Maddy Prior & Friends in Denver
Denver Botanic Gardens - June 18th, 1998

IT was a perfect June night in Denver. And what could be better than to hear Maddy in an idyllic setting at the Botanical Gardens? Although I have been captivated by her recordings with and without Steeleye for two decades, this was my first opportunity to hear her live, thanks in part to advance notice from this website!

        There were about 1200 lucky listeners gathered on the grass around the amphitheater stage - people of all ages and colors, singles and families, picnickers and dancing munchkins. Great to see the little ones prancing about to such esoteric sounds as Northumbrian pipes.

        Kathryn Tickell opened on said pipe and fiddle as well. Northumbrian pipes are smaller and flutier than their Celtic cousins, but no less expressive. I was mesmerized by her feeling renditions of arcane laments as well as more lively reels and even one of her own compositions. These were accompanied by delightfully descriptive introductions which left her audience enthralled. I tried to find her after the concert to obtain a playlist, but to no avail. I would love to hear (and see) more of this virtuosic young artist from the north country.

        After a short break Maddy bounced on, accompanied by master keyboardist Nick Holland and the most versatile Troy Donockley, who seemed to play everything except the lights. What he did play was (1) guitar (2) mandolin (3) Irish pipes (4) pennywhistle (5) a large pennywhistlelike instrument called I think a blowpipe. Sings too. Let me know if I omitted anything, Troy. Lest I seem to slight his talents, let me hasten to add that Nick's keyboard renditions were always expressive and perfectly attuned to Maddy's moods. There has been a lot of carping about the presence of electronic keyboards rather than a realfleshandblood piano. But since when has the piano played a major role in English traditional music? Not enough to justify schlepping one around this large country. Hey, if you can accept electric guitars....

        Maddy herself was as splendid as I expected. Moving now in new directions, she did little Steeleye material, save "Blacksmith," her personal favorite from that era. Most numbers were in fact taken from her new album, "Flesh & Blood." As you all know, Maddy is a powerful presence and a consumate artist who is constantly developing and therefore ever changing her material. There is less edge now, with a new-age flavor sometimes creeping in. The most radical new piece was "Dramatis Personae," a sort of song-cycle celebrating the prismatic qualities of human nature. This is quite a demanding piece, difficult to bring across in an outdoor setting, and I found that I had to move up in order to even catch all the words. Maddy's voice was rich and powerful, with only her upper register sounding strained, perhaps due to the stress of touring.

        I feel very lucky to have experienced this wonderful June night.

        Afterwards Maddy held court at the CD table, giving us all an opportunity to chat with her and gather autographs. The charming couple in front of me talked about their daughter named - guess who!

        Here, courtesy of Lady Prior, is the playlist:

  1. Bitter Withy
  2. Hind Horn
  3. Honest Work
  4. Finlandia (Solo by Troy on Irish Pipes)
  5. Dramatis Personae
  6. Reels
  7. Blacksmith
  8. Heart of Stone
  9. Sheath and Knife
  10. Somewhere Along the Road (encore)

Jim Howard