Monday, 22 October 2018

Steeleye Span - Below The Salt (1972)


Released September 1972

Recorded in London

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, Pentangle and The Strawbs in their wake.


1. Spotted Cow
2. Rosebud In Une
3. Jigs (Medley)
4. Sheepcrook & Black Dog
5. Royal Forester
6. King Henry
7. Gaudete
8. John Barleycorn
9. Saucy Sailor

“Spotted Cow” is a jaunty, electric riff-driven Maddy Prior vocal song, with a full, impressive sound. Prior’s voice is crystal clear, as indeed it is on the rousing, hymnal, a capella “Rosebud in June”. the group all sing harmoniously together, as if in church, but they sing of when “a lad takes his lass on the green, green grass…”. There has always been an earthy, lusty side to Steeleye Span. The by now obligatory “Jigs (Medley)” is an excellent one - lively, uplifting and well played with a variety of instrumentation and a clear, bassy, stereo sound (particularly when compared to the dense sound of the jigs on “Please To See The King”).

The sound is now harder, more warm, solid and muscular. This is exemplified on the powerful, changeable “Sheepcrook And Black Dog”. The guitar is superb on here, less harsh than on previous albums and Prior’s voice is stunningly versatile. “Royal Forester” is another Prior-led classic piece of Steeleye folk, augmented by some excellent bass, guitar and fiddle. The harsh, bleak sound of “Please To See The King” and the ale-quaffing pure folk of “Ten Map Mop” had been refined considerably on here and the rock potential of “Hark! The Village Wait” was being explored again.

“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.


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