|The Albion Band|
|Genres||British folk rock, folk|
Etchingham Steam Band
|See: Band members section|
The Albion Band, also known as The Albion Country Band and The Albion Dance Band, were a British folk rock band, originally brought together and led by musician Ashley Hutchings. Generally considered one of the most important groupings in the genre, it has contained or been associated with a large proportion of major English folk performers in its long and fluid history.
The one constant in the band's history has been the band leader Ashley Hutchings, founding member of arguably the two other pre-eminent English folk rock groupings Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, and it has been the home for most of the projects of his long and highly productive career, though in the 2011 incarnation of the band he has handed over the reins to his son Blair Dunlop.
Initially Hutchings formed the band in April 1971 to accompany his then wife the singer Shirley Collins on her No Roses album. Dave Mattacks, Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol, from Fairport Convention, beside such luminaries as Lal and Mike Waterson of The Watersons and Maddy Prior, were among twenty five credited backing musicians. On a short tour, core members were joined by Richard Thompson and his then wife Linda Thompson. Several members contributed with Hutchings to the project Morris On (1972), including John Kirkpatrick, Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks, and cumbersomely all their names appeared on the album cover.
Hutchings was keen to make a permanent band from these musicians and the first attempt included Royston Wood, Steve Ashley and Sue Draheim in the line-up, but the group failed to gel and he recruited a second band, turning to Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Sue Harris, Roger Swallow and Simon Nicol. The band remained fragile and split in August 1973, but an album was released retrospectively under the title Battle of the Field, on Island Records in 1976. Other material recorded by this line-up eventually appeared on the later BBC Sessions CD (1998).
From 1974 to 1975, Hutchings abandoned the Albion name and focused on forming the Etchingham Steam Band with his wife Shirley Collins. However, in 1976 he pulled together a new Albion Band, this time with the aim of playing traditional dance music. It had a huge and unstable membership that included Simon Nicol, Graeme Taylor from Gryphon, the early musicians Phil Pickett and John Sothcott, fiddle player Ric Sanders, plus John Tams, one of folk music's most distinctive and highly regarded vocalists. The immediate result was a lively traditional based album The Prospect Before Us under the name The Albion Dance Band. In 1978 they shortened the name to The Albion Band (which has remained the basis of the group's identity since) and released, under Tams' direction, what is usually considered the finest album in the long history of the band Rise Up Like the Sun (1978).
The band took part in a 1977 TV show Here We Come A-Wasseling and in 1978-9 collaborated with playwright Keith Dewhurst for a stage adaptation of British author Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford, tracks from which were released as an album in 1980. The band was probably at the height of its mainstream profile at this point, getting its own BBC Arena documentary that explored their work. While Hutchings was more interested in pursuing theatrical possibilities, many members of the band wanted to be a touring and recording band and, despite critical acclaim, this line-up split. Tams, Taylor and Gregory went on to form the nucleus of Home Service. Live material from this period has been released in Songs from the Shows (1997 and 1999) and The Guvnor, Vols 1-4 (1996-2004).
Hutchings reformed the band around the nucleus of the remaining ex-Fairporters Nicol and Mattacks. He added three members of Cock and Bull (Dave Whetstone, Jean-Pierre Rasle and John Maxwell) and for the first time on record, opted for a lead female vocalist in Cathy Lesurf of the Oyster Band, whose tones characterize most recordings from this era. Probably the best album of this relatively stable period was Light Shining (1983), on which most of the tracks were original material. However, the reputation of the album has since been marred by accusations that Hutchings plagiarized one of its best songs, "Wolfe," from "Northwest Passage" by Canadian folksinger Stan Rogers.Shuffle Off (1983) followed, after which Nicol and Mattacks left to reform Fairport Convention. Phil Beer on guitar/fiddle/vocals and Trevor Foster on drums joined the band, and Under the Rose (1984), A Christmas Present From The Albion Band (1985) and The Wild Side of Town (1987) followed, the last of which was based on a five-part BBC television series presented by Chris Baines. The line-up then shifted with Martin Bell joining on violin before the release of Stella Maris in (1987). Martin Bell and Cathy Lesurf then left and the group were joined by Simon Care and John Shepherd. This was the most stable lineup in the band's history in terms of albums, producing three: I Got New Shoes (1988), Give Me a Saddle and I'll Trade you a Car (1989) and 1990 in the year of that name.
