Maddy Prior Biography

14 August 1947, Blackpool, Lancashire, England. The daughter of playwright Alan Prior, Maddy is a dedicated and thoroughly professional performer who worked as a roadie for Rev. Gary Davis during the 60s folk scene before forming a successful duo with the traditionalist, Tim Hart. Both were absorbed into Steeleye Span in 1969, and Prior quickly became the group’s focal point and ambassador. When Steeleye Span disbanded in 1978, she signed to Chrysalis Records, and launched her solo career with Woman In The Wings and Changing Winds. Both albums contained several ‘historical ballads’ written by Prior herself. After an unsuccessful tour, for which she was backed by several prominent musicians, she worked with a basic four piece unit, which included her husband Rick Kemp (b. 15 November 1941, Little Handford, Dorset, England; bass), and former Steeleye Span drummer, Nigel Pegrum.

During the 80s, Prior also sang with the re-formed Steeleye Span. Her songs became more intimate and rootsy, and, with her backing group, the Answers, she recorded the poppy, Going For Glory, which included work with the Eurythmics, and Kemp’s impressive ‘Deep In The Darkest Night’. Prior’s schedule involved television, a cappella folk concerts, world tours with Steeleye Span, and smaller gigs with Kemp. In 1984, a broadcast with the early music specialists, the Carnival Band, led to three mutual albums of richly varied music, and annual tours. With Kemp she recorded Happy Families, a loose, swinging album. Just after its release, he was forced into temporary retirement because of an arm injury. Prior was subsequently accompanied by a ‘jazz/shuffle’ unit, and later toured with the sympathetic Nick Holland on keyboards, rediscovering much of her early influences.

Prior remains one of the most diverse characters on the folk scene both as a solo artist and with the excellent Carnival Band. Flesh & Blood, released in 1997 is one of her finest recordings. Not only had her voice gained an edge of grit but the choice of material was exemplary. The high point is the final track, ‘Heart Of Stone’ a masterpiece of considerable lyrical depth. Prior announced she was finally leaving Steeleye Span in July of the same year. Ballads & Candles is a live recording that demonstrates clearly that Prior’s magnificent voice is indelibly linked to the very highest standards of interpretative folk-singing.

In 2001, Prior was awarded the MBE for services to folk music. Her high standards continued with the same year’s conceptual album Arthur The King. The collection was bolstered by excellent versions of classic traditional chestnuts including ‘Reynardine’ and ‘Lark In The Morning’. Equally good, although essentially an a cappella album, was Bib & Tuck, recorded with the Girls (her daughter Rose Kemp and Abbie Lathe). Prior rejoined Steeleye Span in 2003 although she has continued to record solo material and to work with the Carnival Band and the Girls (with Claudia Gibson replacing Rose Kemp in the latter). The older Prior gets the better her magnificent voice becomes.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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