Sunday, 21 October 2018

Steeleye Span - Hark! The Village Wait (1970)


  

Released June 1970

Recorded in London

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.

TRACK LISTING

1. A-Calling On Song
2. The Blacksmith
3. Fisherman's Wife
4. The Blackleg Miner
5. The Dark-Eyed Sailor
6. Copshawholme Fair
7. All Things Are Quite Silent
8. The Hills Of Greenmore
9. My Johnny Was A Shoemaker
10. The Lowlands Of Holland
11. Twa Corbies
12. One Night As I Lay On My Bed

“A-Calling On Song” is a brief a capella introduction to what we are about to hear, “so now you’ve heard our intention, we’ll play on to the beat of the drum”, they sing, and, duly summoned, a powerful drum begins “The Blacksmith”. It is a suitably powerful narrative ballad of pledged love and we are introduced for the first time to the crystal clear medieval-sounding voice of the marvellous Maddy Prior. This is a strong, confident song to begin with and the quality is continued with the evocative “Fisherman’s Wife”. Although the band have yet to go “full electric”, they certainly are not just acoustic guitar and fiddles. Drums are liberally employed as is bass guitar. It is still folk music, though, but played with these two essentially rock instruments backing it. Electric guitar does appear too, to great effect, at times.

“Blackleg Miner” is an early Steeleye Span classic. Tim Hart is on lead vocals on this biting condemnation of a miner breaking a strike. It is backed by a thumping drum and cutting guitar sound. Maddy Prior returns for the solid, muscular, bassy “The Dark-Eyed Sailor” she is joined, as she is on many tracks on this album, by Gay Woods, who would return many years later to replace Prior when she left the group for a while. A harmonium adds an attractive backing to this one too. The song is rather reminiscent of some of the material Pentangle did around the same time.

“Copshawholme Fair” has some psychedelic-sounding electric guitar like something by The Velvet Underground. and some appealing, melodic mandolin parts. Prior’s voice soars confidently over both, however. She contributes similarly, with Woods, on the harmonious “All Things Are Quite Silent”. “The Hills Of Greenmore” is a mid-pace, male vocal, solidly rock number with some excellent rock drumming.

“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 atmopsheric and powerful song, augmented by some excellent guitar and fiddle. “Twa Corbies” 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.

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