What a fabulous way to end the last year of the decade. Steeleye Span’s Ken Nicol and I had been in quite close touch over the past few days and, the night before the gig, he rang me for a chat, which was rather nice. We arranged to meet for coffee in Red Roaster at lunchtime the next day, as he had some free time before the sound check in the evening. When we arrived, he was already there and he generously offered to buy the coffees, over which we talked about music, writing and anything which took our fancy at the time. I had been right about him liking the coffee from there: he went to buy some beans before we left and then he went to do some shopping before he needed to get back to do the sound check.
The venue, Hove Town Hall, was interesting, if rather old-fashioned. We got there early, as we’d ordered a taxi to get us there in plenty of time, rather than risking getting there late because of the snow and ice that Brighton was covered in (and, as I write, still is). There wasn’t a lot we could do until we were let upstairs but, when we could go up, I spoke to Liam Genockey who was at the top of the stairs, though we didn’t see anyone else until the band arrived on the stage at around twenty to eight.
As they had at Chichester, they began the first half with my mum’s favourite Span song, Little Sir Hugh, an old song about infanticide with a detailed description of how the child was murdered by a seemingly innocent lady who ‘stabbed him like a sheep’ and then ‘threw him in the old draw well fifty fathoms deep’ after the ‘thick, thick blood’ had drained from his body. It may be the goth in me, but it makes me smile!
Other songs followed, including the rather, typically filthy, song about sex disguised as a song about a hunting trip, Bonny Black Hare, which was a showcase both for Maddy Prior’s incredible voice and Peter Knight’s stunning skill with the electric violin. Cold, Haily, Windy Night was a chance for Rick Kemp to sing in his deep baritone, Peter led the way again for new song Ranzo, his singing voice as gentle as his speaking voice, and one which I had asked Ken about earlier in the day: Unconquered Sun, a song he wrote for the pagan audience (and I think I was possibly the only token pagan in the audience, again) and which he sang. It was a lovely surprise when he introduced it to have it dedicated to ‘Dawn and her family, as I know this is a favourite of theirs.’ The grins we exchanged were soon replaced by tears as the song is incredibly powerful and we felt special to have been picked out.
There was a short interval, when Maddy sold raffle tickets to raise money to help Tim Hart, but the others were nowhere to be seen. The second half of the set included one of my more recent favourites, First House in Connaught/The Woman of the House, introduced by Peter with a story about the manuscript of the reels having been found in some graves which had been found underneath a pub. There was also, he said, a book which was known to have been written but never found, about Irish dancing. ‘Book two: what to do with your arms.’ Giggles over, the tunes started and, despite my hope that this, at least, would get the audience up and dancing, nothing happened, so I stayed in my seat and jigged there, instead. I cannot stay still when I hear those tunes – it just isn’t possible.
The band’s anthem, All Around My Hat, was introduced by Maddy by asking (or was it an order?) the audience to sing (‘If we’ve got to sing it, you’ve got to sing it, as well’). We had, she said, to be better than Burgess Hill. Whether or not the rivalry was the reason, the audience was singing throughout the song, as well as when Maddy held the microphone towards us all and the band fell silent. It was a good feeling. The final song was Hard Times of Old England, with a solo guitar intro by Ken, and then it was all over. At least, the gig was. Me having, as my mum says, ‘the cheek of Old Nick,’ we hung around afterwards to say hello to everyone.
We saw Maddy again in the foyer before I peeped into the hall again and saw Ken, so we talked a while and my dad took a picture of me with him, before I saw God, otherwise known as Peter Knight, come out to pack up his gear. I went up to him, looked up and said, ‘Hello, stranger!’ It was lovely to see him and later on, as we were about to leave, he said, ‘I know what we were talking about!’ and he bent down and looked me right in the eye. ‘What’s this about Katrina of Morpork?!’ That was when I laughed, because I’d said to Ken on Twitter to please pass on the message that his track Katrina of Moorpark on his CD Too Late For Shadows would always be known to me as Katrina of Morpork and that Peter would know why. In the end, I did have to explain about the Terry Pratchett connection, which Peter thought was classic as he went back to his gear with a huge grin on his face. Later on, I was looking at his electric fiddle and drooling, so I asked him if I could ‘finger it lovingly.’ Saying nothing, he unhooked it from its stand, unplugged it and handed it to me. This is a purple/blue Bridge Octave violin and I know how valuable it is and the significance of being allowed to handle it. Thank you, again, Peter, for trusting me. I’ll never forget it.
We barely saw Liam, this time (though my dad still managed to catch him for a photo), but I also had to tell Rick that he’s the coolest bass player on the planet. He said, ‘But I was struggling, tonight, didn’t you hear it?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, because of course I had, ‘but you’re still the coolest bass player on the planet.’ My mum came over and told him I’m a creep (in the nicest possible way), but he said, ‘Ahh, but I know she means it.’ And I did.
When the lighting rigging came down, we were asked to leave, but I still held on as Greg was talking to Rick. Eventually, though, we did have to leave the venue, but it felt good to know that I can now keep in much closer touch with them than I could before, thanks to Ken. Thanks, Ken 🙂
Happy Solstice to you all and never forget that you and your music have made me what I am.
PS Quick edit. Here are the complete set lists. Thanks again, Ken, you’re a diamond 🙂