People say Steve Ashley is a singer-songwriter’s singer-songwriter which is true but also a way of saying he has not achieved the level of popularity he should have considering the quality of his work.
A quick look at his entry on Wikipedia reads like a who’s who of modern British folk music, Ashley having played alongside or collaborated with so many great artists – Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins, Fairport Convention, Ralph McTell, they’re all in there - over a career that began in earnest over fifty years ago. Lord, when he was touring in the States, he even opened for Gene Clark, a special favourite here at WHC HQ and one of the original Byrds who created much of their early magic and, like Ashley, is another massively underrated songwriter.
Ashley’s first solo lp Stroll On was released in 1974 despite having been recorded a few years earlier and despite the obvious quality of the songs. The record cover is of its time, the drawing of Steve depicting him in a then ubiquitous Afghan coat but it gets bonus points for also featuring a totemic hare and proper lyric insert. Among the musicians featured on the record are several members of The Albion Band(s), Fairport Convention and Pentangle ,as well as Robert Kirby (of Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan fame) on string arrangement and conductor duty for the London Symphony Orchestra. The songs display an admirable diversity from the Fairport-like Fire and Wine to the beautifully orchestrated Springsong, a diversity that has characterised his writing ever since.
A dozen albums on and the quality hasn’t diminished on Ashley’s most recent (and he claims final) album, One More Thing with many critics giving it five-star reviews. The songs focus on subjects as different as the wonder of dragonflies to the copious ways in which the British Royal Family has attempted to court popularity.
Yes, one thing you should know about Steve Ashley is that he is of the left and is particularly associated with the campaign against nuclear weapons that was at full throttle in the 1980s. Like myself and Mrs Hare, Steve Ashley, was very much involved in CND and played a set to 250,000 peace protesters in Hyde Park and even recorded a single with the much loved and well-respected Bruce Kent who recently left us. More importantly he took part in non-violent directions at the atomic weapons establishment at Burghfield and at the USAF base at Upper Heyford.
We (me and Mrs Hare) were there too and here is a picture of me being moved aside by two burly coppers. Unlike Steve Ashley, I wasn’t arrested then I don’t think. The most remarkablething about this photo to me perhaps is that I once had hair.
Anyhow all of this is to say you shouldn’t miss Steve Ashley when he plays the Weird Hare show as he is one of the greats of modern British folk and also has a thoroughly entertaining and wry sense of humour to boot.