Steeleye Span Concert at the Real Ale Festival
National Hall, Olympia, 8th August 1997

I have never been to a beer festival before so it was a new experience. Olympia is a massive venue that is normally used for big exhibitions. We went in, and the first thing you do is buy a beer glass. You are then confronted with rows and rows of different beer venders all plying their wares. Beers of all strengths and colours with so many different names that I can't now recall. There were stalls selling vintage bottled beer, beer mats and other beer related products, it was quite an eye opener.

        We hunted round trying to find the stage, then realised that there was a second hall, and there it was. It was a typical scaffold built stage with an area at the back for the band where they had there own cask of beer on tap!

        We got to greet (and hug) most of the band before they went on stage, and whilst it is true that there is some degree of uncertertainty as to which way the band is going to go next, they were all in high spirits and keen to point out that nothing in the States brought about the forthcoming departure of Maddy, in fact this is something Maddy has been planning to do for some time (she almost left a couple of years ago) it’s just been a question of choosing the right time. An amusing event happened 15 minutes before they were due to go on stage. I was just about to get a beer refill, (Youngs Ramrod) when a man approached me and asked if I was Tony, Maddy was looking for me urgently.. I went round to the back stage area and caught Maddy’s eye and she called me over.... During the last couple of tours they have sung a new song called ‘Room for Company’ Maddy wanted to know if I could remember the words to a couple of the lines. it hasn’t been recorded yet so needless say I couldn’t. The song is about the hiring fairs of old where the working class would go to seek work, and at one point goes through a list of the various trades on offer. I had to laugh, Maddy asking ME for the words! needless to say, it all went off without a hitch.
        Well, now for the concert itself. One of the reasons I was not initially keen on going was because most people would be going for the beer festival and not to see the band, so I thought that maybe they would not be all that appreciative. How wrong one can be. the atmosphere was electric. They did two sets of about forty five minutes each. Prickly Bush, Room for Company (with no obviously wrong words), Harvest of the Moon, My Johnny was a Shoemaker, The Elf Knight, The Fox, Ireland Love of my Heart, Padstow.

        End of set one. during the interval they had (and I quote here) an Auction of Breweriana this consisted of beer mats beer glass's beer books, trips round brewery’s and the chance to be a brewer for a day, which went for over two hundred pounds I think, (I was busy buying some extremely hot cajun food at the time).
        Set two. By the time the second set started the crowd were well and truly warmed up and well oiled. They started off with the Cadgwith Anthem, Lark in the Morning, TwaŐ Corbies, Seagull, The Water is Wide, Cutty Wren, Thomas the Rhymer, Old Maid in the Garret, ...... All Around My Hat, Jigs, Gaudette.

        Because of the fact that the festival was on all day the band could not have a rehearsal, only a sound check. Yet they played and sang as good as they always do, Maddy was singing alto a lot of the time which is why she is often perceived as being drowned out by Gay, which in fact is not the case, it is purely that Gay is singing the lead and Maddy the harmony.

        As for the bands outfits, Bob was all in black, Gay wore a black silky jacket black skirt three inches above the knee with a three inch black belt with studs in Tim Liam and Peter all wore white Courage 'T' shirts, and Maddy was wearing a 'Picasso' design 'T' shirt and a bright 'Swingy' skirt to quote Twila.

        So, after two and a half pints of strong beer a feast of good music in an electric atmosphere, it was time to go home. My last sight of the band was catching Peter’s eye as he sat backstage and blowing him kisses which he being the good sport that he is, returned profusely. Another Steeleye gig under my belt. Roll on October.

Tony Wighton