Steeleye Span have now fully established themselves back on the road as a six piece band and, with 20 albums of material to choose from, their performances on the current tour promised much.

Their night at Oxford's New Theatre, however, started at a very leisurely pace. They appeared intent on testing out songs from a work in progress – an album to be released later in 2013. The record will be based on the work of ‘Discworld’ author Terry Pratchett – a musical version of his ‘Wintersmith’ novel. And this was the focus for the first part of the show. One of these new songs – ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ – a ballad about a 13-year-old witch was probably one of the more memorable numbers of the night.

The band took their break after just under 35 minutes on stage - which I and other audience members found rather odd. I noticed many of the more traditional folk fans simply remained in their seats, perhaps hoping for a more familiar and fulfilling second half.

Sadly, that didn't really happen. Whilst Maddy Prior was in excellent voice and still dances around the stage very gracefully, there didn't seem much cohesion in the music offered in Part Two. There were Irish jigs, some sea shanties and some lively American numbers. ‘Bachelor's Hall’ and ‘The First House in Connaught’ were highlights but it all felt just a little directionless.

There's no doubting the virtuosity of the individuals in the band - and Peter Knight's fiddle-playing was just brilliant. But somehow the connection with the audience seemed a bit lacking, and maybe the band need to sit down and think through again the design of their concerts. A number of the die-hard fans present shared this view, and felt they would have wished to hear more familiar numbers in the set list. Getting this balance between old and new right is a challenge for any long-established and much-loved band. But Fairport Convention usually achieve it as does Joe Brown - so Steeleye Span could undoubtedly do so too.

Having said all that, it is always a pleasure to see such capable and celebrated musicians play live...and overall the experience was a good one which I'd be glad to repeat. It was just that one felt it could all have been so very much better.










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