On the road with Steeleye's Maddy Prior
Accordion player, singer and clog dancer Hannah James describes Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior as 'fearless', always ready to try something new.
And it is those qualities that Maddy brings to the trio she shares with Hannah and with multi-instrumentalist Giles Lewin. They play Shoreham’s Ropetackle on May 1, exploring the music of England, the British Isles and Eastern Europe.
Their debut album 3 For Joy drew on 14th-century poems, tales of the industrial revolution from Ulster and music from the Southern Baptist Church tradition. Their new album Shortwinger is themed on the wild field, mainly concerned with birds, hares and their place in folk mythology.
The trio will be performing songs from both albums as well as highlights from Maddy’s solo and band career – all presented in acoustic style.
“It really started about six or seven years ago when I was living in Sheffield,” Hannah says. “My partner at the time was recording an album with John Spiers and Jon Boden. It was their tenth-anniversary album, and they got a few guests on there, and one of them was Maddy. Maddy came to our house and recorded some voice on the album. After we recorded it, we all went down to the local pub which was a pub where people like to play tunes. I ended up doing some clog-dancing.
“And then a few months later, completely out of the blue, I got a call from Maddy, and she asked me to go on tour before we had even played together. She just had a hunch. We have now done five or six tours over about four or five years, either one or two tours a year. She is just really inspiring. She has always got so many ideas. She wants to keep changing. She wants to keep evolving.
“It is the three of us. Maddy sings, and I play accordion and I am also a percussive dancer, but in this trio, I use my feet as percussion while playing. I have got this board that I have got under my feet, and Giles plays all sorts of things, mostly fiddles. Me and Giles both sing, and we also do quite a lot of three-part harmony. The repertoire is quite a mix. It is some of the songs that Maddy has been singing for a long time, but she is also keen to use the influences that Giles and I have in our music. Both me and Giles have travelled around quite a lot. I have spent quite a lot of time in various parts of Europe, and I have done a couple of projects in India. Giles has done a lot of stuff. I think he lived in Egypt, studying Arabic fiddle-playing as well as coming from a classical background.”
It works then because they are so diverse: “The great thing about Maddy is that she is so fearless. She is never afraid of any ideas that might be too out there or too whacky. If they are good ideas, she is never afraid to do them. She has also studied the complete vocal technique and is now a teacher. It is a new way of appreciating the voice and how the voice works. A few years ago, she came to the realisation her voice was going to change and that she couldn’t keep singing how she used to sing. Instead of getting down about it, she did this three-year course.”
For other stories by Phil, see: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2