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Steeleye Span—2004 World Tour DVD

DVD review by Barry Curtis.
Copyright © 2006.
All Rights Reserved.

2004 World Tour DVD Cover

Christmas morning, and I was delighted to see Santa had popped a real treat into my stocking: the Steeleye Span 2004 World Tour DVD. Recorded at Tewkesbury theatre, the disc contains 2 sets featuring many of the best Steeleye classics and much from the Babylon album that came out in the same year.

The concert kicks off with King Henry and it’s nice to see Ken Nicol doing a competent job with a Bob Johnson song, as he does with the later Sir James the Rose. The band come across as masters of their art, effortlessly going through tracks such as Samain, 4 Nights Drunk, and Mantle of Green. Maddy appears surprised that at the end of Padstow, the male members chant something new, and “that’s how traditions are made”. Who Told the Butcher is improved upon from the Bedlam Born album benefiting from Maddy’s harmonies with Peter Knight. All Around My Hat closes the first set but not before we’re treated to a rendition of Long Lankin which we’re told is about a mason who doesn’t get paid. The song is great but it would have been better if there were some pyrotechnics on stage during the electric middle section. This is really a criticism of the whole concert – the lights are boring. OK they change colour occasionally but DVD concerts come to life better with rip roaring effects that are lacking here. There’s more life in another of my Christmas presents – a flashing pint glass. When I saw Steeleye live at the end of their 2004 Winter tour at Southend, Maddy criticized me for the heinous crime of using flash photography. Apparently it was “distracting”. But really bands should adapt to flashing visuals if they are to truly electrify the audience and on tracks like Long Lankin, Samain, and other rocky numbers, the experience is added to if there are fireworks, strobes, and lasers.

The sound quality and camera work on this DVD are superb – it sounds as good as a studio recording and there’s plenty of close ups so you can see the facial expressions that help to convey the emotions embodied in the songs. The band exude coolness, especially Rick Kemp who plays a funky bass accompaniment to Blackleg Miner in the second set. Tam Lin opens the second half and this is really one of the highlights of the concert. Always with concerts, one is drawn to compare the music with the studio versions on the albums. Every song fares well in this regard, but with Tam Lin there is no studio version, only another live recording on the Tonight’s the Night Live CD. The DVD is even better than that recording with a reprise of the first section of the tripartite song at the end. Tam Lin is an epic story, and in my opinion Steeleye’s version beats that of Fairport Convention’s original on their Liege and Lief album (the first ever British folk-rock album) which is no mean feat.

Next up, we’re taken through Let Her Go Down, a Peter Knight classic from his days as a commercial fisherman, followed by a fantastic performance of Drink Down the Moon which opens with a talented drum solo from Liam Genocky. Maddy really lets rip with the vocals on this track. The instrumental Si Begh Si Mohr follows, and then Maddy sings beautifully to Peter Knight’s first-class fiddling on Betsy Bell and Mary Gray. The title track of They Called Her Babylon is next up followed by Blackleg Miner. This song echoes the live version found on the extras of the Back In Line album and in the 1980s it was performed to varying animation depending on the socialistic:scab ratio of the audience (it depicts what striking miners would do to a blackleg). After Sir James the Rose, the finale is Van Diemen’s Land which closes the performance well. The DVD plays out with the tune of What’s The Life of a Man? from the Babylon album which is better than the song itself because the lyrics (which are morally dubious in my opinion) detract from what is a great tune.

 

9.5

Overall this is a fantastic DVD but I can only award it 9.5 out of 10 rather than the full 10 because of two things: firstly the lack of lighting effects and the fact this is played in a theatre rather than a folk festival, and we don’t even get to see the audience means that the atmosphere generated by a Steeleye concert does not fully come across. It’s more like listening to a CD and seeing the band in the background rather than being immersed in a terrific gig. Secondly, and this is also not the band’s fault, there are hardly any extra features. There’s an interviewette but this only lasts 5 minutes, and a couple of encores (Cam Ye and Gaudete) which takes the total extra footage to 15 minutes, and bear in mind that encores should properly be treated as part of the main feature. Compare this to another Xmas pressie – Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith – which has over 8 hours of extras and one feels that the producers could have offered a bit more on this DVD if they were to fulfill the potential of the medium. These are however fairly minor criticisms. The overall experience is marvellous, the music is brilliantly performed and the concert is a success. If you’re a Steeleye fan, this is a priceless addition to your collection and it’s a great keepsake of memories of seeing the band live. Aside from minor criticisms, I cannot recommend it enough!

Barry Curtis, January 2006, UK. Barry Curtis writes for http://www.bummagazine.com