All Around My Hat

March 2004

Steeleye Span in Concert

Last Friday night (5/3/04) we went to see Steeleye Span in concert at the State Theatre. It was their 35th anniversary tour (!) and like most folk-rock bands the lineup bears only a passing resemblance to the original. Maddie Prior still fronts it, however, and Peter Knight still plays his magic violin. The supporting act was Ralph MacTell, whom I would cheerfully pay to see as the main act. When I saw the concert advertised back in January, I immediately flagged with Pamela that this would make a great birthday present.

The Venue

Sydney's State Theatre is my all-time favourite concert venue. It is fairly small but still big enough to generate that 'crowd' energy. There are no bad seats. The stalls are incredibly comfortable and I have more than enough leg room (itself incredible in this day of bean-counting designers).

It is covered in elaborate, rococco decoration. The men's room is the best in Sydney and is the only one I know which includes an ante-room, complete with long wooden refectory table. If you have never been to the State, do so. It is an experience in itself.

The concert was sold out well before the date. There was an awful lot of grey hair in the audience but then there's a fair bit of grey in my own hair so I didn't feel out of place.

Ralph MacTell

Pamela described this as being like a master-class in song writing and that's not so far out. The man has incredible skills as a songwriter, with an exquisite mixture of words and music. Robert got a bit bored with it halfway through - I think it was too quiet for him - so Pamela took him for a walk (this was my birthday present, after all).

Ralph MacTell did a nice mixture of old songs and new. He is at his best, I think, on the more contemplative numbers but none of it was bad. His encore/finale was what he described as "a medley of his greatest hit" but even after all these years Streets of London is still a powerful song.

Not that we let him go after that - he had to sing one more song. I think if he hadn't been the supporting act he'd have been quite happy to keep going but you could almost see the stage manager was waving his arms and pointing at his watch in the wings.

Steeleye Span

The lineup:

So, how was the concert? Well, Pamela and I both loved it. Robert found it a bit long but he was watching Liam Genockey pretty intently. I fear we may have a drummer in the family.

They played most of my favourites: Two Magicians (my very favourite), Long Lankin, Thomas the Rhymer (Robert keeps asking us to sing the chorus of this one), Sir James the Rose, All Around My Hat, and the rest. Plus a few I hadn't heard before (I don't have every album they every made). Still lots of energy and showmanship. Great stuff.

You could make a few minor quibbles. Maddie Prior's voice has aged a bit - it no longer has that clear, bell-like quality - but she worked around it. Ken Nicol seemed still a little over-awed by the rest of the band (as well he might) but he is a good musician and in no sense lets them down. The guy with the travel spotlight must have been a trainee but, frankly, they're not the sort of band you go to for the light show so who cares.

So, a good time was had by all. A great birthday present - thank you Pamela. And Robert earned himself a lot of brownie points for being a fabulous kid all the way through.

See you all at the 40th anniversary tour in 2009.


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