Steve Ashley – Fire and Wine: An Armchair Guide to Steve Ashley


Buy Now – e-book

The first complete musical biography of one of the UK’s most respected and talented singer-songwriters.

Fire and Wine is the first biography of the artist Mojo magazine described as “the Inspector Morse of the folk world – a gentle romantic with a flair for mystery”; and whose debut album, Stroll On,  holds a permanent place among the greatest folk-rock records ever made.

Steve’s own recollections are joined by a small army of friends and colleagues, including Dave Pegg, Shirley Collins, Linda Thompson, Chris Leslie, Colin Irwin, Bruce Rowland, Maartin Allcock, Austin John Marshall and many others.

Packed with rare photographs (print edition only), Fire and Wine is an indispensable addition to the folk and traditional library.

Visit Steve Ashley here


Just as Shirley Collins is one of the key components in the growth of the folk revival through the 1960s, so 1969’s Anthems in Eden would become one of the key albums of the folk revival, an early release on the newly formed Harvest progressive rock specialist label, and a startling rebuttal of all those critics who argued that folk could not step into any other musical realms.

Musically, it is everywhere, time traveling through medieval and Renaissance sounds, invoking the ghosts of brass bands in best baroque finery, haunted by Dolly’s pipe-organ, alive with the strains of David Munrow’s Early Music Consort, a virtual orchestra of early instruments. (Adam Skeaping contributed viol to the proceedings.)

But the sackbuts, cornets and crumhorns were catapulted out of their own era, to be locked instead into that precious era of English history that teetered on the precipice of the First World War. A time, Shirley later remarked, “when the maypole was replaced by a memorial stone. It was the same shape, but had scores of young men’s names on it.”

John Marshall later pointed out that many of the older women whom one encountered around Cecil Sharp House in those days were, in fact, widows of that war, looking for the music and traditions that might help them recapture  a sense of those halcyon days—imagery that would inspire him to write “Whitsun Dance.”

Of course the romance of the era has a sting in its tail, as Shirley reminded journalist Mike Barnes. “The good old times were never the good old times because there was such hardship. But what I think is true of peasant life is that along with the hardships there was some awareness of beauty. The innocence, I suppose, was the fact that people had been plucked away by the press gangs to go and fight wars, but in the 1914 war they seemed to go willingly to fight. And for whom and for what?  Because what did they come back to? No homes, no jobs, no money and nobody really helping them.”

Steve recalls, “The sessions for this one at Abbey Road were very exciting, with David Munrow, Christopher Hogwood, the Skeapings and other early music specialists. I also had the chance to sing with Royston Wood. We knew each other from before the Young Tradition, when he and Pete Bellamy were singing as a duo. We were brought in with my friend John Morgan to augment the chorus group The Home Brew. Royston and I were destined to work together again later, in the Albion Country Band.

Anthems In Eden was a great achievement both for John as producer, and for Shirley of course, whose live vocal led the entire ensemble, and also for Dolly’s extraordinary arrangements. It’s amazing to think that the whole thing was recorded live in the studio over two days. No vocal overdubs, just straight. John’s ‘Whitsun Dance’ and those Copper songs with Dolly’s orchestration all fitted together so well. It’s a real folk classic.”

Shirley continues, “The Anthems arrangements were all written by my sister Dolly, and she wasn’t influenced by John, except that, of course, he somehow made the whole of the Anthems experiment come to fruition. And, crucially, he wrote the words to The Whitsun Dance’ ( or ‘The Ladies Go Dancing at Whitsun) which I set to a Copper Family tune ‘The False Bride’ or ‘The Week Before Easter’ which was the focus of the ‘Anthems Suite.’ And Steve was there singing choruses, and bringing his welcome presence to the recording studio.”

Shirley outlines the songs to which Steve contributed. “‘The Wedding Song’ comes from the Copper family of Sussex, whose forebears lived in the same village for over 400 years, and worked on the land. Like many of their tunes, it sounds like an anthem.

“‘Lowlands’ is, well, simply ‘Lowlands.’ It’s just been there for a long time in the folk memory.

“‘Pleasant and Delightful’ has been sung throughout Southern England for a couple of hundred years. It was popular in folk clubs because a) it’s a great song and b) the audience could join in the chorus and make their own harmonies.

“And ‘The Staines Morris’ tune is old! i.e. 17th century. I found it in William Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time,  published in the mid 1850s. He attached the words called The Maypole Song from Acteon & Diana as, he said, ‘it was exactly fitted to the air’.”

Steve’s first appearance on LP (the album was released in July 1969) may also have introduced him to another of the music journalists who have remained a staunch supporter across the years since then.

Colin Irwin, soon to become one of the leading lights in Melody Maker throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and still one of the freshest voices in folk and rock writing, recalls, “I can’t quite remember where or when I first heard or saw Steve. I have vague memories of a show in London—I think it may have been the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, but I can’t be sure, I was very aware of him through Karl Dallas, who I read avidly in Melody Maker and was clearly a big fan.

“I’d bought Anthems In Eden and knew his name from the credits on that. At that time it was a much smaller scene with fewer records, so if you saw somebody mentioned or someone who sang and played on a big release like Anthems In Eden, you were alerted to another artist who would for sure be worth checking out.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s