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Steeleye Span - "The Journey"- PRKCD52

At the turn of the Millennium as we listen to fusions of traditional music with just about anything, this double CD set is a timely reminder that Steeleye Span were there at the start of it all. Specifically formed to play "folk-rock" by Ashley Hutchings, and still touring today, it is also worth remembering that at one time they enjoyed a popularity (hit singles, TV series etc.) that no other essentially English folk band has got anywhere near.

"The Journey" is the long awaited live recording of the night in 1995 when all band members past and present, except for Terry Woods, got together for a charity concert at The Forum, London. The gig took the form of five incarnations of Steeleye Span playing in roughly chronological order, a format repeated on "The Journey".

Back in the 1970s as their popularity grew, they became distinctly "uncool" in folkie circles, but this album clearly demonstrates the quality of music, and respect for the tradition which has always underpinned the band. Most of the songs and tunes here are familiar, and while the lack of rehearsal (for 20 years or so) is occasionally evident, equally there are some stunningly good moments.

For me Steeleye mark 1's "Blacksmith" and "Dark Eyed Sailor", mark 2's "Gower Wassail" and mark 5's "Twa Corbies", "The Water is Wide" and "Thomas the Rhymer" are the highlights, but there is much more to enjoy about "The Journey". In particular, the contributions of Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick, and the beautiful singing of Gay Woods stand out.

One could argue that Steeleye Span did as much as anyone to make traditional music accessible, and that's no crime. No crime either to release "The Journey", which achieves what all live recordings aim for: it makes you wish you'd been there.

Steve Ingham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 36 of The Living Tradition magazine.