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Ashley "Tyger" Hutchings first achieved recognition as a co-founder of Fairport Convention in 1967, but his work and his musical influences predate Fairport Convention by several years, and he has since gone on to found and lead numerous other notable groups, including Steeleye Span, and the various Albion Bands. In many respects, he is to English folk-rock the rough equivalent of what John Mayall is to British blues, except that his recordings have remained interesting for far longer.
Ashley Hutchings started his musical life as a fan of skiffle, a highly rhythmic British answer to American folk and R&B, played at its most basic level on acoustic guitars, washtub bass, and washboard percussion, which became popular in England in the mid- and late '50s. He also had an appreciation for "trad," a British form of Dixieland jazz that had become popular in Britain at the beginning of the 1950s. He listened to a lot of early English and American rock & roll, but by the early '60s had developed a deep and abiding love for folk music as well. He began singing and playing bass in a skiffle band, and later graduated from the washtub version of the instrument to a proper upright bass.
In 1966, he formed the Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra with Simon Nicol (guitar), Steve Airey (guitar), and Bryan King (washboard), which played a mixture of English skiffle, American R&B, and folk music from the British Isles. Their work together led Hutchings (who was known then as "Tyger," a nickname he'd picked up because of his aggressiveness on the football field), Nicol, and new colleague Richard Thompson to form Fairport Convention in 1967, with Martin Lamble (succeeded, after his death in a car crash, by Dave Mattacks) and Judy Dyble (later replaced by Sandy Denny) added to the lineup. Fairport Convention performed a similar mix of traditional English folk, original songs, and American singer/songwriter material. After three albums structured along those lines, the band recorded Liege and Lief, a record drawn largely from traditional folk material. When it became clear to Hutchings, however, that future albums would include far more original material, he exited the lineup and began organizing a new band, Steeleye Span.
Formed by Hutchings, Tim Hart, Maddy Prior, and Peter Knight, with Martin Carthy coming in as the fifth member, Steeleye Span in its original form (and for several lineup changes after) was devoted to purely traditional music, adapted to the forces of a five-piece band with a growing arsenal of electric instruments. Ultimately they shared the limelight with Fairport Convention, vying for the greater loyalty of folk music fans and even reaching out for a time to rock audiences -- the decision to go almost fully electric and the addition of a full-time drummer toughened their sound considerably, and they became associated with Jethro Tull, opening for the chart-topping band on an American tour and getting the services of Ian Anderson as producer for one album.
Before that point, Hutchings was gone, having exited after the recording of the group's third album, Below the Salt. In late 1971, he became a member of the Albion Country Band, formed to back his then-wife, Shirley Collins, on one of her albums, and decided to keep the studio ensemble together under that name. The initial lineup included his ex-Fairport bandmates Simon Nicol (guitar) and Richard Thompson (guitar), along with vocalist/concertina players John Kirkpatrick and the late Royston Wood, and the group subsequently had upwards of 26 musicians in it at various times. This Albion lasted in various lineups: Kirkpatrick exited the original lineup very quickly, to return later on, while Wood was gone after October of 1972; Steve Ashley joined on harmonica, along with ex-Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks; Linda Thompson came in on vocals; and fiddle and banjo player Sue Draheim came into the fold for a time.
In January of 1974, the Albion Country Band evolved into the Etchingham Steam Band, with Hutchings on acoustic bass guitar, Shirley Collins on vocals, Ian Holder on accordion, and Terry Potter on mouth organ. Nicol, Mattacks, and Hutchings' Steeleye Span bandmate Martin Carthy all passed through this lineup, which lasted into 1975. The group's next incarnation, lasting from 1975 until 1977, was the Albion Dance Band, with Hutchings (back on electric bass) and Nicol still at the core. Finally, in 1978, Hutchings formed the Albion Band, with a lineup that included future Fairport Convention member Ric Sanders on violin. This group, with some lineup changes (including Nicol and Mattacks passing through) lasted into the 1990s, recording numerous albums and also becoming the subject of a BBC documentary.
Hutchings also recorded several quasi-solo projects during the 1970s and '80s, including Kickin' Up the Sawdust, A Word in Your Ear, The View from Pa's Piano Stool, and By Gloucester Docks; The Compleat Dancing Master with John Kirkpatrick; Rattlebone and Ploughjack (credited to Ashley Hutchings & Chums); and Morris On, Son of Morris On, and Sway with Me (Hutchings and Judy Dunlop). He appeared on numerous albums by other artists throughout the 1970s and '80s, including work with Ian Matthews, the Bunch (a rock showcase album by a group of English folkies), Shirley Collins, Royston and Heather Wood, Ray Fisher, Richard Thompson (Henry the Human Fly), Mike and Lal Waterson, Martin Carthy, the Kipper Family, and Polly Bolton. With so many associations in his past, Hutchings has turned up on numerous compilation albums and box sets devoted to such artists as Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny, among others. During the 1980s, Hutchings also wrote and performed his own one-man show about folk song collector Cecil Sharp, which he took throughout England beginning in 1984, and resulted in the album An Hour with Cecil Sharp and Ashley Hutchings. In the 1990s, he also put together Ashley Hutchings' Big Beat Combo, a revival group specializing in skiffle, trad, and early English rock & roll.
By now one of the grand old men of English folk-rock, Hutchings has been a major force for nearly 40 years, fostering the foundation of more than his share of legendary and important bands. His skills as a bassist have placed him in demand beyond the boundaries of typical folk bands, but the most important aspect of his contribution to music, apart from the bands he has organized, is his ability to take traditional music, long predating the 20th and 21st centuries, and transmute it into something accessible to young, modern listeners, without violating its spirit wholesale. He also has a sense of humor that radiates as brightly as his musical ability on most every project he has ever participated in.
