Monday, 22 October 2018

Steeleye Span - Please To See The King (1971)


  

Released March 1971

Recorded in London

For their second offering, Steeeye 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.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Blacksmith
2. Cold, Haily, Windy Night
3. Jigs Medley
4. Prince Charlie Stuart
5. The Boys Of Bedlam
6. False Knight On The Road
7. The Lark In The Morning
8. Female Drummer
9. The King
10. Lovely On The Water
11. Rave On

The songs are again all traditional. The band’s hearts are still very much set in the past, but using contemporary electric backing. “The Blacksmith” (re-worked from the first album, completely differently) is a stark, vocal ballad sung against a cutting, industrial solo electric guitar. A bit of bass comes in half way through, but it is largely Maddy Prior’s strong, dominating voice plus a few vocal harmonies. The tale is one of unrequited, frustrated love. The bleakness expressed in the title of “Cold, Haily, Windy Night” is reflected in another clunking, solid guitar sound, backed by some effective fiddle (violinist Peter Knight had now joined the band). This song is a male/female duet. The starkness of sound had been fine on these first two atmospheric songs, but it doesn’t quite work when applied to the instrumental "Jigs Medley" that is up next, rendering them a bit too harsh and comparatively lifeless. The jigs as performed on subsequent albums were much better, with Peter Knight give far more license to improvise. These here suffer from a slightly dull sound.

“Prince Charlie Stuart” 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.

B-

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