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Steeleye Span Commoners Crown album cover
3.30 | 39 ratings | 7 reviews | 21% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1975

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Little Sir Hugh (4:44)
2. Bach Goes To Limerick (3:41)
3. Long Lankin (8:40)
4. Dogs And Ferrets (2:43)
5. Galtee Farmer (3:47)
6. Demon Lover (5:54)
7. Elf Call (3:54)
8. Weary Cutters (2:04)
9. New York Girls (3:12)

Total time 38:39

Line-up / Musicians

- Maddy Prior / vocals
- Tim Hart / vocals, dulcimer, guitar
- Bob Johnson / vocals, guitar
- Peter Knight / violin
- Rick Kemp / bass, vocals
- Nigel Pegrum / drums, flute

- Peter Sellers / ukulele (9)

Releases information

Artwork: Shirtsleeve Studio

LP Chrysalis ‎- CHR 1071 (1975, UK)

CD Chrysalis ‎- CCD 1071 (1996, UK)
CD BGO Records ‎- BGOCD315 (1996, UK) Remastered (?)

Thanks to zafreth for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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STEELEYE SPAN Commoners Crown ratings distribution

(39 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(21%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(46%)
Good, but non-essential (31%)
Collectors/fans only (0%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

STEELEYE SPAN Commoners Crown reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Although less well known as the previous more commercial successful All Around My hat and Now We Are Six, Commoner´s Crown is one of their best ever releases, where they seemed more confortable with the rocking arrangements than before. It is a more well balanced album than Now We Are Six, for exemple. They did a great job combining their traditional roots with the electric instrumentation this time. The big surprise is the presence of famous comedy actor Peter playing ukelele on New York Girls (and also doing some ad lib goon comments to it. It made a funny ending note for the album).

There are some outstanding stuff here, Like the opener Little Sir Hugh, Long Larkin (the most progressive and the strongest cut) and a fine version of Demon Lover (drummer Nigel Pegrum adding a nice flute). As ever the main atraction here is Maddy Prior´s distinctive, beautiful voice, but the playing is also of note, with some of their best performances ever. The right production helped a lot to bring out their stunning musicianship and the very well sung backing vocals. The cover was another well done affir (it even won them a prize).

One of their last truly great albums. 4 stars.

Review by Sean Trane
1 stars 1.5 stars at most!!

Most likely this will the second-last (chronologically-speaking) album of SS that I will review as further SS albums are of even lesser interest except for the concerned crowd. Not much has changed since their last album, same-up line, same old all-cover formulae and aside a neat artwork (check what the crown is made of), not much excitement over a recipe that had worn thin a while ago.

Again the material chosen in later albums fail to enthral and enthuse as it is once again the same old boring stuff, alternating with the odd boring jig (Bach Goes To Limerick is NOT innovative), the odd semi-Gaelic lament (Long Lankin) and even a multi-tracked a capella Weary Cutters, leading into a silly song where actor Peter Sellers is playing ukulele in the finale NY Girls. Ultimately this album is a complete bore and should you not fall asleep, than it'll probably irritate you, unless you happen to love deep-down pastoral mumbo-jumbo music. A fairly poor album and certainly SS's most meaningless so far.

This was to be the group's last album before a temporary break-up as they lost their management firm and the musos went their separate ways to follow their solo interests, until they would reform. In any case, by the time of release of this album, this could've been nothing else but dated and even slightly stale as its expiry date had run over a while ago. Better look elsewhere if you want your prog trick and treats, this pumpkin is rotten to the core.

Review by kenethlevine
3 stars After the occasional excesses of "Now we are Six", Steeleye Span adopted a more balanced approach on "Commoner's Crown", which some feel is their pinnacle work. The same lineup was intact which allowed them to continue to hone their sound as a unit, and tone it down in the right ways.

One of the endearing qualities of Steeleye Span was their ability to turn gore into exaltation, almost as if, in the very act of recounting macabre tunes, they were celebrating the lives of the long slain. Two of the best tracks, "Little Sir Hugh" and the very proggy "Long Lankin", are both so styled. "Little Sir Hugh" takes a near idyllic nursery rhyme into a bloodfest, while the bridge of "Long Lankin" revels that "there was blood all in the kitchen, there was blood all in the hall, there was blood all in the parlour, where my lady she did fall". The victims are aware of the dangers and take precautions to avoid them, but in the end come up powerless, which is part of makes these tunes so chilling. "Demon Lover" is a strong tune of deceit and false love, while "Elf Call" is a showcase for lovely harmonies blended with timely technology. Another improvement is in the so called throwaway, the silly "New York Girls" featuring Peter Sellers on ukelele. With plenty of zip, it is an excellent album closer and works far better than most of their attempts at novelty.

Yet again, the filler quotient seems too high for this to be rated as truly excellent. "Bach goes to Limerick" is the requisite instrumental and it does have a few interesting moments but nothing sustainable. "Dogs and Ferrets" , "Galtee Farmer" and "Weary Cutters" all sound like outtakes from their earlier period, albeit much better produced. The a cappella style no longer works as well for Steeleye now that they are more rock oriented. So, although I could go either way, in the end this effort is not uncommon enough to warrant 4 stars, even if could be so crowned by a reasonable critic.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
4 stars Bach goes to Limerick!

The previous album, Now We Are Six, was where it finally all came together for Steeleye Span, but it was with Commoner's Crown that the reached their peak in my opinion. Over a series of several albums there was a clear progression in their music that I feel culminated with the present album. The promises of previous albums finally came to fruition with this one. Commoner's Crown maintains everything that was so appealing about Now We Are Six but it at the same time leaves out most of that album's inconsistencies and minor flaws. From a Prog point of view, these two albums are among the best of 70's Steeleye Span and thus excellent places to start your investigation into the discography of the band.

The vocals - both lead and harmony vocals - are excellent and quite sophisticated here. The acoustic instruments; fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, blend perfectly with the electric guitar here even better than they did on Now We Are Six. There are some sparse keyboards here as well, though not very much. The guitar sound is much improved compared to early albums like Parcel Of Rouges (where it sounded quite awful!). But do not expect a guitar extravaganza here, the virtuoso playing is mainly restricted to the mandolin and fiddle which are very well played indeed.

The songs (always the most important factor for any album) are mostly very strong and memorable. The most progressive tracks here are the almost nine minute Long Lankin and the instrumental Bach Goes To Limerick. Long Lankin is also the best and the most Rock oriented track, I would say. The only song that I feel is out of place on this album is the closer New York Girls. But I still feel it fits better than some rather misguided moments on Now We Are Six (a silly cover of To Know Him Is To Love Him for example), and the fact that it comes at the very end of the album makes it easy to ignore it and perhaps even regard it as something of a "bonus" track.

This album is in my opinion up there with the very best of British Folk Rock. If you like this kind of music this album is essential! For the average Prog fan, Steeleye Span might not be a high priority but this is indeed an excellent addition to a Prog Folk collection and a worthy addition to any Prog collection.

One of Steeleye's best albums!

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars New York girls and Goons

Steeleye Span's seventh album sees the line up unchanged from that which recorded the wonderful "Now we are six", and substantially the same as the one which came together after the departure of Ashley Hutchings. The title refers to the sleeve illustration which at first appears to simply be a gold crown. Closer inspection however reveals the gold pieces to be thousands of figurines of commoners. Individual figures also appear on the rear sleeve, including six of the band themselves.

Drummer Nigel Pegrum was now fully accepted into the band, and as a result drums appear pretty much throughout the album. This plus the more prevalent rock orientation gives the album a generally heavier feel in relative terms. The songs are of course pretty much all taken from traditional folk sources, but in a trend started with "Now we are six", the progressive tendencies of the band lead to more complex arrangements and more ambitious variations.

The feature track is the 8˝ minute "Lord Lankin". While not quite of the same quality as "King Henry", the song has a similar make up. It builds from a soft start to a blustering, dramatic core, fiddle and electric guitar competing for instrumental dominance while the complex vocal arrangement sees Maddy Prior and Tim Hart rising superbly to the challenge. Once again, further unequivocal evidence of Steeleye Span's strong (and inexcusably under-appreciated) influence on what we now know as prog-folk.

Other notable highlights include the opening "Little Sir Hugh", a fine vehicle for the vocal talents of Prior. "Demon lover" is a beautiful ballad-like tale which contrasts soft verses with a highly melodic upbeat chorus. This is one of Steeleye Span's forgotten gems. "Elf call" has one of the heaviest rhythm sections of any Steeleye Span song, although the actual piece is fairly traditional SS material.

The jig track for this album is unique in that it combines with some success a Bach violin piece with a traditional Irish melody. On the other hand, "Dogs and ferrets" continues the trend of adding a (virtually) a-cappella harmony song to each album. The closest we get to the children's songs of "Now we are six" is on "Weary cutters", a harmonic lullaby.

