Wintersmith, Steeleye Span’s 2013 album based on Terry Pratchett’s novel, is that rarest of things: it’s a work that signals a classic act’s return to dizzying artistic heights.
This live DVD is the perfect companion piece to that LP, a record of a band rediscovering its creative heart. It also represents a fond farewell to long-time fiddle-meister Peter Knight. These two factors make for a bittersweet recording, by turns musically breathtaking and genuinely heartfelt. Fans of Span are probably not the type of people to demand cutesy camera work, and the workmanlike presentation underlies what we all knew anyway: this band are all about the music. Opening with the classics, Cold Haily Windy Night and The Weaver And The Factory Maid, Span serve up virtuosity with almost casual aplomb. Maddy Prior’s voice is undiminished, but this film reminds the casual fan of the dizzying variety of Span’s vocal talents, from close harmonies through to the smoke of Julian Littman and Rick Kemp’s relaxed folk drawl. While classics such as Thomas The Rhymer are present and correct here, this is a Wintersmith showcase. This live performance accentuates the original album’s icy beauty. The Dark Morris Tune is actually darker than a fair few black metal tracks and even the on-stage appearance of morris dancers adds to the impact. We Shall Wear Midnight is utterly dazzling. With Terry Pratchett in the audience, Peter Knight sings, ‘I will wear these aching, heartbreaking years,’ almost directly to Terry. It’s tear-inducing magic. Heartstrings are tugged again when Pratchett joins the band onstage for All Around My Hat. A clearly frail Sir Terry says, “If I’d known that it was going to be like this, I’d have written a better book.” Playing with his trademark black fedora, Terry sings playfully with the band. Span have always balanced a knowing sense of fun with musicianship. This DVD captures their brand of musical alchemy magnificently.