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Ashley Hutchings on the progressive spirit that fuelled his classic albums

The story of Ashley Hutchings is the story of modern-day folk music. He founded Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band, and tells Prog about the prog spirit that fuels him.

‘‘If you like, I’m semi‑retired,” Ashley Hutchings tells Prog. That’s as he gigs with his admirable current record, From Psychedelia To Sonnets, from church halls to festivals; prepares for the Cropredy Convention’s Fringe Festival; continues his catalogue reissue programme; and works on a new album project. Imagine what he was like when he was full-time.

At 71, the man who did more than almost anyone to lay the foundations of modern-day folk music – as the co-founder of three of its cornerstone groups, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band – may say he’s slowing down. But his unquenchable instinct to continue exploring the nooks and crannies of real music still fuels him, just as it did when he heard Heartbreak Hotel, released in the week he turned 11.

Or, indeed, when he helped to make perhaps modern folk’s finest hour, Fairport’s 1969 masterpiece Liege & Lief, or recorded with his cherished 2004-2010 project the Rainbow Chasers, or won his MBE last year for services to music.

In the broadest sense of the word ‘progressive’, Hutchings is an unassuming overlord, who gets as much pleasure from seeing his son, Blair Dunlop, making great strides in his own career in roots music as he has from any of his own formidable achievements. On his impressive new website, a comprehensive and entertaining companion to his 50-year career – and, he calculates, 91 albums – Hutchings is described by his late former Fairport bandmate Sandy Denny as “stern but always kind, strict but generous, wise… a bit like God”.

At Cropredy and subsequent shows, Hutchings will recreate From Psychedelia…, a delightful melange of readings and songs, with accompaniment by Becky Mills and Ruth Angell. It’s the live embodiment of his book Words Words Words, and he’s having a great time performing it.

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