In 1990 they were joined by singer-songwriter and instrumentalist Julie Matthews, but although they toured they produced no albums before her departure in 1993. Some sessions from this line-up surfaced as Captured in 1995. Trevor Foster and Phil Beer left and were temporarily replaced by virtuoso acoustic guitarist Keith Hinchliffe shifting the emphasis away from electric instruments. In 1993 Hutchings decided to follow this trend turning the band into a small four piece unit comprising himself, Julie Matthews' replacement Chris While, original member Simon Nicol, and Ashley Reed on violin. This allowed them to play small folk club, pub and college venues and gave the Band a whole new direction, now drawing on contemporary songwriters like Beth Nielsen Chapman and Steve Knightley as well as the internal songwriting talent of While and Hutchings. The first studio album of this period Acousticity (1993) had a more lively and contemporary feel, aided by Reed's energetic playing. In 1995 Reed left and Matthews returned to the band to add her vocal, instrumental and considerable songwriting talents. The resulting album, Albion Heart (1995), is usually considered the best of this later period and marked the beginning of While and Matthews' long and productive partnership. It was also unusual for the lack of traditional folk instruments and the four were soon joined by violinist and mandolin player Chris Leslie for the last recording of this era Demi Paradise (1996), before Leslie left for Fairport Convention and While and Matthews for solo and joint projects. Live performances of this era have been released as Acousticity on Tour (2004) and Albion Heart on Tour (2004).
The last phase of the full band would be based around a return to a more traditional rock format and the incorporation of two generations of musicians. Hutchings called in experienced guitarist and writer Ken Nicol and added newcomers Joe Broughton on fiddle and Neil Marshall on drums. Female vocals were supplied by Kellie While and Gillie Nicholls, who were guests on the first studio album of this era, Happy Accident (1998). Gillie Nicolls was a full member of the band for the second outing Before Us Stands Yesterday (1999), but was then replaced by Kellie While for the recording of The Christmas Album later that year and for Road Movies (2001), their last studio project. Ken Nicol left to be replaced by Pete Zorn, but it was becoming increasingly hard to find venues of a suitable size and in 2002 it was decided to suspend the band.
Their 1999 album Ridgeriders also saw them reunite with former members of the band.
While Hutchings continued to pursue other projects he revived the Albion Band in an acoustic format for seasonal tours in 2005, allowing them to play smaller venues which could usually be easily filled. The line-up is based around Simon Nicol, Kellie While and multi-instrumentalist Simon Care. The results have been three further seasonal albums: An Albion Christmas (2005), Winter Songs (2006), and Snow on Snow (2008). A fourth album Traditional (2009) is a compilation of tracks from the preceding three which excludes spoken word recordings.
In July 2011, Hutchings announced that the Albion Band would be forming again, and for the first time he himself would not be a member. Instead he passed the baton to his son - the guitarist and singer Blair Dunlop. This new line-up also features a number of other current folk performers from a range of backgrounds reflecting earlier versions of the Albion Band. These members include Folk Award nominee Katriona Gilmore (Tiny Tin Lady, Gilmore/Roberts) on fiddle and vocals, vocalist, concertina player and guitarist Gavin Davenport (Crucible, Glorystrokes, Hekety), drummer Tom Wright (Eliza Carthy projects/Glorystrokes), and Tim Yates (Blackbeard's Tea Party/The QP) on bass - only the second bass player in the band's history, and lead guitarist and relative newcomer Benjamin Trott. This line-up released an own label EP Fighting Room in 2011 and their first studio album Vice of the People in 2012.
On 10 January 2014, Dunlop announced the friendly dissolution of the band "in the current incarnation", to allow its members to pursue individual projects. In his letter, he does state that they will undoubtedly work together in the future.
Past members include: