DURING THE ’70s, ’80s and ’90s former Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span bassist Hutchings led a series of groups with the Albion title. Dedicated to creating forms of English (rather than Celtic) electric folk music, the band included many leading folk instrumentalists and provided music for several National Theatre productions.
Hutchings’ first Albion Country Band was put together to back his then wife Collins, a noted traditional singer who had also collected folk songs with Alan Lomax, on No Roses (Pegasus, 1971). The album included a version of the traditional ‘Hal-an-Tow’, which was later recorded by the Oyster Band (Cooking Vinyl, 1987), a leading group of the 80s folk-dance revival in England which Hutchings’ pioneering work helped to inspire. Among the Country Band members were John Kirkpatrick (accordion) and guitarist Richard Thompson, who joined Hutchings to record Morris on (Island, 1972), which consisted of amplified versions of morris-dance tunes.
Kirkpatrick was also part of the later version of the Albion Country Band whose The Battle of the Field (Island, 1976) was recorded in 1973. The album included two Thompson compositions and contributions from Martin Carthy and Fairport Convention’s Simon Nicol. That group was not a permanent one, and Hutchings formed a folk-dance band, the Etchingham Steam Band, with Collins but returned to the Albion theme in 1976 with the Albion Dance Band. This ensemble, whose shifting personnel included Nicol and drummer Mattacks, became a major attraction on the folk club and festival circuit, taking part in the National Theatre’s production of The Passion Play, based on medieval mystery plays. In 1977 it signed to Harvest and released The Prospect Before Us, which introduced lead vocalist Tams.
A further name change, to the Albion Band, heralded a new emphasis on song rather than dance. The Joe Boyd-produced Rise Up Like the Sun (Harvest, 1978) was one of the most impressive electric folk albums of the period, mixing traditional songs like ‘The Gresford Mining Disaster’ with contemporary material. Guest vocalists included Kate McGarrigle and Andy Fairweather-Low. Among other regular members of the group were ex-Soft Machine violinist Ric Sanders and guitarist Taylor.
Later Albion Band recordings included Lark Rise to Candleford (Charisma, 1980), taken from the stage production of Flora Thompson’s memoirs of Victorian country life, Shuffle Off (Spindrift, 1983), released under the Albion Dance Band name, Under the Rose (1986) and Stella Maris (1987).
Tams later left the band to work on further plays and formed the Home Service, a folk-rock band that released Alright Jack (Making Waves, 1986) and The Mysteries (Coda, 1987), the music from the National Theatre production. Meanwhile, Hutchings performed and recorded a one-man show devoted to Cecil Sharp (1986) and led the Albion Band ’89 on Give Me a Saddle, I’ll Trade You a Car (Topic, 1989). Live in Concert (1993) melded performances from 1977 and 1982 to good effect.
Later members of the band’s shifting line-up included singers Polly Bolton and Cathy LeSurf (the lead vocalist on the 1980 novelty hit ‘Day Trip to Bangor’ by Fiddler’s Dram) and multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer.
© Phil Hardy, Dave Laing, Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, 2001