Steeleye Span performing their 50th Anniversary Tour at The Town Hall Birmingham on Monday 16th December 2019

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

Originally created to electrify traditional folk music way back in 1969, Steeleye Span have gone on to become one of the most enduring stories in the folk world and beyond. And whilst over the past fifty years there have been several changes to the line up, the current seven piece that graced the stage at the Town Hall in Birmingham last night, is undoubtedly one of the strongest of their long history.

Touring to celebrate that fiftieth anniversary, they delivered a set list that included a capaella harmonies and foot stomping folk rock, as they covered songs from their debut album right up to their latest album, Est’d 1969.

Beginning the first half with Alison Gross, the band were soon in their stride. Following up with One Misty Moisty Morning, the crowd were soon tapping their feet. With founder member Maddy Prior’s voice filling the auditorium, it was clear that one of the band’s strengths is the harmonious vocals they create with all except drummer Liam Genockey involved in the singing.

An example was the lovely Roadways, which takes its lyrics from a poem by John Masefield and which featured Andrew Sinclair on vocals who at the same time used his guitar to add another dimension to the Steeleye Span sound.

Blackleg Miner sounded as good as ever and first set closer Thomas The Rhymer earned them rapturous applause.

Opening the second half with a traditional cover of Gaudete, the six part a capella was simply stunning. Following on with an a capella version of King Henry which started out accompanied only by Genockey’s percussion, the rest of the band soon joined in with a rollicking beat that carried through until the end, before they returned back to the a capella vocals of the opening.

Showing that they have survived by carefully balancing the past with the present, it would be hard to argue against the fact that they have succeeded simply because they are classy musicians, illustrated on the likes of When I Was On Horseback and fans favourite, Black Jack Davey.

Guitarist Julian Littman has undoubtedly added an extra dimension to an already excellent string of voices, but one of the biggest stars of the show was Jessie May Smart, whose virtuoso violin performances provided an irresistible counterpoint to every melody, especially on the likes of Old Matron and The January Man.

With Prior’s sweet and melodic voice, she showed that she has lost none of her flexibility and that she still has the power to stir the hairs on the back of your neck. With an encore that included All Around My Hat, which was delivered in their typically lively style, they ended with a crowd pleasing run through of the title track of their 2016 album, Dodgy Bastards.

The worldwide reputation or otherwise of any band makes no difference to the numbers on their birth certificates, but one thing Steeleye Span proved last night was that age really is a state of mind and actually they’re still playing like they did in their 30’s.

It was a great performance from a truly inspirational band.