Tim Hart, a founding member of British folk-rock group Steeleye Span, has died of lung cancer, the band's record company said on Wednesday.

Hart died on December 24 at age 61 in the home he had made in Spain's Canary Islands after retiring from the music scene in the 1980s, said John Dagnell, managing director of independent label Park Records in England.

Tim died on Christmas Eve. It is a sad loss. It came as a shock to us as we did not realize his illness was so far advanced, Dagnell told Reuters.

Hart, who had devoted the latter part of his life to photography, was diagnosed with lung cancer a year ago.

Steeleye Span, best known for the hit records All Around My Hat and Gaudete, was formed in 1969 when Hart and singer Maddy Prior teamed up with bass player Ashley Hutchings, formerly of the English folk group Fairport Convention.

The band made more than 12 albums before most of its members went their separate ways in the late 1980s but they reformed, without Hart, for UK tours in 2006 and for a 40th anniversary tour in 2009.

Hart performed with Prior in England in October 2008, and Park Records has been working on a re-release of his 1981 album of nursery rhymes.

Hart devoted his time to wildlife photography after moving to the small Canary Island of La Gomera in the late 1980s, and put together an English guidebook for tourists.

In what now feels like a previous life, I once spent 16 years as a member of the English folk-rock band Steeleye Span, Hart wrote on his website.

As the Everly Brothers so rightly sang 'We did it for the stories we could tell'. But after a few years of traveling too fast around the world I got myself a camera, a Pentax Spotmatic, in order to provide a more substantial, and accurate, archive of memories.