Monday, 22 October 2018

Steeleye Span - Ten Man Mop, Or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again (1971)


Released December 1971

Recorded in London

Again eschewing drums after using them on their debut album, but not on their second, Steeleye Span served up some more traditional folk songs backed mainly by the jarring electric guitar, bass and assorted string instruments. The album is very much in the vein of the previous album, “Please To See The King”, but it is slighter lighter in tone and less bleak. Despite the electric guitar, it is one of the group’s purest folk albums. There really isn’t much “rock” to be found at all, certainly not in comparison to “Hark! The Village Wait”.


1. Gower Wassail
2. Jigs Medley
3. Four Nights Drunk
4. When I Was On Horseback
5. Marrowbones
6. Captain Coulston
7. Reels
8. Wee Weaver
9. Skewball
10. General Taylor

“Gower Wassail” has all the group’s members taking turns on lead vocals over what was by now fast becoming a trademark, sightly menacing guitar. The song is a classic example of Steeleye’s use of electric guitar to back folk songs. When reviewing the previous album, I criticised the “Jigs” medley for having a bit of a sombre tone to it. This is not the case here - the jigs are delivered in true lively, jaunty and exhilarating style. Fiddle, mandolin, finger-picking guitar are all featured and a rousing time is had by all. More of your best ale please, Landlord. “Four Nights Drunk” is a male vocal condemnation of a drunken man sung in traditional folk style over a solo fiddle backing. The fiddle is excellent but the vocal a little irritating. The song ends with an impressive “jig” instrumental part that is the song’s best bit, by far.

“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.


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