Fotheringay – 1970

Today’s post tries to capture what exactly was going on with Sandy and Ashley after they left Fairport Convention. Sandy left because she felt her ability to contribute original songs was going to be ignored. Ashley left because he felt Fairport was going to start ignoring the new traditional route they’d taken in Liege & Lief. The separate bands they started highlight the different routes English folk-rock was branching off to in the ‘70s.

Sandy’s Fotheringay, was the band she decided to use to ease her way into a new folk-rock sound. Originally, intended to lessen the pressure on her to carry a whole band, she recruited ex-members of the folk-pop band Election who had some kind of experience working with a female lead singer. Not exactly English per se, of the five member group only one, the drummer was English, the rest were Canadian, Scandinavian, and Australian. The most important of the two were drummer Gerry Conway, future Cat Stevens member (among a laundry list of session work with: John Cale, Jethro Tull, Pentangle, and even Steeleye Span) and Trevor Lucas lead guitarist who also shared lead vocal duties with Sandy. Trevor’s writing and deep vocals especially serving as contrast to Sandy’s more ethereal mid-range tone.

Fotheringay album cover.

My selections from them, highlight the intriguing sound that owed much to Fairport, but couldn’t quite escape from its shadow or influence as evidenced by Trevor’s heavily Richard Thompson-esque guitar melodies. Only choosing to cover a few traditionals, they’d fill the rest of their recordings with folk-influenced Sandy originals and Americana/country-rock tilting folk-rock written by Trevor. The band itself couldn’t function as a unit longer than one official release, a few shows, and a left in the can recording (which was better than the first release but too late to make much difference). Sandy’s pressure to become a star, and Joe Boyd’s (their chief promoter and producer) sojourn to America, forced Trevor and Sandy (future married couple) to part ways with the rest of the band to focus on her own solo work. For now, take a listen to some shining gems, which highlight their bit of uniqueness, in their very small but influential catalog:

Now, a group who got it was Ashley Hutching’s Steeleye Span. What I’ll highlight today is just a snapshot in time, some selections from their debut Hark! the Village Wait. The group’s core was Ashley on guitar with Maddy Prior on lead vocals and Tim Hart on guitars of all sorts. Freshly dismissed from Fotheringay, Gerry Conway contributed drums. At times Dave Mattacks fresh from Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter sessions would put in a shift as drummer. Originally they attempted to do a duo female led band, but Maddy’s vocals were so blazing that they left noted, for her time, Irish folk vocalist Gay Woods as background vocalist.

Steeleye Span version 1.0 (Maddy and Tim far right).

This group was a murderer’s row of neo-traditionalist musicians. While Ashley barely dabbled in reviving old folk songs with Fairport, Maddy and Tim had already recorded two brilliant neo-folk albums Folk Songs of Olde England Vol. 1 and 2. Maddy knew her way around traditional songs, in a way that Sandy didn’t, her more crystalline voice had a certain edge to it that could wrap around whatever arrangement Tim could conjure with any traditional instrument: mandola, banjo, fiddle, mouth harp, dulcimer, etc. They both were great harmonizers as well, spending years discovering the phrasing of older forgotten traditionals with no chord progressions to draw from.

Hark! The Village Wait album cover.

When placed into a new electric zone, those two especially took to this sound with great acumen. What you hear in the following tracks is they injecting some of the bits of pleasant dissonance and chaos that always existed in non-traditional Traditional English music. True to Ashley’s cause, all of the songs on this debut were traditionals. Its not surprising that while the Fairport Convention release of that time Full House although great, was a bit placid in tone, this release felt like a small shot of adrenaline to England’s rising folk-rock heart. You could say, they were widening the scope of what Liege & Lief had lost focus on. However, even for them this was just a beginning, they’d soon get rid of Gay and Terry Woods (who pitched in on vocals and acoustic instruments) and turn into a leaner, more muscular band that would create a release to rival Fairport’s masterwork. For now, lets hear them as they started:

Recommended Listening:
– Fotheringay: Fotheringay (1970)
– Fotheringay: 2 (1970 – Unreleased)
– Steeleye Span: Hark! The Village Wait (1970)