Tag Archives: Ashley Hutchings

Hark! The Village Wait

20 Oct


From 1970 comes the debut recording of Steeleye Span. My vinyl copy is on the original RCA label but my CD is  a 1991 re-issue on the Mooncrest label (CRESTCD 003) with a different cover to the one shown here but a helpful sleevenote by John Tobler.

Formed by bass player Ashley Hutchings after he’d left Fairport Convention, the rest of the original line-up (which split-up pretty much on completing this recording and never toured) comprised two duos: From England these were Maddy Prior and the late Tim Hart (who’d made a couple of acoustic folk albums) and, from Ireland, Terry Woods (lately of Sweeney’s Men) and his wife Gay Woods.  This line-up lacked a drummer (a bit of shortcoming if the project was to make a folk-rock album) so they used two guests to fill-in as required – Dave Mattacks and Gerry Conway – hardly a surprise to anyone familiar with this genre!

There are twelve tracks, all credited to ‘traditional’ (although the opening ‘A Calling-On Song’ was adapted by Hutchings and the lyrics to ‘Fisherman’s Wife’ are by Ewan MacColl). And the sound is much, much, ‘folkier’ than Mr Hutchings’ previous  recording (Fairport’s ‘Liege and Lief’) with banjo and dulcimer high in the mix.

Although some sound very much ‘of their time’, this is a remarkable album – rather unlike anything else, including most of Steeleye’s subsequent recordings (indeed the band’s second album included a totally different version of track two ‘The Blacksmith’).

The standout tracks for me are track three (‘Fisherman’s Wife’) driven by Gay Woods’ autoharp and combining the two women’s voices really well; track five,  ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’ (same mix of voices plus Gay Woods’ concertina) which was adapted pretty much straight by June Tabor and the Oyster Band (see this blog 13 October) ; and track 10 (‘Lowlands of Holland’) which benefits from great drumming by Dave Mattacks.

The rest aren’t bad either: (Richard Thompson borrowed the version of ‘Blackleg Miner’ for his ‘1,000 Years of Popular Music’ project and Maddy Prior’s vocal on ‘All Things Are Quite Silent’, which has a great rock rhythm section backing courtesy of Hutchings and Conway) is outstanding.

If you’re too young not to have been there first time round, I’d urge you to track this down – especially if you only know Steeleye Span through their pop-influenced period. This was a different band, a more delicate sound and great music.


Great Grandson of Morris On

12 Jul


This was issued on the Talking Elephant label in 2004 (TECD062) and credited to Various Artists  – but the mastermind behind it and overall producer is Ashley Hutchings 

It’s hard to deny that Morris On was a truly pioneering album and that ‘Son’ and ‘Grandson’ have been subject to the law of diminishing returns. Nevertheless, with morris music enjoying a higher profile than for 30-odd years nobody should begrudge Mr Hutchings for returning to the genre. For heaven’s sake, if it wasn’t for what he and John Kirkpatrick in the seventies did to drag an ossifying tradition into the 20th century (see entry for 28 May 2013), the current revival wouldn’t have happened.

Grandson has a cast of stalwart figures, several like Simon Care and Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie are wholly steeped in Morris music whilst others like Phil Beer, John Spiers and Jon Boden (the later two shortly afterwards to find success in Bellowhead) are simply damn good musicians. Also featured are long-time Hutchings collaborators Ken Nicol and Guy Fletcher.

If you key Mr Fletcher’s name into your search engine along with that of Tom Hall (featured on this blog 9 May 2013 , you can access a YouTube audio recording of the former accompanying the latter at what would be Mr Hall’s final gig – which just goes to show how, among musicians – and recorded music – the familiar idea of “Six Degrees of Separation” between individuals may be more like five degrees!)

Anyway, some might find the music a bit pedestrian – but this isn’t grandstanding music, it’s there to accompany dancing – and it’s about the whole ensemble – not virtuoso playing. And it’s a nice record which I’m never unhappy to hear.

Almost all the tunes are from the ever reliable Trad. Arr. but my particular favourite is ‘Little Johnny England‘. This is described as ‘a playground song at Moulton Primary School, Northants’ which is about four miles from where I live and which is/was the ancestral seat of Mr Care who cut his teeth playing for the Moulton Morris Men. It is probably an uncomfortable reminder of my own age  to say that my wife used to work with Mr Care’s mum for a while in the 1990s! This title (LJE) also gave its name to a rather good band,(including Mr Fletcher last time I heard them live) whose recordings I will feature in a future post.

