By Michael Newbery, copyright © 1998
This is a review of a concert that happened a long time ago now. I promised myself that one day I'd write the review, and I've finally got around to it. The concert was special, so special that although I've inevitably forgotten many of the details the concert as a whole is still etched firmly in my mind, its colours as bright as ever. So, let us begin...
It all started with my mother I suppose. She had heard "Thomas The Rhymer" on the radio and had pointed it out to me. She was familiar with the poem "True Thomas" and was initially attracted to the song for that reason. Anyway, I liked the song a lot too. It struck some sort of chord within me, and when I heard that the band was playing a concert in town I thought, "why not?".
The time of the concert arrived. (At this remove from the event I can no longer recall the exact date. It was probably a Saturday night). I went on my own, to a concert by a band I had first heard of maybe a month previously, and of whose music I knew precisely one song.
The concert was in the Wellington Town Hall, a venue infamous for its acoustics. In the form of an oval, it well suits soloists or full orchestra, but is merciless on bands.
The hall was full that night. I was upstairs at the back, slightly right of the middle. The stage was a long way away. The lights dimmed and the band entered. One of them was a woman, that was about all I could tell.
The concert began. I was unfamiliar with the music, but I liked it. So did the rest of the audience. This was the time when Steeleye Span's stage act included a mummer's play, and after the initial surprise it went down very well. It was a sit-down concert, but pretty soon people were standing up and dancing in the aisles. I was a little nervous about joining in, but since very soon I couldn't see the stage from a sitting position, there did not seem to be much option. Not to mention the fact that the air seemed to be alive with music and magic that night and even someone with two left feet could not help but dance.
It was a bit difficult to keep track of who was who on stage. The woman singer introduced some of the numbers, but a couple of the others did too. Some of them also sat out songs, or parts of songs, or changed instruments a couple of times during a song. Different people sang lead, or formed into pairs or trios---different groupings in different songs. It was all a wonderful dance, and the lasting impression is one of total competence, of togetherness and 'tightness'. And all during this, they were so obviously enjoying themselves, every bit as much as the audience if not more. They were doing their 'show', and they were very good at it, but they were bouncing back off the audience, who were part of the experience, not just the target.
The band seemed to be coping with the acoustics too. Maybe they'd played enough dubious venues to be able to wring the best out of even the Wellington Town Hall. It was a little difficult to make out the lyrics of the songs, but they got the music across all right!
By this time, pretty much everyone was dancing, even me. We were all having a wonderful time when all too soon the show was over. The band said goodnight and left. Of course they were called back for an encore, which they duly provided. An encore was a normal, expected part of the show and anything else would have been highly unusual. They played three more numbers (I think, though I'm probably wrong after all this time).
The instant they left, shouts of "MORE! MORE! MORE!" rang out, and I was yelling myself hoarse with the best. By this time there were no people that I could see left sitting down. This was the real encore, and shortly thereafter a pleased, if tired, looking band returned to oblige with some more.
After their second encore they left---or tried to. The hall erupted the instant they tried to go and after a little while they came back to provide a third encore. This was starting to seem a little special. The Town Hall was now a giant dance party and when the music restarted, we jigged and reeled with joy.
A fourth time they left, and a fourth time they were called back. Four encores is definitely out of the ordinary. This time there was a distinct gap before they returned, but we were not going anywhere until they did return, so, at last, back they trooped for a fourth set of jigs and reels, led now by the fiddle player.
Finally, they said goodbye, and for a fifth time an encore was demanded. This time they really did seem gone for good. Some official looking people starting trying to clear the seats away, which only made more room for dancing. We showed no signs of leaving, or stopping the chant and hand-clap. After five minutes (I timed it) the call for "MORE!" had not diminished in the slightest. A very few people had left but most of us were still here and increasingly worried looking officials could be seen scurrying about. Eventually a very tired looking band returned, (followed hastily by the early leavers!) to ecstatic applause, and gave us one more instrumental set as a fifth encore. This time when they left, it really was for good, and although the call went up for a sixth encore, this time the audience finally, reluctantly, accepted the inevitable and went home.
We danced out of the hall and into the night, and I floated home, high on the wonderful, magical experience of the best concert I have ever attended. Thus began my experience of Steeleye Span.
I later heard that for the last two encores, Peter Knight had been playing tunes that the band had never done together, they were just jamming to his lead. You couldn't tell. By the time they left for the fifth time they had exhausted both his repertoire and their blood glucose supplies.
I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have attended that concert, which I did on a whim. After the euphoria subsided I sought out their albums and really discovered their music (and bored my friends silly with talking about them). That was a glorious concert, but it wasn't just a wonderful night. Years on I still love the music, I still find new things to enjoy in it. If you listen to the end of "Live At Last!" you hear the sound of an audience chanting "WE WANT MORE! WE WANT MORE!" When I hear that I'm transported back to 1975 and 'my' concert. Judging from the sound of another audience, another place and time, my experience was not unique. That was, and is, one seriously good band.