Death, Break-Ups and Rebirth: How a tragic car accident sparked the formation of Steeleye Span
It was in the early hours of May 12th 1969, accomplished folk band Fairport Convention were travelling back from a Birmingham gig when their driver fell asleep at the wheel and the van dropped 40 ft into an embankment.
As a result two people were pronounced dead: Richard Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn and the band's drummer Martin Lamble. The rest of the band suffered physical injuries, Thompson escaped with "a few cracked ribs", guitarist Simon Nicol was concussed, and Fairport’s then-bassist Ashley Hutchings was left with injuries serious enough to keep him in hospital for weeks.
But the band also experienced deep emotional wounds as they remembered their friends. Hutchings says of that time:
"We were totally fractured, in more ways than one. People were asking us about the future, but we couldn't conceive of planning one."
The crash acted as a catalyst for the band and subsequently ‘Liege and Lief’ was born. Heralded as the ‘Most Influential Folk Album of All Time’ by the 2006 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, its release was greeted with much adoration from the British folk scene. Click here to read more about ‘Liege and Lief’. Despite its success, the album’s release resulted in the breakup of the band as principal members Ashley Hutchings and Sandy Denny left to pursue their own musical directions.
For Hutchings, one of the main outcomes of his split from Fairport was the creative desire to explore further traditional folk music, and so he formed Steeleye Span. Although the outfit of Steeleye has changed throughout history, more a catalogue of ‘who’s who in folk’, the traditional folk spirit is still the same.
Folk veterans such as Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Tim Harries and Bob Johnson have all formed part of the line-up. Front-woman Maddy Prior has been the voice of the band for 37 years, as well as having a successful solo career. The band still retains renowned fiddle player Peter Knight (see also Feast of Fiddles) who plays with an expertise and passion that gives Steeleye their unique sound.
The current outfit of Steeleye Span are living proof of successful collaborations over the years. Some may say that without having lived through such drastic life changes, band breakups and amalgamations, their music would not be as eclectic as it is today.
Steeleye Span play Tuesday 12th March at 7:30pm
Full Price: £19, Under 25s: £9. Tickets here
Photo by beanmunster