Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Steeleye Span - Bedlam Born (2000)


  

Released October 2000

Recorded in Oxford

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.

The opener, “Well Done Liar!” has Span sounding like The Rolling Stones on one of the punchiest, riffiest, rockiest tracks they ever recorded. It also has a great Peter Knight violin solo. “Who Told The Butcher” features Knight’s evocative, moving voice on lead (something they should have done more). It is a sad but uplifting song with an infectious chorus. I love everything about this song. “John Of Ditchford” has a strikingly heavy introductory guitar riff. It is a harrowing true tale of a 14th century murder. The backing is superb, crashing, searing guitar and pounding drums. I like folky Span but I also like rocky Span, so it suits me fine. Many who had complained the previous album was “too folky” were now bleating that the album was “too rock”. Folk music fans, eh? Some of the pickiest around.

“I See His Blood Upon The Rose” has Gay Woods 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. “We Poor Labouring Men” is a beautifully heavy song, with a huge rumbling bass line. It “borrows” the verse melody from the mid-seventies’ “Seven Hundred Elves”.

Gay Woods is once again outstanding on the captivating “The Connemara Cradle Song”. Knight’s violin is just top notch too. “Stephen” is a song about a boy in Bethlehem at the time Herod massacred children. It is a powerful song. “White Cliffs of Dover” is an experimental re-working of the classic Vera Lynn song, semi-spoken by Woods, against a sonorous industrial-sounding synthesiser backing, like something off David Bowie’s “Heroes”.

I think this is a superb album. One of the group’s best, harking back to those great folk-rock mid-seventies albums. Yes Gay Woods is not Maddy Prior, but she has her own strengths. Both of the vocalists as suited to Steeleye Span’s songs, for me, anyway. I enjoy listening to them both. In many ways, I find Woods the more powerful of the two, with better enunciation on occasions. Not something easy to say, given Prior’s iconic status. Anyway, that is another debate. This is a highly recommended album.

B+

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