A Brief Albion Band History
Virtually every Albion Band release has a new line up - some virtually complete while others members disappear only to reappear on later recordings or as 'guests'. For all these changes one (i.e. me) can break the band's history into six distinct phases
The Albion Name first appeared on the No Roses album by Shirley Collins as the title of her backing musicians but his cannot be really regarded as a true Albion recording. After leaving Steeleye Span Ashley worked with a number of musicians including a virtual Fairport Convention for a short period with Richard and Linda Thompson. The first line-up came together to record 'The Battle of the Field' included Martin Carthy, Sue Harris and John Kirkpatrick. It appeared to have recorded the album only to immediately break up in 1973. Some material from the line-up was included on The BBC Sessions CD but this was all tracks that were on the album with the exception of 'I'll go and Enlist for a Sailor'. Although recorded in 1973 the album was not released until 1976 by which time the Albion second phase was well established.
Considered by most to be their finest hour (to date) a totally new band was formed including John Tams on lead vocals, Graeme Taylor from Gryphon, the early musicians Phil Pickett and John Sothcott plus Simon Nicol as the only other survivor from the first line-up. At this time the band was huge (in size and possibly popularity) and the line up seemed to be pretty flexible (should think it was hard to get all of them together at one time). This era produced two great albums 'The Prospect Before Us' and 'Rise Up Like the Sun', the latter received with huge critical acclaim. No permament female lead but on a couple of occasions I saw them they were joined by Julie Covington (I think) and others, seem to remember their manager coming out for a Morris Dance occasionally. Quite a lot of live material has been released in the 'Songs from the Shows' and 'The Guvnor Vols 1-4 ' adding to that in the two studio albums. The band split and most of them went onto form 'The Home Service', themselves a large outfit being joined by a brass section. They produced two competent albums but never really achieved the same level as in the Albion format.
The next phase of the band saw a virtually complete change of line-up with only the ex-Fairport members remaining (Ashley, Simon and Dave Mattacks (the latter in a 'guest' role)). Cathy Lesurf came in on lead vocals to be joined by most of Cock and Bull (i.e. Dave Whetstone, Jean-Pierre Rasle and John Maxwell). Still retaining an electric line-up it is Lesurf's presence that distinguishes this era . The first album Light Shining is by some distance the best produced with Cathy Lesurf on vocals, mostly self penned in general the tracks are very strong indeed and it's a very underrated album. An Albion Dance Band recording 'Shuffle Off' also appeared from this line-up (without Cathy Lesurf) which is all instrumental and a great 'fun' album. Other recodings during this time included Under The Rose and, with Chris Baines, their eco-album 'The Wild Side of Town'.
The membership during this period changed quite considerably with Phil Beer moving in on guitar/fiddle/vocals, Martin Bell on violin, Trevor Foster on drums by the time Stella Maris was recorded. Finally Martin Bell and Cathy Lesurf left, Simon Care and John Shepherd joined and the next 'stable' line-up appeared.
In hindsight, Cathy Lesurf's added her own stamp to these line-ups, not only were her distinctive vocals evident but she penned several strong songs for the band. I would rate her the most successful female singer with an electric Albion Band.
After the departure of Cathy Lesurf a very stable line-up (in Albion Band terms) appeared to the extent that the same members recorded two albums in a row, I Got New Shoes and Give Me a Saddle and I'll Trade you a Car, I think the only time this has occurred. They very nearly made three with 1990 but on this John Shepherd had 'guest' status. Simon Care's arrival gave a return to a melodeon/concertina lead sound and he contributed several instrumental numbers to the band's repotorie. Phil Beer not only adds a strong electric lead guitar sound but also some competent AOR tracks. In my view ,this line-up didn't set out to produce 'classic' folk rock but rather to entertain, thus although not enduring the albums are a good listen but accosionally drift around a little. For all this I Got New Shoes and 1990 are among my favourite Albion recordings and I guess The Best of 89/90 recording will not disappoint.
Towards the end of this line-up Julie Matthews joined the band on vocals\acoustic guitar\keyboards adding her own songs. Briefly, Trevor Foster and Phil Beer were replaced by Keith Hinchcliffe in an early acoustic (ish) line-up, the only recordings from this (and the Julie Matthews) line-up being the Captured CD, a half live/half radio session recording.
The Albions join the unplugged trend of the times (or did they anticipate it?!) moving towards an acoustic based line-up, generally with four members. The three acoustic albums are Acousticity, Albion Heart and Demi Paradise. Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol appear on all the albums but a variety of line-ups toured some without Simon particualrly at the end when Fairport were doing their own acoustic tour. Chris While is also on all three and contributes effectively to the songwriting team. Other members during this period were Ashley Read and Chris Leslie on violin and Julie Matthews returns for the final two albums.
Most played of the three in my house is Albion Heart which I rate as their best recording for some years. Switching between absolute melancholy (in the best traditions of folk ballads) on Rebecca Johnson to the upbeat Crocodile Line and Get Up and Do it Again, the first quoting from Deep Purple amongst others. Both the other CDs are well worth a listen but in both cases the first tracks are absolute corkers and hence the rest seem a bit below par (but only a little).
An electric Albion Band returned based around Ken Nicol and Joe Broughton on guitar and fiddle respectively. Joe probably half the age of most of the band is a scorching violinist and on occasions very reminiscent of Swarb on the instrumental numbers. Neil Marshall (who played with Chris While) and Ashley provide the rhythm section. Gille Nicolls appears as a guest on the first CD "Happy Accident" but is a full member of the band on the second "Before Us Stands Yesterday". By the Christmas Album she's gone and is replaced by Kelly While. Substantial style changes as Ken and Gillie join Ashley the songwriting duties while Joe pitches in with several instrumentals. Sadly I'm not too keen on Ken's style so wouldn't rate this as a classic lineup (purely personal opinion guys!). However, in concert still a highly entertaining bunch (always the Albions strongest point) helped very much by Joe Broughtons overwhelming enthusiasm. A third release Road Movies has now been released, I haven't got it and so can't comment, can only say the live material from this CD wasn't sending me rushing for the shops. Most recently Ken Nicol left to be replaced by Pete Zorn, I wonder about this line up, could be a temporary one I reckon. I saw the new line up in October 2001, it wasn't overwhelming!
Update 2009 – The Albions finished in 2002 – Ashley tours under various guises including the Rainbow Chasers and the Morris On Bands plus an Albion Christmas Band. Looking back I’m amazed seven year have passed since they finished. They gave me a lot of good listening but really their time had come.