In a league of their own

Last night, I went to see Steeleye Span at Chichester Festival Theatre, having not seen them play for five years.  Now, some people may know (as I make no secret of it and why should I?) that Steeleye were my very, very first introduction to music when I was just a few days old and I have been listening to them ever since.  The excitement never wanes; if anything, it just gets more intense as these people are absolutely masters (and mistress) of their respective crafts and all go to make up one beautiful whole.

The gig last night was packed out and when I went to buy (at last) Peter Knight’s album Too Late For Shadows before the gig began, the person who sold it to me recognised me and even remembered my name.  Suitably gobsmacked (as I said, the last time I saw them was in 2004, when Terry Pratchett was in the audience), I said, ‘How the hell did you remember that?’ and she remembered me because I’ve said I love Peter’s work and we’ve met before; this lady was his girlfriend Debbie.  Peter is the best fiddle player I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to; the way he plays actually provokes a physical high that’s quite impossible to describe.  I asked if there was a chance Peter might sign the CD inlay for me and she promised me she would arrange for me to see him afterwards.  (Charm and cheek, I discovered long ago, get you things.)

They all looked great as they entered onto the stage.  Maddy Prior looked radiant in red and the musicianship continues to improve from year to year (HOW???), so I was jigging in my seat (the last time I tried to dance, when Capercaillie played there, I was told to go and sit back down – killjoy management) and on an absolute high the whole time.

Partway through, Peter announced that there would be a couple of guests joining them for the second half (‘It’s very exciting, we’re very excited…’ – said in a deadpan manner) and there was a twenty-minute interval so that Maddy could sell raffle tickets.  Usually, these are for charity, but this time it was more personal: Tim Hart, one time an integral part of Steeleye Span and a long-term friend of Maddy, is very ill with cancer, so the money raised was for him.  I got a ticket – I did it for Tim.  He’s a very special and talented man and my heart goes out to him and his wife.  Let’s hope he gets better very soon.

For the second half, as promised, two guests joined them on stage.  I instantly recognised the Godfather of Folk, Martin Carthy, and also there was John Kirkpatrick, neither of whom has played as part of Steeleye for some years.  This was the ultimate for me.  I’ve seen Martin’s daughter Eliza a couple of times, once quite recently when she did a free acoustic gig in Ray’s Jazz Café in Foyles on the Charing Cross Road, and for me to get to see her dad in person was a real thrill and I made a point of telling him this after the gig when he was packing up his gear.  ‘A pleasure to meet you, sir,’ I said and shook his hand with much enthusiasm.  He’s a lovely man (not really a huge surprise) and in the foyer later, he came out of the exit door and I managed to get a couple of photos with him (‘The Grand Master of Folk, IF you don’t mind.’ MC: ‘I don’t mind…’) and he also was the first of them to sign my programme (as I stood there with shaking hands and a fluttering heart).

Maddy was next, being very nice as she always is and then, the person I’d been dying to see: Peter Knight came through and after my face had lit up and I’d said (in an embarrassingly squeaky voice), ‘Hello!’, his expression changed as he realised it was me and gave me a hug to squeeze the life out of me (which was, naturally, returned with gusto).  Debbie had been true to her word because he had clearly come out to look for me.  He signed my CD (on the front cover) as well as my programme and we talked for a bit before I headed for the backstage door to collect more monikers and to say hello to the others.  I got Pete Zorn, the session musician, to sign my programme before Ken Nicol appeared (they all seemed to have problems getting the main door open – it must be a musician thing) and I gave him a huge hug (apparently, I’m the first pagan he’s ever hugged and I definitely have ‘something of a pagan look about’ me), then later Rick Kemp and Liam Genockey arrived together.  Now, Liam has a long, plaited beard and I could not resist the temptation to ask him if it was prehensile.  ‘Does it have a life of its own?’ I asked, fingering it (probably rather forward of me, but he didn’t complain).  ‘Oh, it has a life of its own,’ he assured me, signing my programme.  I now had all the band’s autographs in it except John Kirkpatrick, but Rick told me he had already left, so that was it.  Perhaps next time?  As the pair of them went back into the dressing rooms, I said, ‘I love you all.’  I’ll keep what Rick said to myself but, rest assured, I went away happy.  I adore these people.  It’s wonderful to know they know that.

For some reason, they all (ALL) remember me.  Maddy said, ‘We’ve met before,’ (I interviewed her in Southampton) as did Rick and it’s lovely to think that, even after so long and seeing so many people at gigs, there must be something about me that they don’t (can’t???) forget.  A friend once said to me, ‘Well, you’re not exactly forgettable, love,’ so that must be it.  For whatever reason, probably (and I’m quite prepared to hold my hands up and admit this) the sheer cheek I have when it comes to meeting musicians, they remember.

I haven’t yet mentioned that I went to stay with my parents for the weekend as the trains back to Brighton would have been too early and a friend came with us, so we were four.  Beforehand, my mum said, ‘If we get to see them afterwards,’ with the emphasis on the ‘if.’  I said, ‘What do you mean, IF?’  Our poor friend had been warned about my tenacity (cheek) when it comes to getting what I want at gigs, though I think she saw a side of me she hadn’t seen before, last night.  ‘If,’ in these situations, is not a word in my vocabulary.  I don’t exactly barge, I just kind of give people a gentle shove, I suppose.  How else am I going to get what I want?

This is a night I will remember for the rest of my life.  Since last night, I have been crumbling and saying, ‘Martin Carthy!’ at intervals and I’m still buzzing from the incredible high of the gig and meeting the band again.  Steeleye Span: some of the finest musicians you will ever behold.  Go and see them if you get the chance.

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