Morris On

28 May


I first bought this on vinyl on Island Records’ budget HELP label for something like £1.49 in 1974, a couple of years after it first appeared. My current copy is a CD on the boutique Fledg’ling label (FLED3037). I got it largely because it featured three former members of  the ground-breaking ‘Liege and Leif’ line-up of Fairport Convention (Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks) along with a couple of others, (Barry Dransfield and John Kirkpatrick) who I didn’t know at the time. This album was also the first time I heard the great English traditional singer Shirley Collins (credited as Shirley Hutchings because she was, at the time, married to Ashley) who provided vocals on a couple of tracks.

In its own way ‘Morris On’  is no less remarkable than ‘Liege and Lief’ because what Ashley Hutchings did (and while the album is credited to all five principals, it was Hutchings who assembled them and put the project together). This was to record twelve traditional morris dance tunes using their traditional accompaniment of fiddle and concertina supplemented by a rock trio of  electric guitar, bass and drums. This sounds pretty simple now – but nobody had ever thought of it in 1972 and it worked surprisingly well! Morris dancing – and the music that supported it was, at the time,  deeply unfashionable – but this project exposed it to a rock audience. While it  didn’t make it fashionable, it did help kick it out of a reverential, respectful  ‘preservationist’  men-only custom into a  more open and enjoyable revival of the tradition which continues to this day!

For readers outside the UK it may be necessary to explain that morris dancing is a traditional English custom, going back at least to the 15th century, in which men (and back then,  it WAS just blokes), drink beer in between undertaking formation ensemble dances – generally in the open air. They are often dressed in white, sometimes wear bells on their knees and wave white handkerchiefs or large cudgels or swords, depending on local tradition.  Some sides also perform with blacked-up faces – although since the custom goes back way before Britain became multi-cultural, there are no modern racist connotations). The word ‘morris’ appears to be derived from ‘Moorish’ and may relate to  the expulsion of the Moors from Spain in the 15th century.

The players sound like they had a great time – it’s energetic, exuberant, good-humoured and slightly eccentric. The tunes chosen are deeply evocative of rural England and the recording was done ‘as live’ – which gives it a homespun sound – complete with false starts. They even brought in a morris side to perform a couple of stick dances as the tape rolled.

Pretty much every time I play this I end up smiling and humming along!

Blight & Blossom

28 Apr


Released in 2012 on Rooksmere Records, ‘Blight and Blossom’ is the debut solo album by Blair Dunlop and one of the best recordings I bought last year (it won the New Horizon Award and BBC Radio2 Folk Awards.  Unusually,  I bought it as a digital download.

Blair Dunlop is the son of Ashley Hutchings (founder of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, the Albion Band and Rainbow Chasers) and in the same way I’ve checked out Richard Thompson’s children (Teddy and Kami) and Loudon Wainwright’s (Rufus, Martha and Lucy) I’d followed his earliest steps and  noted his precocious talent on a couple of early EPs.

It’s an amazingly assured and mature record from someone who’s only 21. Nine original compositions (of which the title track, ‘Young Billy in the Low Ground’ and ‘Bags Outside the Door’ are the best) , one traditional track and a hitherto-unreleased Richard Thompson song (‘Seven Brothers’). Mr Dunlop’s singing and writing are good and will get better – but if his guitar-playing also continues to improve it’s that which will makes his reputation: It’s quite awesome.

Mr Dunlop is also part of a ‘next generation’  Albion Band and has found time to cram parts as an actor into his working life! (While still a child  he played the young Willy Wonka in the 2005 film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)  Clearly the man has talent to spare and it will be intriguing to see where he goes next.

The History of Fairport Convention

21 Apr


This is a great artefact as well as a collection of music! It’s since been re-released as a single CD with a different cover but this review is of the double album issued on Island Records in 1972 when Fairport was taking time out  re-convening before the Rosie album the following year. It was a package put together with real care: a gatefold sleeve, fronted by a Pete Frame family tree, detailing who was in which incarnation of the band between 1967 and 1972 . Inside was a bound-in booklet with an intelligent note about each track and photos and, on the early pressings, even the paper ‘seal’ and ribbon on the cover was real (and yes, on my copy it is blue – others are red or green).

I think I bought it in about 1974 having read about Fairport in Melody Maker and New Musical Express and, not quite knowing where to start, decided to go for an anthology first. Little did I realise that this would be a purchase that would define a large part of my musical landscape  over a period now approaching forty years!

Although there’s nothing from their debut album (which was on a different label back then – now the rights to both their Polydor and Island recordings belong to Universal), it was a pretty good summation of what the band was about at that time. Twenty tracks – some written by luminaries Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny (and less common inputs from Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol and Ian Matthews) plus the ever-reliable “Trad. Arr.” which invariably showcase the fiddle of Dave Swarbrick.

Plenty of these still make appearances on today’s Fairport setlist – although not as carbon-copies.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this  as a first purchase for anyone unfamiliar with Fairport – and the abridged CD has less appeal – but if you still own a turntable and ever see a copy of the double album in good nick, snap it up!