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  Timothy Daniel Hart (1948–2009), by Keith Morris, 1977 Timothy Daniel Hart (1948–2009), by Keith Morris, 1977
Hart, Timothy Daniel [Tim] (1948–2009), folk musician and singer, was born at Bromhead Maternity Home, Lincoln, on 9 January 1948, the son of Dennis Daniel Hart, then a student at Lincoln Theological College, and his wife, Mavis Edith, née Good. He was brought up in St Albans, where his father was vicar of St Saviour's Church. An early interest in rock 'n' roll was furthered by his attending St Alban's School, where he followed in the footsteps of the Zombies. The group had also studied there and left in 1964 to enjoy pop hits. Hart joined a school band, the Rattfinks, but it was a chance encounter in 1965 which dictated his future musical direction. Meeting the singer Maddy Prior at a St Alban's folk club (at a time when, having left school, he was working in a series of dead-end jobs) led to the two musicians becoming a folk singing duo.

It was a mutual fascination with the English folk tradition which led to Hart's and Prior's early career, an interest confirmed by Hart's recording début, an album with Prior, Folk Songs of Olde England (1968). The purity of Prior's singing was matched by Hart's abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, having mastered guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and dulcimer. A further album of Folk Songs of Olde England followed in 1969, by which time Hart and Prior had established themselves as a duo on the UK folk scene. The bassist for Fairport Convention, Ashley Hutchings, had quit the group he founded, keen to explore the possibilities of fusing traditional folk from the British Isles with electric instruments, a move Fairport had pioneered on their landmark album Liege & Lief (1969). It was following an appearance at the 1969 Keele folk festival that Hart, Prior, and Hutchings expressed their mutual dissatisfaction with their current musical status. Thus Hart and Prior were recruited to form the initial line-up of Steeleye Span. Working alongside Hutchings in his new endeavour were the Irish husband and wife team Gay and Terry Woods. The group were named after a character from the traditional ballad ‘Horkstow Grange’. When it came to naming the group, every member was allowed to cast one vote; years later Hart admitted that he had voted twice for ‘Steeleye Span’.

In the spirit of the time Steeleye Span repaired to a mansion in the Wiltshire countryside to hone their music. The result, after three intense months, was Hark! The Village Wait (1970). But living under one roof had seen tensions develop, and the Woods quit the band. It was Hart's phone call to the folk legend Martin Carthy asking him to join Steeleye Span that led to two further acclaimed albums, Please to See the King (1971) and Ten Man Mop, or, Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again (1971). By now the members of Steeleye Span had achieved their ambition of fusing the best of traditional elements with electric instrumentation. They also demonstrated a wry reversal with an a cappella single of Buddy Holly's ‘Rave On’. However, by the time of Below the Salt (1972) and Parcel of Rogues (1973), Carthy and Hutchings had quit, leaving Hart and Prior to steer Steeleye Span's musical direction. This they did by recruiting Rick Kemp and Bob Johnson, musicians whose background lay in rock 'n' roll, resulting in a noticeably ‘heavier’ sound.

Of all the groups playing electric folk Steeleye Span were the most commercially successful, and the only act from that genre to land a top twenty single (‘Gaudete’, which reached number fourteen in 1973) and a top ten hit (‘All Around My Hat’, which reached number five in 1975). Running parallel to the band's single hits were successful albums, including Now We Are Six (1974), Commoners Crown (1975), and All Around My Hat (1975). The band was always keen to collaborate with those outside the folk tradition, and those albums featured contributions from the Wombles producer, Mike Batt; Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson; David Bowie (on saxophone); and a rare appearance on ukulele from Peter Sellers.

Hart was committed and eloquent in his understanding of his group's musical heritage. As the debate raged over the purity and wisdom of ‘electric folk’, Hart told Robin Denselow in 1975:
My personal philosophy, and the only argument, is: should you or should you not accompany it at all? After that, I'm not interested in any argument as to what degree you can go to. To me, it's equally outrageous to accompany a traditional song on a Spanish guitar or an American instrument as it is to accompany it with an electric guitar and a Moog synthesiser. (Laing and others, 140)
Throughout all its musical moves Hart was very much a moving force behind Steeleye Span. As the musical landscape altered beneath a barrage of punk and disco, however, the band struggled. Rocket Cottage (1976) failed to emulate the success of its predecessors, although it did contain one of the most innovative moments in the history of ‘folk rock’: Hart's arrangement of the traditional ‘Fighting for Strangers’, which allied the hymnal melody of ‘To Be a Pilgrim’ with eerie electronic elements. On 2 April the same year Hart was married, by his father, to Berte Boyesen, a 22-year-old Norwegian student, daughter of Finn Boyesen, taxi owner. They had two children, Kim (b. 1977) and Sally (b. 1981).

Hart remained with Steeleye Span for two further albums, Storm Force Ten (1977) and Sails of Silver (1980), which contained elements of former musical glories, but were nowhere near as commercially successful as their earlier triumphs. He made his last appearance with the group in 1982. He released an eponymous solo album in 1979, but during the 1980s his only musical releases were two albums of children's songs. After retiring from music he moved to La Gomera in the Canary Islands in 1988. The move was initially for health reasons, but while a resident he took up photography and published the first English-language guide to the island.

Hart did return to the UK on occasion, including for a Steeleye Span reunion in 1995 and an appearance with Maddy Prior in 2008, revisiting the duo's repertoire from forty years before. He was, however, too ill to attend Steeleye Span's fortieth anniversary concert in London, and died a few days later of cancer on 24 December 2009. He was survived by his German second wife, Conny.

Patrick Humphries

Sources  

The Guardian (30 Dec 2009) · The Independent (2 Jan 2010) · The Times (2 Jan 2010); (8 Jan 2010) · D. Laing and others, The electric muse: the story of folk into rock (1975) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · m. cert. [1976]

Archives  

 

SOUND

 

BL NSA, performance recordings


Likenesses  

photographs, 1970–77, Getty Images [see illus.] · M. Putland, photographs, 1973, Photoshot, London