Steeleye Span Concert at Ann Harbor
12th June 19971997

STEELEYE rocked. I got there early, since Bruce and the kids had signed up to work, so I made myself useful around the place beforehand -- which also meant running into the band while they were trying to locate food/coffee/the bathrooms... Apparently they had been in Seattle the night before, and had had to get on a flight at 4:30 to make it to Ann Arbor, and -- at least Liam -- had not had a chance to eat before the sound check time. The sound check was grand -- I got to listen to several songs pre-concert. Maddy was running around in a tee shirt and bare feet. She's so sweet! The sound checks went over-long, but I think that was due to the tiredness and jet lag. So it was nearly eight when we finally let in the "dogs of war", aka the 400 people who had been patiently standing in line, but it was still a while before they were allowed into the auditorium. A mass stampede ensued, but I still managed to get a second row seat. On the left, facing the stage, so I was treated to Bob Johnson and Gay Wood not five feet away from me.

        Some visual notes -- Bob Johnson was *very* sleepy-eyed -- he shut his eyes every time he had to join in the chorus and sing, almost as if he was visualizing the words behind his eyelids, and he had this half-smile as if he was really enjoying himself. He was probably the most "normal"-looking of the band members -- a denim shirt and pants, nothing flashy.

        Gay Woods was more etherial in black -- a black mid-calf dress, filmy sleeves, black granny shoes, with a white lace shawl to begin with. She seemed a bit detached at first, but after "My Johnny was a Shoemaker" she was into it. On several tunes, she played the bodhran with this pink glove with what looked like brass knuckles attached to it, and I could *not* tell if she had grown extra fingers or not while she was playing. She was very energetic and she also played tambourine and the "sticks". Her voice is very strong, and she belts out the lyrics -- often, it seemed, overpowering Maddy's voice. She shared the song introduction chores with Maddy and Peter.

        Maddy Prior was in a multicolored tunic over a short swingy skirt and black tights. She was bubbly from the start, and was dancing to most of the instrumental breaks. She didn't really have any solo songs, since Gay seemed to be at least singing chorus on all of them, but when she did the long version of "True Thomas", it was magical. (For those who might not know, the version of "True Thomas" normally heard on Steeleye records is the shortened American version, which leaves out the verses about the other roads that can be taken -- this version had the road to righteousness and the road to wickedness included, as well as a few verses added to the beginning. Maddy did this gestural thing which evoked the vision of the roads as the Elf Queen must have gestured at Thomas Rhymer. Gorgeous.) Of course, "Thomas" is a rocker, and they let loose full bore. I couldn't hear for a good five minutes after they were done!

        Peter Knight has a very sly sense of humor, unexpected in one who looks almost like a fussy old professor (has to be the mustache!). Anyway, he played the fiddle with near-incandescent speed and virtuosity, and even on the video (which is what the Ark workers get to see crowded shows on), you could see the fiddle smoking when he really jammed. He had the most incomprehensible song intros -- mostly because they were logical if you could follow his slant-wise logic, but were not logical in any normal sense. (Does that parse?!)

        Tim Herries looked like a skinhead -- shaved skull, tee shirt, earring. He played a very nice wooden bass (I didn't know that's what it was until someone told me -- I don't focus on instruments) and the keyboards. I couldn't see him playing both at once, but apparently he did! And he really really got into "The Water is Wide" -- they played an extended jam-type intro, and he was bending over the keyboards and swaying as if he was underwater, in slow motion. It was fascinating! He was also a backup vocalist, but I can't say that I could distinguish him from the mix.

        And finally, Liam Genockey. He was the, um, most hippie-like of the bunch, wearing a hat (striped), pants (ditto, only not in the same pattern), and a shirt that was mostly hidden by his braided beard (which hung down to his waist!). He was hidden behind his drum sets, mostly, but man oh man. He can really drum. Again, I'm not as keen a judge of instrumentals, but he kept it loud, he kept it rocking, he kept my heart beating at ninety miles an hour.

        Gaudete (a cappella, and you could tell that their voices had begun to fade -- nice, and a wonderful ending, but only Gay was really cooking, and she had to have a lyric sheet (which I found odd, since I believe she's Roman Catholic from seeing her necklaces up close and the things she said)...)

        It was truly a memorable concert -- I didn't notice the lower energy level in the first half, as most of the people I've spoken to have, but then I was revved up from the first note. The second half was definitely more high-energy, with a lot of dancing and high jinks between Gay and Maddy -- as the concert went on, they seemed to lose a bit of initial stiffness with each other, and simply have fun up there. You could tell that they were truly glad to be there, with the audience, and, afterwards, each of them was truly gracious and willing to speak to whoever approached them. I managed to get all of them to autograph my copy of Time, and *grin* even got a hug from Maddy. Whoo. Gay did mention that they'd have a new album, probably next year, and that the "difficulties" in getting along (aka adjustments) were easing. (I think that she and Maddy are, um, just a little too strong-willed for the other's comfort -- Gay is definitely a very strong stage presence, and she over-powered Maddy at several points, both vocally and energetically, which I rather regretted, since Maddy IS Steeleye in a very large degree, but that's how it goes....)

Twila Price