"Steeleye Span is like a bus. It goes along, and people get on and get off it. Sometimes the bus goes along the route you want to go, and sometimes it turns off, so you get off" - Maddy Prior
This was the first album from Steeleye Span, and the only one to feature Ashley Hutchings, Terry and Gay Woods, Maddy Prior and Tim Hart. It was an album that showed their desire to merge folk music with rock instrumentation.
My Johnny Was A Shoemaker is a short a capella. Lowlands Of Holland is the most conventional, rock-style song on the album, with a typical rock drum pattern and rock bass guitar. It is an evocative, lengthy narrative ballad with a seafaring theme. It is a most atmospheric and powerful song, augmented by some excellent guitar and fiddle. Twa Corbies (pictured) is another short, largely vocal number, with a bit of percussion and bass. One Night As I Lay On My Bed is a mandolin-driven strong number, once again with some solid drums. Incidentally, the “wait” in the title is not referring to “waiting”, but to a group of village musicians called a “wait”. “Hark”, meaning “listen” - “listen to the village band”, basically. Overall, this was a most impressive debut, and many of the songs went on to be played by the band for many years, demonstrating the strength of the material.
For their second offering, Steeleye Span continued playing folk music with concessions to electric rock. The rock drums of their debut album, Hark! The Village Wait were no longer present here (which was a shame) and the very distinctive harsh electric guitar sound was to the fore. This is a far bleaker album than its predecessor. Very much a dense, cold wintry album, for me. It does have considerable atmosphere, nevertheless.
Prince Charlie Stuart (pictured) is a melodically sung lament from the Jacobean times, with the guitar sounding skirling, like bagpipes. Maddy Prior’s soaring voice is excellent on this one. The Boys Of Bedlam is a fiddle-driven, male vocal real ale pub folk song. It has an excellent bass solo part in the middle. The male voices continue on the slighty irritating False Knight On The Road with its vocals sung so quickly as to almost render them incomprehensible. The fiddle and electric guitar backing is atmospheric, however. Maddy Prior is back for the fetching, harmonious The Lark In The Morning which once again features some killer guitar and fiddle, laying down the basis of the group’s sound for the next few years (three more albums). Female Drummer has a classic Steeleye guitar riff, the like of which they would recycle many more times. Maddy Prior sings of a tale, as the title suggests, of a young girl who became a drummer in the army, dressing up as a boy in order to do so, until she was betrayed. This theme is also expressed on Pentangle's A Maid That's Deep In Love, about a girl who went to sea dressed as a man.
The King is one of those short, a capella, multi-voice songs they had come to specialise in. Lovely On the Water is my favourite song from the album, a haunting, beautiful vocal from Maddy Prior over a slightly Eastern-sounding solo guitar. The closer, a bizarre cover of Buddy Holly’s Rave On with annoying staccato, stuttering parts on the vocal, is completely incongruous and superfluous. They would do this sort of thing again, however, notably on Now We Are Six. Overall, I prefer the previous album, but this one is not without its sombre appeal.
When I Was On Horseback sees the first solo outing for the fine voice of Maddy Prior, singing an Irish lament against a bassy, violin and guitar backing. The song is a mounrnful one, and last six minutes, but it is evocative and full of haunting atmosphere. Marrowbones is one of the album’s most essential folk songs, with a “farra-de-diddle-la-de-lay” refrain sung lustily over a folky fiddle backing. The mysterious Captain Coulston has an intoxicating bass and electric guitar intro and an eerily appealing vocal from Maddy Prior. The Reels that come next are delightfully played, once again lively and refreshing. Wee Weaver is a plaintive Prior vocal-violin lament and is another piece of pure folk. Skewball is a finger-picking backed number about horse racing. This one is very traditional folk as well, another one with heavy Irish influences. It has some seriously heavy electric guitar interjections too. General Taylor is sung by all the group a capella. This album is probably Steeleye Span’s most essentially folk album, with the fewest electric stylings or enhancements, more vocals, more fiddle, more traditional inflections to the songs. The “folk songs played with a rock backing” concept that was so impressive on their debut album was in danger of becoming a bit forgotten here.
