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The Albion Band

+ {The Albion Dance Band} + (The Albion Christmas Band}

Formed in London in 1971, singer SHIRLEY COLLINS invited a host of musicians (i.e. The ALBION COUNTRY BAND) to augment her on her fifth set, “No Roses”. They included her husband ASHLEY “Tyger” HUTCHINGS (born 26th January 1945, Southgate, Middlesex) and a who’s who of Brit-folk alumni: SIMON NICOL, RICHARD THOMPSON, JOHN KIRKPATRICK, Dave Mattacks, Roger Powell, Royston Wood, Dave Bland, Ian Whiteman, Tim Renwick, BARRY DRANSFIELD, Tony Hall, LAL and MIKE WATERSON, NIC JONES, LOL COXHILL and MADDY PRIOR, among many more. While setting up his new group, HUTCHINGS released the pseudonymous album “Morris On” (for Island Records), which included sessions by said Mattacks, THOMPSON, KIRKPATRICK and DRANSFIELD.
Revered by his peers and contemporaries, bassist Ashley was the catalyst and originator of two of the biggest and best folk bands of our times, FAIRPORT CONVENTION (late 60s) and STEELEYE SPAN (early 70s); three if you want to count all the subsequent ALBION BAND ensembles; his son Blair Dunlop took over his “family heritage” mantle for one album in 2012 before having to disband the ancestral musical home a years on.
Way back in spring ‘72 saw “Tyger” formed a new version of The ALBION COUNTRY BAND, with the help of NICOL, Mattacks, WOOD, STEVE ASHLEY and Sue Harris. HUTCHINGS subsequently gravitated towards a new outfit, The ETCHINGHAM STEAM BAND, a loose ensemble highlighting his wife Shirley, Ian Holder (accordion), Terry Potter (mouth organ) and revolving-door contingent MARTIN CARTHY, NICOL and Mattacks.
With HUTCHINGS always at the helm of various line-ups throughout their mid-late 70s tenure (including past acolytes and new boy JOHN TAMS), The ALBION COUNTRY BAND, The ALBION DANCE BAND, or just simply The ALBION BAND unleashed their own blend of traditional but electric ceilidh/morris-folk, unheard of until their arrival on the scene. Albums such as BATTLE OF THE FIELD (1976; but recorded 1973) {*8}, THE PROSPECT BEFORE US (1977) {*8} and RISE UP LIKE THE SUN (1978) {*6}, had more than enough moments – `Poor Old Horse’ among them – that served as a musical antidote to the era’s overbearing new wave.
Commissioned by the National Theatre Production to adapt Flora Thomson’s classic trilogy, LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD (1980) {*8}, the thematic nature of the joint project (with Keith Dewhurst) suited Ashley and The ALBION BAND to a T. Acknowledged as a renaissance period piece, probably inspired by PETER BELLAMY’s ground-breaking “The Transports” of a few years earlier, SHIRLEY COLLINS was there to give the staged show its eerie feeling.
Folk music’s answer to The FALL, one could say, The ALBION BAND(s) bordered on being a stamping ground for younger folk newbies such as Cathy Le Surf (of Fiddler’s Dram), Doug Morter, Trevor Foster, PHIL BEER, SIMON CARE, John Shepherd (some of them sticking around for the 1990 {*6} set; a new bunch were found for the subsequent 90s.
Meanwhile, HUTCHINGS was also carving out his own solo career with renaissance-styled Rattlebone & Ploughjack (1976) and the traditional Kickin’ Up The Sawdust (1977); By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down And Wept (1987), a concept set telling the story of a man’s love for a married woman.
The subsequent addition of Julie Matthews (vocals, guitar, keyboards), helped pan out the cassette-only live set, THE UNRELEASED RADIO TAPES (1992) {*5}; re-issued a few years later as “Captured” (extras adding Keith Hinchcliffe on guitar, cittern). As Phil Beer had opted to re-form SHOW OF HANDS; whilst Care joined EDWARD II, Hutchings and Nicol found female vocalist Chris While and fiddler Ashley Reed to assume newfound roles on 1993’s “un-plugged” ACOUSTICITY {*6}; their first of many recordings for HTD Records.
The two-man/two-woman set up on ALBION HEART (1995) {*7} came about when Julie Matthews returned to the fold to replace Reed, while the absence of an esteemed fiddle player was rectified when Chris Leslie made it a 5-piece for DEMI PARADISE (1996) {*7}.
When the latter musician became an integral part of FAIRPORT CONVENTION, only Hutchings remained to seek out new recruits, Ken Nicol (vocals, guitars), Joe Broughton (fiddle, keyboards) and Neil Marshall (drums) in order to shape up The ALBION BAND’s sound on HAPPY ACCIDENT (1998) {*7}. The group added singer Gillie Nicholls on 1999’s BEFORE US STANDS YESTERDAY {*7}, but that position too was all-too-brief when Kellie While (later of E2K aka EDWARD II) joined them to ring out the solstice bells on their festive CHRISTMAS ALBUM (1999) {*5}.
On the back of their one and only post-millennium CD for Topic Records, ROAD MOVIES (2001) {*7}, they’d make room for the dexterous Pete Zorn (on vocals & sax) on the first for Talking Elephant Records, AN EVENING WITH THE ALBION BAND: DANGEROUSLY LIVE AND SERIOUSLY ROCKIN’ (2002) {*6}.
It looked from then on in as if Hutchings (along with Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Kellie While), would concentrate on festive fare when The ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND rolled out a trine of albums: AN ALBION CHRISTMAS (2003) {*5}, WINTER SONGS (2006) {*5} and SNOW ON SNOW (2008) {*5}.
Nice as these albums were, it was time to lay some fresh foundations down elsewhere. In July 2011, Ashley bequeathed his beloved ALBION BAND to his 19-year old son Blair Dunlop, who kept the family business churning over with an EP, `Fighting Room’ and an album, VICE OF THE PEOPLE (2012) {*5}. The group consisted of Katriona Gilmore (fiddle, vocals), Gavin Davenport (concertina, guitar, vocals), Tim Yates (bass, melodeon, vocals) and Tom Wright (drums, vocals)
In early 2014, Dunlop dissolved the group and made his own way in the world of folk music with the release of his second set, “House Of Jacks”; sandwiched between his debut record “Blight And Blossom” (2013) and “Gilded” (2016); “Notes From An Island” was dispatched in May 2018. Meanwhile, father ASHLEY HUTCHINGS was again turning out the odd album with the 2016 release of “From Psychedelia To Sonnets” and 2018’s “Paradise And Thorns”; the latter “Gloucester Docks Revisited and Other Tales of Love”.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Oct2018

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