Sunday, 10 March 2019

Steeleye Span - Back In Line (1986)


Released in 1986

This is an almost forgotten album from Steeleye Span's "wilderness years" in the 1980s. It is a bit of a shame that nobody has ever bothered about it much, because it contains some good material. I really quite like this album. It doesn't get as many listenings as it deserves, I must admit. Each time I listen to it, however, I like it more and more. It has a polished, solid guitar and violin-driven rock sound to it and some punchy drums. The sound quality is excellent.


1. Edward
2. Isabel
3. Lady Diamond
4. Canon By Telemann
5. Peace On The Border
6. Blackleg Miner
7. White Man
8. Lanercost
9. Scarecrow
10. Take My Heart                

"Edward" is a brooding but melodic and catchy number to kick the album off, featuring Bob Johnson on vocals, unusually. Steeleye Span have started playing the song again live in recent years. "Isabel" is about the imprisonment in an outdoor cage of Isabella Macduff, paramour of Robert The Bruce of Scotland. It is a rousing, stately-sounding folk rock ballad with a stirring vocal from Maddy Prior, and some evocative violin from the always impressive Peter Knight. It is a marvellously atmospheric and touching song. "Lady Diamond" is an upbeat, lively rock number, about a young lad in service falling for a lady, once again featuring some excellent violin from Peter Knight. His skills are well and truly brought to the fore on the classical violin instrumental "Canon By Telemann".

"Peace On The Border" as with "Edward" (possibly), "Isabel", "Take My Heart" and "Lanercost" concerns the medieval Scottish Wars of Independence. It is another uplifting number.  "Blackleg Miner" is a slightly funky live re-working of the band's song from the early seventies, featuring on their debut album "Hark! The Village Wait" in 1970. It is a 19th century Northumbrian song about the 1844 miners strike. It is controversial for threatening death on those "blacklegs" who broke the strike and worked. "White Man" is a condemnation of colonialism and slavery. It has vague hints of South African township music about it. Covering various different events and issues in history, this is one of Steeleye Span's most overtly political albums.

"Lanercost" refers to a North Cumbrian village and priory from which the malevolent Edward 1 attempted to subdue the Scots. It is a haunting, classically-influenced number. It utilises the Kyrie Eleison, a Christian liturgy. "Scarecrow" jumps several hundred years forward to the English Civil War and is an appealing, lively song (despite its grim subject matter) about The Battle Of Cropredy Bridge. "Take My Heart" sees us return to Robert The Bruce and his request that his heart be buried in The Holy Land. In fact, his heart was buried at Melrose Abbey, also according to his instructions, apparently.

This is a seriously underrated Steeleye Span album. I am not quite sure why it has never particularly  found favour, even amongst followers of the group. For me, it contains some well-delivered, rocking and historically interesting songs. Don't dismiss the album as easily as you may be tempted to do.


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