After three albums experimenting to greater and lesser extents with “electric folk” and changing members, this was Steeleye Span’s first album with what would be, for many, one of their most memorable line-ups. Martin Carthy and Ashley Hutchings had left and Rick Kemp (bass) and Bob Johnson (guitar) had joined Tim Hart, Peter Knight and Maddy Prior. Despite the continued lack of drums, the sound now had a much more full, polished tone and, in many ways, this is the group’s first great album. Steeleye Span were fast becoming the UK’s foremost folk/rock band, leaving groups like Fairport Convention’s latest incarnation as well as Fotheringay, Pentangle and The Strawbs in their wake.
King Henry is without doubt, the first true Steeleye Span classic. A seven minute narrative tale with all members contributing vocals, wonderful varied instrumentation and changes of pace. It has a truly fantastic sound quality too. Peter Knight’s violin is superb thoughout. The quality continues on the male vocal-led John Barleycorn. Maddy Prior is back on vocals for the beguiling Saucy Sailor, which ends this all too short and excellent album. Definitely one of Steeleye Span’s finest offerings. The heart and soul of electric traditional folk. Also included is the Latin seasonal a capella incantation, Gaudete, which gave the band their unlikely first hit single.
Perhaps, more than any other of their many albums, this is Steeleye Span's quintessential "electric folk" offering. The traditional folk songs and intricate vocal harmonies of their first few albums were now augmented by a searing, sharp, cleaving electric guitar and, on a couple of tracks, a full drum kit was now used, as opposed to the occasional single drum. The guitar is amplified considerably and adds an incisive loudness to the often quiet folk songs, maybe helping to express one of the album's theme - the Thomas Hardy-esque one of social change from the old and traditional to the new. The electric guitar, of course, represented the new. There is no throwaway indulgent "filler" on this album, as on a couple of their later works. Quality folk rock all the way, similar to Fairport Convention's Liege And Lief.
Cam Ye O'er Frae France is the album's rollicking highpoint, with Maddy Prior singing in Borders dialect about George 1 and his mistress - "riding on a goosie" in somewhat saucy terms against a crashing electric and sharp acoustic backing and a full drum sound, often in military marching style. As the album comes to a close, the last two tracks are perhaps the most "folky" and, indeed, the most beautiful. On Hares On The Mountain, overdubbing is used so that Peter Knight's two mandolins, recorders and harmonium are heard together, resulting in a most melodious outcome. Bob Johnson contributes a sad sounding vocal on this one too. Bonny Moorhen is another lovely track that sees Maddy Prior on great vocal form, again. Crystal clear, knife through butter acoustic guitars ring like a bell behind Prior's haunting vocal and a lovely, deep bass guitar underpinning the song too.
This is an album that marks even more of a sea change for Steeleye Span. Having produced a true electric folk rock classic in the previous year's Parcel Of Rogues they now went into full rock band mode by adding rock drummer Nigel Pegrum to their five members, hence the title borrowed from A.A. Milne's Winnie The Pooh. It is a "curate's egg" of an album (good in parts, as the phrase supposedly means, but I have never understood why). There is some truly excellent material on here, but there also a few examples of indulgent drivel, possibly the result of some inebriated time in the studio, or possibly just a gross misjudgement (the group have admitted to both, I believe). So, the album gets halfway to being the full on folk rock album it set out to be. The follow-up, Commoner's Crown, did the job far more effectively, but the good stuff on this album cannot be ignored.
The Mooncoin Jig is a fiddle and mandolin dominated and highly appealing instrumental, Irish-style jig. Enjoyable, as these jigs always are. Edwin is a narrative rock and violin chugger of a song, sung on lead by Rick Kemp concerning, it would seem, the killing of a young man, Edwin, by the parents of his young lover and the grief of the young girl, Emma, for her lost love. A seriously heavy guitar riff right at the end, hinting at the band's new direction. Long A-Growing is a sad tale, sung beautifully by Maddy Prior of a young man who wishes to grow to win his maiden's love, he does indeed grow, marries, has a child, then dies at eighteen. A tragic tale, as many of these traditional folk tales are. The lively Two Magicians is a traditional, very "folky" song with a tongue-twisting chorus and a tale of a young girl who doesn't fancy the idea of losing her maidenhead to a grubby, dusty blacksmith and ends up becoming a nun. Some killer violin from Peter Knight too.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is the other big "children's voices" mistake. Unlistenable. What were they thinking? They have since admitted the same thing. To Know Him Is To Love Him is a strange ending to what could have been a corker of an album. A cover of The Teddy Bears' Phil Spector-produced late 50s hit, featuring, surprisingly, David Bowie on saxophone. Despite that, it's not great, to be honest.
The second of Steeleye Span’s fully-fledged electric folk albums and the last before new producer Mike Batt would help them achieve chart success. After Now We Are Six, with its occasional lapse into poor quality indulgence, this was, thankfully, a far more well-rounded and credible album. Immaculately played, a wonderful mix of heavy guitar riffs, strong drums and folky fiddle parts and, of course, Maddy Prior’s almost medieval voice, the songs on this album are strong and often tragic, as many of these traditional folk ballads were.
There is also the customary fiddle reel, this time based upon a pice by Bach entitled Bach Goes To Limerick, which merges Bach’s music with an Irish country reel. Demon Lover is a harmonious, catchy and tuneful Irish-sounding song, but to this day I have no idea what it is about and the same applies to the perplexing Elf Call. The latter has a great drum and guitar sound though. Dogs And Ferrets is an appealing slice of traditional ale-swilling English country folk. Sung a capella It lifts the mood somewhat after the morbid Long Lankin. As indeed does the intriguing, lilting folk air of Galtee Farmer, backed by an insistent, throbbing electric guitar. Weary Cutters is an Irish-sourced a capella folk ballad, faultlessly sung by Prior and New York Girls is a rousing bar-room folk song based in New York, presumably sung there by immigrants from Ireland in the late 18th/early 19th century. It suddenly finishes for some reason.
Cadgwith Anthem is a beautiful a Capella, with a lovely brass part at the end, that sees the band returning to their true folk roots, as indeed does the instrumental Sum Waves. The Wife Of Usher's Well is a beautifully melodious (with all vocalists taking roles), but sad tale of a wife who loses all three of her sons, presumably in some overseas conflict. Gamble Gold (Robin Hood) is pleasant enough, though - harmonious vocals and a great drum sound. Dance With Me is another tuneful romp based, apparently, on a Scandinavian folk song, while Bachelors' Hall has an air of grandiose mystery about it, plus some killer guitar and violin, particularly at the end.
The album is perhaps the band's most rock-influenced album, with very prominent guitars and a strong rhythm section. Some found it too overpowering, though. Certainly, the folk purists among the band’s following were not too happy with the album, seeing it as a commercial sell-out. As it was, it didn’t sell well, as punk was starting to be the order of the day by its release. The previous album had sold well, however, maybe this one just came out at the wrong time.
The final track, The Drunkard, sees the band begin it with an impromptu version of Camptown Races which singer Maddy Prior admits was done at a time of high drunkenness. Eventually, she pulls a superb vocal performance out of her hat, somehow. Put the best tracks from this and the previous album together and you would have a great album.One sensed that band were at something of a crossroads at this point. Indeed, unhappy with having to go along with this overly commercial approach, though, members Peter Knight and Bob Johnson left the band. I have to say I feel they were overreacting a bit. It is still a decidedly folky album in parts. Knight would return several years later, however.
Storm Force Ten (1977)
After the (comparative) success of Rocket Cottage, Steeleye Span released this follow-up directly into the maelstrom of punk. It was duly overlooked and has remained so. That is a bit of a shame because it is not a bad album at all.
Steeleye stalwarts Bob Johnson and Peter Knight had left after the previous album and one-time member Martin Carthy re-joined the band, briefly, along with accordionist John Kirkpatrick. The latter's distinctive sound replaced the fiddle (the first time a Steeleye album did not feature that instrument), although Carthy's chunky guitar ensured that the folk rock from the previous three years remained. The accordion makes for a slightly different sound on this album, and it fits the nautical theme of several of the songs. I like its use, I have to say - it is breezy and lively.
The album included two Bertolt Brecht covers in the haunting The Wife Of The Solider and The Black Freighter, the latter of which would seem ideally suited both to the group and the general sea-faring vibe of the album. The energetic melody of Seventeen Come Sunday recalls the jigs of the early days, albeit driven along by Kirkpatrick's lusty accordion while The Treadmill Song is an industrial revolution tale of workers' hardships. Some Rival and the enjoyable Awake, Awake are both classic Steeleye electric folk rock ballads and the album's high point is the lengthy narrative of press-ganging into the navy and service with Nelson of The Victory. The a capella Sweep, Chimney Sweep is perfectly harmonious, although I always prefer the songs with instrumentation.
This was an end of and era release and after this, the band split for a while but the one constant on the album and in the band thus far was the versatile voice of Maddy Prior, who had the ability to be haunting, serious, uplifting, frisky, saucy and severe as to the demands of the song.
Sails Of Silver (1980)
For this "treading water" album, three years later, Carthy and Kirkpatrick were replaced by - guess who? Johnson and Knight. Steeleye's members' musical chairs continued. This is another comparatively overlooked and underrated album that is not at all bad, containing a couple of classics on it too. It was the first album to feature songs written by the band as opposed to adaptations of traditional ballads, although they are written very much in that style.
The two standouts are the sad tale of emigration in Gone To America, which features a soaring Maddy Prior vocal, and the moving, evocative shipwreck narrative of Let Her Go Down, a song written by Knight after he had spent his time away from the band as a commercial fisherman off the coast of Hastings. Sails Of Silver is a catchy, riffy folk rocker in typical Steeleye style while My Love is a Peter Knight-led romantic ballad. Barnet Fair is an infectious and melodic singalong number that just lifts the spirits. None of this material is "1980" at all but who cares? Steeleye were never ones to follow musical trends. Senior Service follows on from Barnet Fair in similar riff-driven and poppy fashion. It has another irresistible, lusty chorus. Where Are They Now is also a rousing Prior-dominated ballad in the Gone To America style. Longbone actually does have a slight new wave feel in its jaunty beat (only just, though).
Steeleye always liked a traditional hymn and they give us one here as the ballad Marigold morphs into a fine rendition of Harvest Home. This subtly appealing and at times most energising album ends with the tuneful and once more uplifting Tell Me Why. These mid-period Steeleye albums never quite got the credit they deserved, many seeming to have reservations about the fact that they didn't fit in with contemporary musical trends. As I said earlier - since when did that matter? The band would disappear for a while after this, however, returning six years later with a new line up.
This is an almost forgotten album from Steeleye Span's "wilderness years" in the 1980s. It is a bit of a shame that nobody has ever bothered about it much, because it contains some good material. I really quite like this album. It doesn't get as many listenings as it deserves, I must admit. Each time I listen to it, however, I like it more and more. It has a polished, solid guitar and violin-driven rock sound to it and some punchy drums. The sound quality is excellent.
Isabel is about the imprisonment in an outdoor cage (pictured, left) of Isabella Macduff, paramour of Robert The Bruce of Scotland. It is a rousing, stately-sounding folk rock ballad with a stirring vocal from Maddy Prior, and some evocative violin from the always impressive Peter Knight. It is a marvellously atmospheric and touching song. Lady Diamond is an upbeat, lively rock number, about a young lad in service falling for a lady, once again featuring some excellent violin from Peter Knight. His skills are well and truly brought to the fore on the classical violin instrumental Canon By Telemann. Peace On The Border as with Edward (possibly), Isabel, Take My Heart and Lanercost concerns the medieval Scottish Wars of Independence. It is another uplifting number. Blackleg Miner is a slightly funky live re-working of the band's song from the early seventies, featuring on their debut album Hark! The Village Wait in 1970. It is a 19th century Northumbrian song about the 1844 miners strike. It is controversial for threatening death on those "blacklegs" who broke the strike and worked.
Tempted And Tried (1989)
After the lukewarm reception afforded to the surprisingly good Back In Line, three years earlier, a seemingly-revitalised Steeleye Span produced an album that gained more critical praise and has gone down as being one of their better offerings from this transitional period. It reverted to using traditional songs once more amongst a few written by the groups and it included some lively instrumental reels for the first time for a while (since Rocket Cottage I believe). Peter Knight's contribution is once again absolutely sumptuous on here and there is a nice mixture between the haunting, tragic and joyful in the album's songs, both musically and lyrically.
Jack Hall is an energetic number to open with, with a catchy chorus and some great vocals from all involved. It has a nice mandolin backing it as well and a killer rubbery bass line. Two Butchers has Peter Knight and new member Tim Harries on vocals and is another rousing song, packed with the sort of historical-bucolic-pastoral narrative that the band always did so well. It is good to hear Knight's fiddle so dominant too.
Maddy Prior leads proceedings on the gloriously uplifting and thumping Padstow which evokes May festivals and all sorts of summer-is-a-coming jubilation. Then we get the Reels - The First House In Connaught and Sailor's Bonnet. You can never have too much of Steeleye's jigs and reels, can you? It goes without saying that Knight's fiddle is on top form but we also get some fine Irish-style bodhran-ish rhythmic percussion. Both of the reels are great, particularly the first one. Betsy Bell & Mary Gray is a sombre, mournful and dark ballad about two women trying to avoid catching the plague but who caught it from a lad who gave them food. The usual Child Ballad tragic fare. Peter Knight's marvellous violin adds to the atmosphere, tremendously.
The gloom is lifted by the jaunty Shaking Of The Sheets - although it is a "danse macabre" whose origins lay in 13th century Italy when it was danced to rid towns of the plague. It is given a Morris Dance feel here. Searching For Lambs is a gorgeously evocative and moody slower number with a really atmospheric backing (especially the keyboards), another superb violin solo and a fine Maddy Prior vocal. I love this one. Peter Knight's Seagull is a fun romp with vague South African undertones to it. The Cruel Mother is a stark piece of guitar-driven rock. Following Me is a band-penned number about a stalker - sticking with the unnerving subject matter, then, which is no surprise. The album ends with the deliciously riffy, rocky The Fox, about the cunning of the pursued animal. Let's hope he gets away, eh?
Seven more years had passed before the group's next album and, on this one we saw the vocally-suffering at the time Maddy Prior asking old friend and early band member Gay Woods to come back and help out. Woods had a different and lively voice that worked well with the group, for me. I like this a lot and also and the two subsequent albums that she would appear on.
The Prickly Bush is a fine, riffy opener on which Woods and Prior combine perfectly. Lyrically it once more concerns hanging and trying to avoid it, a common topic for many of these 18th-early 19th century ballads. The two combine effectively again on the also impressive and enjoyable The Old Maid In The Garrett. Harvest Of The Moon has a melody that puts me in mind of Billy Bragg's There Is Power In A Union (Battle Cry Of Freedom).
There is a Celtic feel that Woods (who was Irish) had brought to proceedings and this continues as she takes lead vocals on the haunting Underneath Her Apron, which incidentally was where the song's subject kept her secretly-born baby. Peter Knight's violin on this and its predecessor is (yet again) wonderful. Cutty Wren is also very mysterious and sombre, featuring some excellent drums-percussion. Woods uses her bodhran to great effect. Go From My Window furthers the understated, brooding feel of some of the album with its mournful tone. Check out the Knopfler-esque mid-song guitar too. The eight minutes-plus of The Elf Knight ploughs a similar furrow and includes male and female vocals in tandem. It also has some fine rock parts in it, and has it got some great violin? Of course it has. It continues too, on the simply sumptuous intro to the much-covered The Water Is Wide and we are treated to another outstanding mid-song guitar solo from Bob Johnson. It has a real Irish feel to it here.
The chunky rock of You Will Burn is unnerving in the threats contained in its gruesome lyrics - "we will purify your soul in the fire...." and Corbies has a moribund darkness to it as well. The Song Will Remain is a beautiful, moving Peter Knight song to close with - he had a knack with them. This was an album packed full of seriously moving music - especially that lovely crying violin - and a real Celtic influence. Great stuff indeed.
Lord Randall is a traditional ballad from which Bob Dylan got his inspiration for A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. It is a solid, upbeat rock number here. Erin is an almost anthemic traditional Irish song with a simply beautiful Peter Knight violin solo in it. Queen Mary/Hunsden House is slightly in the same vein, sung beautifully over an appealing, plucked string backing. Gay Woods’ vocal on this whole album is strong, clear and captivating, which is impessive considering she had not sung for quite a while before this unlikely return. Bonny Birdy is a male vocal traditional folk number, it is a lively one, with Woods playing the bodhran as backing. Bonny Irish Boy continues the Irish folk theme with a haunting ballad. I Wish That I Was Never Wed is a young woman’s lament about her marriage. It is a lively Irish sounding song (although I don’t think it is).
After the Irish-influenced, more pure folk of 1998’s Horkstow Grange, the second “non Maddy Prior” album was completely different. It employed guest dummer Dave Mattacks far more on drums for a full, powerful rock sound. It is possibly the group’s heaviest album.
I See His Blood Upon The Rose has Gay Woods (pictured below) on vocals (something she only does on five on the album’s fourteen tracks). It is an explicitly religious song, with a slow, dignified and incredibly thumping, heavy, portentous backing. Even Maddy Prior’s staunchest fans cannot deny that Woods’ voice is truly outstanding on this song. Peter Knight’s violin half way through is mysteriously beautiful. Incidentally, I met the incredibly talented Knight a few years ago. I thanked him for the fact that his music had given me forty years of pleasure. He wasn’t particularly interested. Why should he be, of course, but meeting one’s heroes can sometimes be underwhelming.
Black Swan is a beautiful, classically-influenced short instrumental interlude. The heavy vibe is back with the industrial riffs of The Beggar. As well as being muscular and hard-hitting, the sound quality on this album is superb. Peter Knight’s incredibly moving voice is back for the heartbreaking Poor Old Soldier. No-one does these sort of songs better than him. Just lovely. His haunting violin backs the odd, short spoken-word Arbour, whose thumping single drum backing is actually too resonant. There Was A Wealthy Merchant is a slow, rock ballad telling another emotive tale. The theme of a young girl dressing up as a man to follow her lover to sea has been explored before, by Pentangle on A Maid That’s Deep In Love and Steeleye on Female Drummer. The haunting Beyond The Dreaming Place has a great vocal from Woods and a searing buzzy guitar throughout.
They Called Her Babylon (2004)
It was now 2004 and Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp returned to the band, four years after their previous release and a full eight years since Prior had recorded with them. The Gay Woods albums had been good ones, it has to be said, but there was certainly a comforting feeling to be gained from Maddy’s return. The critics dusted down all their "return to form" quotes.
A regularly visited subject was that of forced emigration and we are told here of those transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) for committing small or spurious crimes. It is delivered in archetypal fiddle-driven chunky and energetic Steeleye style. The solidity continues on the muscularly riffy Samain. Peter Knight takes lead vocals over a catchy and insistent rock backing.
Heir Of Linne is a typical haunting but strong Maddy Prior-Peter Knight dominated ballad. Bride's Farewell is a quiet and melodic, beguiling number while Babylon is the album's big narrative tale - detailing Charlotte, Countess Of Derby's redoubtable defence of her home (Lathom House in Lancashire) for four months during the English Civil War in 1644. It is enhanced by some seriously impressive violin and guitar, mid-song. Mantle Of Green is a delicate Prior vocal, beautiful violin and acoustic guitar love ballad and Bede's Death Song is a brief, forty second medieval semi-chant. Diversus And Lazarus is deliciously riffy, as so many of the band's songs are, also, all the band's vocalists combine to great effect. Peter Knight's always sumptuous violin is simply wonderful on the Celtic instrumental Si Begh Si Mohr.
Steeleye have always loved a gruesome ballad and they serve one up here in the tale of Child Owlet, dreadfully executed for a supposed dalliance with a noble lady. What's The Life Of A Man? is a powerful, almost rock ballad to end with, lit up by a stadium rock guitar solo too. Always versatile.
After thirty-six years of releasing high quality folk-rock, Steeleye Span proved that they could still do it with this vibrant and confident double album. The line-up was Maddy Prior, Rick Kemp, Peter Knight, Ken Nicol and drummer Liam Genocky.
Three Sisters is a delightful, thoroughly infectious, upbeat number, with all members singing harmoniously over a riffy backing. I love this one. The 1st House In Connaught is a jaunty Irish jig, with Knight’s violin to the fore. Steeleye have often re-worked previously recorded songs, this jig is re-worked from 1989’s Tempted And Tried and next they do it again with Cold, Haily, Windy Night from 1971’s Please To See The King, which is given a pulsating rock makeover compared to the bleak original rendering of it.
Disc 2 is a first for Steeleye Span - a five-part suite of songs about folkloric 18th century character Ned Ludd, from whom social protest group The Luddites took thier name. They objected to the mechanisation of traditional industries. Their gripe has been somewhat misinterpreted over the years. They feared the decline of traditional skills and the erosion of workers’ rights and subsequent poor treatment more than they objected to progress. While the songs are all connected, narratively, they also function well individually. The experiment works and is immaculately played, particularly by Peter Knight, as always. Check out the solo on Ned Ludd Part 3. The songs are all appealing and catchy and the suite is most enjoyable (educational too). In conclusion, this was a very impressive, immaculately played and sung album from a group who just never seem to get old.
This is another in the series of excellent albums that a revitalised Steeleye Span released in the early 2000s. As always, it sources traditional folk balladry for the background and lyrics of the songs. As with most of the latter-day Steeleye albums, it features a full rock backing.
Pretty much all of Steeleye Span's huge canon of material is derived in one way or another from historical sources - ballads, poems, early folk songs and so on. Not so here. This is an album of original work based on the late Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" novels. Now, I have to admit that I have no knowledge of Pratchett's work, nor interest in it. I am a long time fan of Steeleye Span, however. I love this album. The songs are all different, many of them captivating and atmospheric and some of them heartbreakingly sad.
The album ends with violinist Peter Knight's tour de force, the emotional We Shall Wear Midnight which sees a character from the book asking the author Pratchett how he will go on to portray her, particularly, as it seems, he wasn't long for this world (as was the case). Truly moving. The best edition to go for is the two CD edition which contains some excellent bonus tracks not considered for the original album and a number of live cuts from the accompanying "Wintersmith Tour”.
Boys Of Bedlam first appeared on 1971's Please To See The King. Here is is given a makeover drenched in searing guitar feedback, and, would you believe - a rap! Yes, Julian Littman (I think) does a hip/hop-influenced, thumping vocal and deep bass break in the middle. Fair play to them for doing this. It is an energetic, storming track, full of verve and vibrancy. great drums sounds on it too, from the ever-reliable Liam Genocky. Great stuff. The melodic, haunting Brown Robin's Confession is, I believe, sung, sweetly, by Jessie Smart. She adds some fetching violin to the solid guitar and drum backing. Peter Knight's shoes were huge ones to fill, but you really don't notice the difference here, she is that good.
Gulliver Gentle And Rosemary is an exhilarating, effervescent rocker reminiscent of some of Steeleye's nineties-early 2000s material, such as appeared on Bloody Men and Cogs, Wheels And Lovers. It is catchy, upbeat and thoroughly uplifting. The brooding The Gardener has Prior on fine, beguiling vocal form. There really is some good material on this album. Bad Bones is another vaguely contemporary-sounding Julian Littman number with some wry lyrics and strong vocals. It features another "rap" piece in the middle too. It is ok, but it does sound a tiny bit incongruous alongside the other material on the album. The ten-minute The Lofty Tall Ship-Shallow Brown begins with a bleak, haunting vocal-violin-drum first part. Prior's vocal is powerful and gritty. The second part is a stately, moving sea shanty, Shallow Brown, featuring some killer guitar soloing and a violin that sounds as if Peter Knight has come back into the studio. Just beautiful. Although the album weighs in at a whopping seventy-two minutes and is certainly a monster of a work, full and heavy, packed full of atmosphere, musical brilliance and interesting lyrical tales. Most highly recommended.
Fifty years after they formed, Steeleye Span return with more folky fare, led by the seemingly ageless doyenne Maddy Prior (although her voice now sounds unsurprisingly older). The instrumentation is, as always, immaculate, and the traditional narrative songs are as evocative as usual. The world is a better place with Steeleye Span in it.
Harvest treads a well-trod path through them rural greensward with a lengthy tale of 18th century agricultural hard times, delivered in typically robust Steeleye fashion. It is a bit uncohesive, however, not quite knowing where it is going in places. Old Matron features legendary Jethro Tull flautist Ian Anderson on a song that harks back to Steeleye’s early-mid seventies output. Anderson’s flute is instantly recognisable, of course. It is like something from Tull's Songs In The Wood album.
January Man is a slow, understated ballad featuring some lovely mid-song guitar. As I said, Maddy Prior’s voice is now older in timbre, but carries with it a relaxed, wise feel to it. The extremely talented Jessie May Smart supplies a fine violin solo too. It is a nice, gentle, undemonstrative song.
The band are full-on again on the solid sexual fidelity-themed bawdy shenanigans of The Boy And The Mantle (Three Tests Of Chastity), which features a vocal from Julian Littman. Mackerel Of The Sea is a sort of Alison Gross part two - telling of an unspeakably awful wife who turns her step-children into a worm and a mackerel. Charming. The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter is a familiar maritime narrative number, once again delivered in robust slow rock fashion, with some fine fiddle and lead guitar. Domestic is a staccato piece of rustic riffery that completely changes pace half way through. The second half of the song puts me in mind of Band Of Teachers from the Wintersmith album. Check out the wah-wah guitar near the end too. Incidentally, the first half is called John Hobbs and the second My Husband’s Got No Courage In Him.
Roadways is a bit un-Steeleye in its slightly country ballad feel. It contains another sumptuous violin part near the end. The closer, Reclaimed, is a song written by ex-band member Rick Kemp’s daughter Rose Kemp. It is an anthemic, unaccompanied song with a hymnal quality to it and it provides a fine postscript to a fine collection of songs and just maybe to this wonderful band’s career.