Ashley Stephen Hutchings (born 26 January 1945) is an English bassist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, band leader, writer and record producer. He was a founder member of three of the most noteworthy English folk-rock bands in the history of the genre; Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band. Hutchings has overseen numerous other projects, including records and live theatre, and has collaborated on film and television projects.
Early career 
Hutchings was born in Southgate, Middlesex, England, but moved to Muswell Hill while still a child. As a teenager he became involved in the skiffle and blues movements and formed several groups, including 'Dr K's Blues Band' in 1964. He met guitarist Simon Nicol in 1966 when they both played in the 'Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra'. They rehearsed on the floor above Nicol's father's medical practice in a house called "Fairport" and lent its name to the group they formed together as Fairport Convention in 1967 with Richard Thompson, which soon included Martin Lamble, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews.
Fairport Convention 
Hutchings played on the band's first four albums. The first three: Fairport Convention (1968), What We Did on Our Holidays (1969) and Unhalfbricking (1969), largely consisted of American singer/songwriter material and original songs in a similar style. Hutchings' restrained but powerful bass style is one of the characteristics of the band in this period. The focus of the band changed with the introduction of Dave Swarbrick into the line up, who brought a virtuosity on the fiddle and a wealth of traditional tunes. This prompted Hutchings to carry out research in the English Folk Dance & Song Society Library at Cecil Sharp House which resulted in the pioneering classic Liege and Lief (1969), seen by many as the foundation of a distinctively English folk rock known as electric folk. Hutchings was, however, increasingly unhappy with the direction of the band, as most members wanted to return to their older format. As a result in 1969 he left to focus on more traditional projects.
Steeleye Span 
Hutchings' new band Steeleye Span was formed by putting together two established folk duos Tim Hart and Maddy Prior with Terry and Gay Woods. The Woodses departed the band shortly after the release of their debut album, Hark! The Village Wait (1970) and were replaced by veteran folk musician Martin Carthy and fiddler Peter Knight. The resulting line-up toured small concert venues, and recorded perhaps its two most highly regarded albums Please to See the King (1971) and Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again (1972), both providing electric versions of traditional songs. The bringing in of manager Jo Lustig who pushed for a more commercial sound was probably what prompted the more traditionally minded Carthy and Hutchings to leave the band, which continued with changes of line-up and achieved considerable mainstream success.
The Albion Country Band, Morris On and Etchingham Steam Band 
By this point the ever active Hutchings already had other projects underway. He had gathered together the first incarnation of what has been the major outlet for his work, the Albion Country Band, to provide backing for his then wife Shirley Collins on her solo collection, No Roses (1971). Some of these personnel co-operated with him for the album Morris On (1972), an affectionate electric tribute to Morris Dancing and others joined him in his next project the Etchingham Steam Band from 1974-6. When this dissolved without releasing a record he returned to the Albion Band in 1977, which, with many bewildering line-up changes, continued to record and tour regularly until 2002.
Other projects 
Outside of the Albion Band, Hutchings has been a frequent guest on the albums of a wide variety of folk artists. He has also continued to pursue a diversity of projects, some alone and some with groupings of more or less stability and continuity. The Morris On project has spawned several sequels across his career: Son of Morris On (1976), Grandson of Morris On (2002) and Great Grandson of Morris On (2004). There have also been several other dance projects including, with John Kirkpatrick and other artists, The Compleat Dancing Master (1974), Rattlebone & Ploughjack (1976) and Kickin' Up the Sawdust (1977).
In 1984, Hutchings wrote and toured with a one-man show about folk song collector Cecil Sharp, which resulted in the album An Hour with Cecil Sharp and Ashley Hutchings, (1986). From this point he often combined writing and narration with his music, as in By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept: A Love Story (1987), which was produced as a live show and album in 1990. He produced an album of spoken-word material as A Word in Your Ear (1991) another themed album combining music and narration with Judy Dunlop, as Sway with Me (1991). In the late 1980s he toured with the Ashley Hutchings All Stars, leading to a live album, As You Like It (1988). With Phil Beer and Chris While he provided the sound track for the TV series The Ridge Riders which resulted in an album "Ridgeriders: Songs of the Southern English Landscape" (HTD, 1995), a short tour and another live album Ridgeriders in Concert (Talking Elephant, 1996).
In the 1990s he returned to his own musical roots of skiffle and rock and roll, touring and recording with the Ashley Hutchings Big Beat Combo, which resulted in the album Twangin' and a Traddin' (2000). He also returned to his interest in dance, in addition to continuing the Morris On project, he formed the Ashley Hutchings Dance Band to produce A Batter Pudding for John Keats (1996). Other projects include with Malcolm Rowe, the truly eclectic Folk Your Way to Fitness (1997), Street Cries (2001), and Human Nature (2003).
Rainbow Chasers, Albion Christmas and the Lark Rise Band 
After the suspension of the Albion Band as a full time group in 2002 Hutchings put together another small group of up and coming folk musicians under the title Rainbow Chasers resulting in three albums, Some Colours Fly (2005), A Brilliant Light (2005) and Fortune Never Sleeps (2006). In 2008 he formed The Lark Rise Band to perform and record music from his most successful show, resulting in the album, Lark Rise Revisited (2008). He continues to tour in the Christmas season with the Albion Christmas Band and is plans future projects with ex-Albion Band member Ken Nicol.
His career has been celebrated with the release of archive series, The Guv'nor and Burning Bright (2005) a boxed set of four CDs, which contain many rare and previously unreleased recordings. In 2006 Hutchings received the prestigious Good Tradition trophy at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in recognition of his contributions to the genre and in 2007 he shared the special award for 'Most influential Folk Album of all time' for Liege and Lief.