STEELEYE SPAN – Live At The Rainbow Theatre 1974 (Chrysalis CRVX1485)

Live At The Rainbow Theatre 1974You may have noticed that, earlier this year, Chrysalis released the definitive collection of Steeleye Span’s albums from 1972 to 1983, regarded by many as their heyday. As bonuses, the box included three live albums and the second of these is Live At The Rainbow Theatre 1974. This is the “classic” line up: Hart, Prior, Knight, Johnson, Kemp and Pegrum, who was the relative new boy. Now it comes as a double-LP on red vinyl, no less.

Completists will know that ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ was released on Original Masters and that set noses twitching. Eventually, a whole bunch of tapes was unearthed in the vaults and we can assume that this set is the pick of them.

They kick off with ‘Bach Goes To Limerick’ and ‘The Ups And Down’, a relatively subdued settling-in period, followed by ‘Demon Lover’. And then the silliness begins. The self-proclaimed “only sensible member of the band” – I’ll leave you to decide which one that is but, to give you a clue, it’s one of the chaps – embarks on a shaggy dog about how the band learned ‘Two Magicians’ backwards and even persuaded the audiences to attempt to clap backwards! Needless to say, the audience was deemed not to be up to it and they played the song in the conventional manner.

‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’, which opens the second side sees the band kick up a gear with Pegrum giving the drums his all. ‘One Misty Moisty Morning’ relaxes a bit but ‘Long Lankin’, with Maddy at her most dramatic and Bob, Rick and Nigel rocking like stink is the highlight of the first disc. ‘Jig Jam’, written by the band probably using the same technique that Fairport employed for ‘Dirty Linen’, continues to throw the musical kitchen sink at some tunes.

That sounds like the end of the first set and, if it is, the second half opens with a pair of reels – ‘The Musical Priest/The Silver Spear’ – taken as fast as Peter Knight could go. ‘Little Sir Hugh’ and the epic ‘Thomas The Rhymer’ both concern chaps who came to unfortunate ends while ‘Cam Ye O’er Frae France’ concerns an unfortunate king; at least as far as much of the populace were concerned. That ends the show but you know it doesn’t really.

More silliness to begin the encores as Steeleye Span play ‘Oh You Beautiful Doll’ – you can decide who wins. The other greatest hit, ‘Gaudete’, follows before they really wind up with a set of jigs and ‘The Mason’s Apron’. I heard Steeleye several times during this period and I think I caught this tour in Southampton but I could be wrong and I thought they were supported by Martin Simpson but that doesn’t fit. Whatever, Live At The Rainbow Theatre 1974, is a wonderful find and Chrysalis have done an excellent job on the presentation. And, do you know, there’s another live set that might be due for a similar treatment?

Dai Jeffries

Label website:

‘Long Lankin’: