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Steeleye Span - Now We Are Six CD (album) cover

NOW WE ARE SIX

Steeleye Span

 

Prog Related

3.25 | 26 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Coming of age

For their sixth album, Steeleye Span finally relented and brought in a drummer, the multi-talented Nigel Pegrum who had previously been a member of the Small Faces and Uriah Heep among others. The album title, which is borrowed from the work of AA Milne, therefore refers both to this being their sixth album, and the fact that they were now a six man (or person) line up. Pegrum would remain a member of the band for the next 17 years. (In terms of age, the band were however not quite six yet!)

The album was produced by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, the results being a fine collection of the usual traditional folk songs, but with an even more rock orientated sound. A number of the tracks here are superb examples of early 70's prog folk, with excellent arrangements. Admittedly, a couple of others are not of the same quality.

Taking the best tracks first, "Thomas the Rhymer" is a classic of prog folk. Be aware though that there are two versions of this track. On the original UK LP release, the track ran to almost 7 minutes, and featured a wonderful mix of soft passages and powerful guitar driven bursts. By the time the song crossed the Atlantic it had been curtained by 3 full minutes. Most subsequent compilations include the shorter version. The original version is by far the better though, Ian Anderson's crisp production bringing out the full classic beauty of the song. (Is that him playing flute perhaps?)

"Drink down the moon" is every bit as wonderful. Opening as a mournful instrumental dirge with delightful oboe (played by new boy Pegrum), the song develops as a gentle tale sung by Maddy Prior. As the story unfolds, the volume is subtly increased, with a bursts of lead guitar signalling the title verse. All of a sudden we are into a light, upbeat jig like section. "Drink down the moon" is a truly remarkable piece of prog folk. This track alone, makes the price of admission worthwhile.

As if the foregoing were not enough, "Seven hundred elves" is equally well arranged and performed, the choruses creating a rather sinister atmosphere as the elves head for the farmer's house to "share his meat and drink". Even the obligatory jig here, "The mooncoin jig", is a fine example of the mandolin and violin playing talents of Peter Knight.

The album concludes with a very rare cover of a contemporary song (the single "Rave on" was the last to appear on record). The version of Phil Spector's "To know him is to love him" by Steeleye Span may be out of character and devoid of folk influences, but as a song in its own right, I find it rather enjoyable. David Bowie even appears on the song playing sax.

Admittedly, the handful of songs I have not mentioned, including the two children's style numbers, may not be as essential as those above but they are not quite the disasters suggested by some critics elsewhere.

"Now we are six" is for me a classic prog folk album. It demands the full attention and indulgence of the listener, who in return will be rewarded by some quite astonishing fare. With this album, Steeleye Span came of age.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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