had the original vinyl LPs from the 1970s. They live on a boat and as the gentleman was in a wheelchair, I asked how he managed to get down into the saloon. "Spiral staircase," he explained. I assume he leaves his chair up top somewhere and hauls and slides his way down.

I was at the end of a row, right in front of a speaker, and after 2 1/2 hours I was half deaf with a cricked neck, resulting in my waking up with a migraine today and having to cancel lunch with friends. Oh dear. Seems like I'm too old to rock 'n' roll and too young to die!

The gig ended with a rousing version of the Steeleye anthem All Around My Hat, part of which was sung unaccompanied by us, the audience. I can proudly say that I gave it some welly and now have the sore throat to prove it.

There was one song they sang called Let Her Go Down, about a sinking ship, that reduced me to tears, partly because the lyrics and harmonies were so moving and partly because it reminded me of the songs Louise used to sing with the Falmouth Shout shanty group. I shall have to buy the album and learn it. When I was in my twenties, if I felt sad and wanted a good cry, I always used to listen to Leonard Cohen - Bird on a Wire, So Long, Marianne, Traveller's Song... always guaranteed to elicit tears of nostalgie about poignant love won and lost. Now it is songs about the sea that are affecting me. But then, I am a Pisces whose father worked in shipping and whose great-grandfather was a Swedish sea captain and marine artist. Thinking about it, there aren't many happy songs about the sea, are there? All I can think of is What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? To which my answer is give him more rum!

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