Although nobody could ever accuse him of being prolific, still Steve Ashley has maintained a remarkable profile over the past 30-plus years, either via the sporadic new releases that mark his course across the U.K. folk scene, or through the series of reissues that have restored his name and fame in more recent times. This process reached its climax so-far in March 2006, as Ashley celebrated his 60th birthday with an incandescent three-hour concert in his hometown Cheltenham -- which has now been boiled down to a single CD's worth of positively jaw-dropping highlights.
Accompanied by a star-studded who's-who of folk, all drawn from Ashley's own past meanderings, 15 tracks include spellbinding takes on "The Spirit of Christmas," "The Well at the World's End," and "Broken Wing." Not all your favorites will be here (there's two hours' worth still on the shelf, remember!) but still it adds up to a one-stop summary that might even surpass the brilliance of his Test of Time anthology. There, after all, his canon was delivered secure within its own time and place. Here, songs leap out of memory to become living, breathing beings once again, sparking with both the electricity of the evening, and with the magic that Ashley himself never fails to deliver. In addition, his renewed partnership with arranger Robert Kirby brings stunning orchestration into play ("Say Goodbye" has been wholly rearranged), while Ashley also allows us a glimpse inside his future, with the brand new "Ships of Shame" suggesting that his next album (when he should choose to deliver it) will be no less monumental than any that preceded it. And Live in Concert should keep us all amused until then.