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Updated: 20 Dec 2011

The Jam House, Birmingham - 19 Oct 2011
Barbican, London - 19 Dec 2011
  • Now We Are Nine - Review by Pete Bradley


    NOW WE ARE NINE - Review by Pete Bradley

    Clearly, after being at work all day in Sussex, it was going to be very tight to get to the Barbican by 7:30, but we contented ourselves that a 7:30 start probably meant that the doors opened at 7:30, with nothing actually happening till 8:00 at the earliest.

    We eventually arrived at the Barbican at about 7:40 after negotiating an extraordinary maze of overhead passages that seemed to link half of London. We arrived at onthe theatre level 2, and had to make our way down to level -1 to pick up our tickets. You could hear Steeleye Span playing throughout the building, but we assumed that it was a record, piped round the theatre, to entertain the audience whilst they waited for the support act to start. However, when we got top the doors of the stalls we were told that we couldn't get in until the current song had finished. The sound we could hear was not a record, but Steeleye Span actually performing live. "Surely Steeleye Span are the main act. What are they doing on stage already?" We had a bit of a panic that we might have already missed the Strawbs entire set.

    It turned out that Steeleye Span were to perform two sets, with the Strawbs sandwiched in the middle. For their first set, Span played the entire "Now We Are Six" album. The track we could hear from the foyer was "Thomas The Rhymer", which is the first track on Now We Are Six, so I don't think we missed too much after all.

    Although we'd bought our tickets quite late, we found that we had very good seats, off to stage right. The auditorium has a steep gradient, so wherever you are, your view of the stage is unlikely to be obscured by the person in front. Trouble was, the theatre has a strict no-cameras policy, and because we had such a good view, everyone else in the theatre would have had a good view of us, and would have noticed if I tried to take any photos, so I kept my camera firmly hidden throughout. Didn't want to risk being thrown out.

    Loved Span's first set, as Now We Are Six was one of the few albums that I owned on vinyl yet somehow never replaced on CD, so I hadn't listened to it for some twenty years, but still knew every note of every song. Simply adored "Two Magicians" but the highlight had to be "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" - well Maddy Prior's introduction, to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to be more precise. She dedicated the song to Brian Cox and claimed he might learn something from the song.

    Immediately after the first set, the Acoustic Strawbs took the stage. They were extremely well receieved, despite some of the worst sound balancing I've heard. DL's guitar was almost inaudible at first, and Chas's bass pedals were far too high in the mix. The volume of each individual microphone seemed to fluctuate a bit as well, By the time they played "Autumn" and "Lay Down", the balance had begun to be sorted, but "Ghosts" was almost drowned out by the pedals.

    Everyone was wondering whether Maddy would join them for "The King", and we were kept guessing right up to the end of their set, but sure enough, there she was, waiting in the wings. Fabulous.

    During Steeleye's second set, they were joined for a few numbers, not just by Martin Carthy, as promised, but also by John Spiers (used to play with Eliza Carthy's band The Ratcatchers) on accordion.

    For their encore ("All Around My Hat" and "Gaudete"), Martin and John rejoined them, along with none other than Dave Cousins. Steeleye Span became nine.

    Still singing "Gaudete" to myself. Must look up the words.

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