Steeleye Span – Live At The Rainbow Theatre 1974: Album Review

A ‘first time on vinyl’ release from the Steeleye Span archives, capturing a classic lineup in a classic show.

Release Date: 7th October 2022

Label: Chrysalis Records

Format: 2LP red vinyl

Amongst many contenders, Steeleye Span are possibly the biggest and most commercially successful of all folk-rock bands. Their career spans over 50 years, with 4 Top 40 albums and 2 Top 20 singles as well as countless sold out live shows. Through an ever-changing line up, their popularity has continued to this day.

This 2LP release is the first time this album has appeared on vinyl and is released on red vinyl, the concert taken from the 12CD box set Good Times Of Old England which covered the period of the Chrysalis album releases from 1972 to 1983. The show features the band at the height of their powers – the ‘classic lineup’ phrase coming into play – in front of a sold-out audience at London’s Rainbow Theatre in November 1974, touring on the back of the Now We Are Six album release.

Gently prised from the Chrysalis archive, the stack of tapes from the show, the research and restoration of what’s taken on mythical and legendary status over the years is completed to give a crystal vision into Steeleye developing the folk-rock genre. The lineup of Maddy Prior, Peter Knight, Rick Kemp Tim Hart, Robert Johnson and Nigel Pegrum is as close to a classic lineup as you’ll get – the absence of Hutchings, Carthy and Mattacks notwithstanding.

The show kicks off with a romp through Bach Goes To Limerick that acts as a lively warm-up before heading into a set that avoids any of the indulgences for which they received some flak – ahem…To Know Him Is To Love Him. We do get a barbershop-style vocal arrangement on Oh You Beautiful Doll though that gets a rapturous reception.

From that follows a masterclass from a set of master musicians who are doing what we look back on now as creating Folk Rock history. The musical pallette decorates the likes of the traditional folky fare such as the stately take on Demon Lover and the outstanding fire and fizz that SS apply to Thomas The Rhymer. Peter Knight’s glorious fiddle is enhanced with electric guitar and drums, the marriage between the contemporary and the traditional starting to emerge in an exciting new sound. He’s one of those Two Magicians that occupy the track of the same name.

After just hearing Ranagri’s new dense bluesy take of The Wife Of Usher’s Well, the ’74 Steeleye version remains more trad as they run the gamut of themes from murder (they joke that “Hammer Films presents Long Lankin“) to sailors, fair ladies and brightly arranged misty mornings. How d’you do, how d’you do and how d’you do again indeed.

Their hit (All Around My Hat was yet to come), albeit one that didn’t really represent what Steeleye were about, Gaudete, is in there of course. Receiving the royal seal of approval, as Alan Partridge once said, “it’ll blow your socks off,” and should any socks not have been blown away already, then Gaudete does the trick. The almost compulsory set of jigs is a delight and a chance to test out each other as the tempos are challenged with the finale of The Mason’s Apron. Funny how listening now with the benefit of hindsight, it all seems so ‘normal’ but looking back, at the time, what Steeleye were challenging preconceptions.

Steeleye remain a healthy, relevant, and going concern. Maddy Prior still leads from the front, a figurehead if ever there were one. This document provides a wonderful glimpse into times when Folk Rock was causing a stir. Just like Maddy introducing Demon Lover, perhaps we should refer to them as “the old days.” In fact, the good old days!

Here’s the classic lineup doing some jigs on Swiss TV in 1974:

Steeleye Span online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / other

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