Perhaps the strangest track here is the closing "New York girls" which features Peter Sellars on ukulele and ad-libs. The song is presented as an amusing ditty played dead pan, and on that basis it just about works.

The band's popularity continued to grow with the release of "Commoners crown", and in the UK it became their most successful album to date, peaking just outside the top 20. In retrospect, I would not call this the band's finest album, but it still oozes a quality which others can only wish for. The one thing I would say about "Commoners crown" is that it is less obvious than most Steeleye Span albums, and as such requires a little more effort to get. As such it is not one for the superficial browser.

Review by Einsetumadur
3 stars 10/15P. While side B sounds a little bit 'unfinished', side A is a close-to-perfect statement of folk'n'art rock. Hence, this three-star rating is really close to four stars.

Adding the drummer and multi-instrumentalist Nigel Pegrum to the band line-up on Now We Are Six changed the sound of the band significantly. Especially on Please to See The King and Parcel of Rogues, two absolutely stunning albums, the music was a pretty sizzling variety of electric folk, songs which were floating away on jagged fiddle ostinatos, distant dulcimer notes and archaic vocal harmonies.

None of these descriptions really matches this album. Although all of the songs have traditional origins, the fundament of the music is pure rock music - slowly stomping bass drums, surprisingly straightforward riffs, but always using some stylistic devices to stay in touch with the traditions.

At first there's the album opener Little Sir Hugh which welcomes the listener in a mildly uncomfortable fashion. Lyrically, it's a shocking tale of a child murder - musically, it lives on Rick Kemp's jolty bass guitar work and an absolutely catchy chorus, which could surely have been a single hit - were it not for the lyrics in which a mysterious lady feeds the young Sir Hugh with sugar and then stabs him to death. And these lyrics are even sung in a mild version: the story depicts the alleged circumstances of some centuries ago when Jews were accused of exerting ritual murders on young children. A hazardous topic which the band wisely decided to exclude from the album. This piece already reveals - and that's the amazing thing about this album and Now We Are Six - that Steeleye Span were now completely able to transform old folk songs into contemporary (and sometimes quite un-folky) rock pieces without changing the melodies and chord progressions too much. Noteworthy in this respect is especially the chiming guitar-and-fiddle 3/8 part which always comes up immediately after the chorus: slight vibes of ancient times, but clothed in contemporary robe.

Of course, the album also has the inevitable piece of traditional dance music which onBach Goes To Limerick is a considerably different take on a traditional dance tune since it grabs two different kinds of music (Baroque polyphony and a Celtic jigs) at the place where they intersect, which is the cascading melodics and the wish to superimpose independent counterpoints on a simple melodic bedrock. I especially enjoy the quiet 1-minute intro which is kind of a menuet played by Nigel Pegrum (oboe), Pete Knight (piano) and Rick Kemp (bass) and which mashes up fragments of popular Bach pieces in a humorously severe manner. Afterwards round it goes!

The long Long Lankin arguably is the pinnacle of the six-piece Steeleye Span line-up in which the dark ambience of ancient horror tales, Pete Knight's subtle arrangements and the multi-part art rock structure tie in that well with each other that you really don't know if that song is pop, rock, ancient traditional balladry or a part of some rock opera. Basically, the track consists of two parts made up of one traditional song by re-arranging its words a little bit. This allows the band to get some kind of variation between the gorgeous mid-tempo ballad frame (with Tim Hart's delicately finger-picked acoustic guitar) and the relatively heavy middle part. But at no place the song outstays its welcome, in spite of the huge amount of verses, because there's always a new little part somewhere inbetween, sometimes the drums intermit for a few bars. In total this is a perfect example how folk music can be adapted to song structures and arrangements which bear heavy relation to what is now called symphonic prog - but the basic slow 4/4 rhythm stays the same all the time.

The hunting song Dogs And Ferrets is the first of the really scarce songs on this album, only led by the wicked rhythm of the hammered dulcimer (which is really low in the mix) and the nervous harmony vocals which stumble around on this backing, only to be startled by some unexpectedly loud hammered dulcimer notes inbetween. This song is first question mark in my face, but still quite fascinating and intelligently arranged.

Unfortunately, the high quality of the first side cannot be fully maintained during the course of the whole album. And that ain't because of some simple pop fillers, but rather due to some songs which I don't really understand since their arrangements are so utterly sparse.

Galtee Farmer is based on a monotonous piccicato violin rhythm and features Maddy Prior singing a song about a horse which is sold multiple times until its original price is absolutely twisted, and meanwhile the galloping violin drone grows on and on. The whole song is totally dizzying because it turns around and around until you lose track of the course of the story. And, to add to the confusion, the carefully built up tension slowly ebbs away in the end, just after Tim Hart's electric dulcimer really comes in the forefront after lurking around really low in the mix for some minutes. This kind of song structure is totally creative, and perhaps the closest folk can approach avant-garde realms, but I simply don't get it.

Elf Call is a bit similar, but adds a whole band arrangement with a tight stomping backbeat, a really uncommon rhythm to accompany a carpet of vibrating electric dulcimer arpeggios and hard guitar power chords with. Again, the band gives the song a lot of resonance due to the huge backing vocals of Kemp, Knight, Hart and Johnson. But after one verse and one chorus the piece breaks down, only to start anew with the second verse, and after another chorus and another breakdown the band do a reprise of the first verse again. And, of course, each verse is already repetitive in itself. Then, surprisingly, the song itself already ends after hardly three minutes - the last minute consists of that very same dulcimer drone and the very same drum rhythm with some extra (but basic) bass licks added for good measure. This whole arrangement sounds a lot as if there was supposed to be a guitar solo in the end of a song, a solo which may have been deleted - or never recorded due to time restraints. Somehow this drum rhythm is just a bit too basic to keep me entertained for four minutes without a lot going on - even Richard Thompson's 1975 post-Fairport Pour Down Like Silver album, which completely lacks the participation of a guitarist who should actually overdub guitars on every song, features more 'action' throughout.

Demon Lover is graced with a really beautiful verse melody - and Steeleye Span do their very best to give it enough little tricky twists and (positively) unwieldy instrumental parts. The step from certain melodies on Hart & Prior's pastoral 1971 Summer Solstice record onto the quite beautiful verses is more than traceable, but why do they have to repeat the chorus that frequently? The chorus, at least in this arrangement, is pretty banal and not the best thing about this piece, somehow becoming the straw which breaks the camel's back in this situation.

Weary Cutters is another Maddy Prior multi-tracking extravaganza - it's sparse, too, but spawns a huge charisma and atmosphere all the way through. Basically it's an a-capella rendition of a lament of a girl mourning over the state pressing her partner to serve the navy. But, just like on The Weaver And The Factory Maid, Prior adds lots of immaculately performed harmony vocal tracks which tower above each other; in the end it might well be more than six feathery vocal tracks, and there's no wrongly sung note which could distract you from the dense mood. After these two minutes of contemplation the contrast to the album closer New York Girls couldn't be bigger - a boozy song about a man who tries to hustle a woman who then fills him up with alcohol and finally robs him. That story is similar to the famous Rambling Sailor song, as performed by the Albion Country Band and by Tim Hart, but set to a different tune. Somehow the band managed to make actor Pete Sellers play the ukulele and speak some gibberish on the track, and - astonishingly - the gruffly-strummed ukulele fits in extremely well with the bawdy vocals and the crunchy electric guitars. Interestingly, every male singer in the band sings lead on two verses of the song each while Maddy Prior (or, again, rather some Maddy Priors) provide(s) the chorus, which too helps making this song extremely entertaining.

Taken together, Commoner's Crown leaves too many question marks in my head, even after a lot of listens, to convince me to rate with four stars. It's a wee bit better than All Around My Hat, a wee bit less striking than Now We Are Six, but still an important and partially grand example of how progressive rock and folk songs can go together. A recommendation is up to the question if you like the band, especially Maddy Prior's bright voice, or the genre, but albums like Please To See The King, Hark! The Village Wait or Parcel of Rogues are certainly more striking in their immediacy. Still, about 40% of the album is - in my opinion - essential first class art/folk rock listening, and especially Little Sir Hugh might be a good choice to listen through in order to check if you might make friends with the progressive folk rock in general.

Review by Warthur
4 stars When it comes to Steeleye Span's mid-1970s folk rock phase (as opposed to the more purist folk tendencies they exhibited at other parts of their career), some prefer this one to Now We Are Six, some give the crown to its predecessor. I'm in the latter camp, myself - the opening Little Sir Hugh feels like it could do with more work before it's really finished, whilst the closing New York Girls is just a goof-off number (compared to the To Know Him Is To Love Him cover on Now We Are Six, which was actually pretty decent in its own right).

Don't get me wrong, though: between those two bookends this is a very fine folk rock album indeed. That version of Long Lankin gives me chills every time.

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