The Albion Band

TrackAlbum
Albion SunriseBattle Of The Field
Horse's BrawlThe Prospect Before Us
Snow FallsLark Rise To Candleford
Gresford DisasterRise Up Like The Sun
Poor Old HorseThe BBC Sessions
Swift NickLight Shining
RascalsUnder The Rose
Go NorthCaptured
WingsHappy Accident
CoalvilleThe Vice Of The People

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

I will leave an analysis of Ashley Hutchings’ influence on folk, rock and folk-rock to someone better qualified than me. The Albion Band was Hutchings’ third great band. In 1966, he formed Fairport Convention (see Toppermost #56) and left them in 1969 to form Steeleye Span (see Toppermost #26) and left them in 1971 to form The Albion Country Band, which became The Albion Dance Band and, finally, The Albion Band.

The project began when Hutchings decided to create a permanent band out of the group of musicians who recorded the 1971 album No Roses with his then wife Shirley Collins (see Toppermost #303). That album was released as Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band but 25 musicians are credited on the sleeve.

It was fully five years before Battle Of The Field was released and from which I open the batting with the Richard Thompson composition Albion Sunrise; the opening lead vocal is by Martin Carthy, then verses are taken in turn by Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol.

It is estimated that over forty of the major performers from Britain’s folk scene have contributed to The Albion Band. The fluidity of the line-ups has been both a strength and a weakness; occasionally too many influences compete for your attention but the singers and musicians who have graced the band over the years reads like a who’s who of contemporary folk music.

I very quickly decided that being representative was an impossible task so it was a case of which songs do I like and why. That left a longlist in excess of thirty songs, and the task was then to reduce the list to ten.

The follow-up to Battle Of The Field was The Prospect Before Us and was released by The Albion Dance Band with its cover of Britannia wielding a Fender Stratocaster in place of a sceptre. Horse’s Brawl opens with Philip Pickett’s recorder and the dance tune builds from there, and has the feel of a live performance. I saw the band for the first time on stage while they were promoting this album.

In 1978, Ashley Hutchings was working at the National Theatre, with the playwright Keith Dewhurst, arranging the music for a stage setting of Flora Thompson’s literary trilogy “Lark Rise To Candleford”, the results of which were recorded in 1980; Snow Falls represents the production, quoting as it does from the books. I admit I thoroughly enjoyed the TV adaptation of the books shown on BBC1 between 2008 and 2011.

While Hutchings was engaged with the National Theatre he entrusted the next Albion Band album, Rise Up Like The Sun, to John Tams using the nine piece band assembled for the stage production. It is said that Hutchings arranged ‘cheese and wine parties’ at Sound Techniques Studio in Chelsea, during which such guests as Martin Carthy, Kate McGarrigle, Julie Covington and Linda Thompson were invited to add vocals to the record.

The band took to the road in between theatre commitments. It was an exciting band to see. The centre-piece of these gigs was Gresford Disaster, a near eleven minute arrangement of a song about an accident at the Gresford Colliery near Wrexham in north-east Wales in September 1934. The unattributed lyric tells the story, although the band omit a very damning verse:

Now the fireman’s reports they are missing
The records of forty-two days;
The colliery manager had them destroyed
To cover his criminal ways.

The Albion Band use the tune to give guitarist Graeme Taylor and fiddle-player Ric Sanders licence to create a rondo and fugue in the middle of the song which split critics’ opinions when the album was released.

Also on Rise Up Like The Sun was a sea shanty Poor Old Horse which was also a feature of those live sets as illustrated by my selection from The BBC Sessions. When my daughter was small, after breakfast and before taking her to school, she would ask for Poor Old Horse and I would have to crawl around the room in time to the music while she sat on my back: Dad and Daughter; Horse and Rider. The song is sometimes called ‘The Dead Horse’ and was first collected in 1917. It was sung at the end of the first month on board ship. Sailors would make a horse figure from rags and tar, hoist it to the yard-arm, then cut it loose and let it drift out to sea. The verse about ‘Sally in the garden’ seems to have drifted in from a different unrelated shanty.

Swift Nick is the story of Nick (or John) Nevison who rode from Kent to York, a feat that was attributed to Dick Turpin in William Harrison Ainsworth’s novel, “Rookwood”. The song is from 1983’s Light Shining which has nine tracks of which seven could have been included in this topper ten. Wolfe tells of General Wolfe’s battle for Quebec from his wife’s viewpoint in Greenwich. The Green Mist and Beware Of Blue also deserve a specific mention; at this time lead vocal was provided by Cathy Lesurf, with fiddle from Phil Beer.

Under The Rose (1984) could also have been included in its entirety with its references to William Shakespeare throughout, from the opening Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow through Woodlands Of England to Sailor’s Rest Hornpipe; but in the middle of it all is Rascals, a song dedicated to mischief.

Captured (2009) was originally released as a limited edition cassette in 1992. It has some very good tracks and none better than Go North featuring Julie Matthews. This is more rock song than folk-rock but a fabulous showcase for Matthews’ voice, singing her own song.

Happy Accident (1998) opens with a history of Fairport Convention with the song Wings that Ashley Hutchings performed with Fairport at the previous year’s Cropredy Festival and which appears on the three CD set The Cropredy Box that marked the band’s 30th anniversary. This was the beginning of a final phase for the band which ceased in 2002, apart from acoustic Christmas tours in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

In 2011, a new Albion Band reformed without Ashley Hutchings. He handed the baton to his son, Blair Dunlop, who assembled a band from the current crop of folk musicians. Their album The Vice Of The People was released in 2012 and, through its quality, takes its rightful place alongside the earlier work. Coalville bats at number 10 for the Albion Band in this collection – sadly this team plays without a number 11, although Broomfield Hill from Stella Maris (1987) is ready to bring on the drinks.

In true Albion Band tradition, Blair Dunlop announced in January 2014 that the band would be dissolved in its current form to allow the members to pursue individual projects, but they would undoubtedly work together in the future. The story will continue …

 

The Albion Band facebook

The Albion Band biography (iTunes)

The Albion Band “over forty members” over the years, and many with albums of their own, so come all ye. Morris on anybody… a 1979 BBC TV documentary on The Albion Band can be viewed here.

TopperPost #325

1 Comment

  1. Roger Woods
    Aug 2, 2014

    Great article Ian. I’m sure you could offer a great analysis of Ashley Hutchings’ impact on folk music. I’ve followed his work through all three/four bands and still look for his gigs. We first encountered The Albion Band at the National Theatre in 1978. The line-up of the live band for the staging of Lark Rise (Candleford came later, around 1980) was monumental. John Tams, Martin Carthy, Shirley and Dolly Collins, Ashley Hutchings and several other prominent and upcoming folkies. We saw the play four times. A few years ago Ashley H resurrected a version of the band and performed the songs once more for a few gigs. It was memorable and there were several in the audience at the gig we got to in Worcester who had seen the original. Each Christmas we try to catch the Albion Christmas Band as it tours.
    The name of the band offers a nod of respect to The Band. Fairport Convention were majorly influence by Music From Big Pink by The Band, as much perhaps for the way the music had been generated while The Band were holed up in Woodstock for months making music to please themselves. Fairport copied this technique to produce their masterpiece Liege and Lief. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Ashley Hutchings chose the name ‘The Albion Band’ for what was to be his third band.

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