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STEELEYE SPAN

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Steeleye Span biography
"Steeleye Span is like a bus. It goes along and people get on and off it. Sometimes the bus goes along the route you want to go, and sometimes it turns off, so you get off." --Maddy Prior


As one of the two most important bands to blend traditional British folk musics and rock - the other being the legendary Fairport Convention - STEELEYE SPAN represented both the revival of this music in Britain and its ventures into contemporary times. Completely authentic but with a modern spark their peers never quite matched, the ensemble's development was one of the most evolving in popular music.

By 1969, an electrically charged Folk scene had fully emerged in England. That year after a road accident in which their drummer was killed, singer Sandy DENNY and FAIRPORT CONVENTION recorded 'Liege and Lief', a project led by bassist Ashley HUTCHINGS and Richard THOMPSON's startling electric guitar. The album would influence an entire movement though the group was divided about this direction and split, FC proceeding without HUTCHINGS or DENNY. Ashley HUTCHINGS carried on and after a good first rehearsal with established Folk duo Maddy PRIOR & Tim HART and husband and wife team Terry & Gay WOODS, a first incarnation recorded STEELEYE SPAN's [the group's name is taken from a character in Lincolnshire ballad 'Horkstow Grange'] debut in 1970, 'Hark! The Village Wait'. Comprised of trad. Folk with the added dimension of HUTCHINGS's bass and guest drummers Gerry CONWAY and Dave MATTACKS, the album is also noted for the dual female vocals of PRIOR and WOODS. Terry and Gay WOODS were replaced that year by veteran guitarist/singer Martin CARTHY and violinist Peter KNIGHT. This line-up recorded 'Please to See the King' (1971) and 'Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again' (1972), LPs unique in their use of hard rock colors.

By late 1972, CARTHY and founder HUTCHINGS left to pursue more purist Folk avenues. Guitarist Bob JOHNSON and bassist Rick KEMP were brought in and provided an expanded hard-blues sound to Steeleye, and the group secured a new contract with Chrysalis which released their fourth, 'Below the Salt' in late '72. Further cultivating electric blues but always showcasing traditional Celtic and folk, some numbers dating back over a hundred years, 1973's 'Parcel of Rogues' was released and later that year the band drafted rock drummer Nigel PEGRUM [GNIDROLOG,URIAH HEEP,SMALL FACES]. Having supported fellow Chrysalis act ...
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Buy STEELEYE SPAN Music


Best ofBest of
Remastered · Import
EMI Gold Imports 2007
Audio CD$2.79
$1.77 (used)
Lark in the MorningLark in the Morning
Extra tracks · Import
Castle Music UK 2003
Audio CD$5.66
$9.99 (used)
Original Album SeriesOriginal Album Series
Import
Imports 2014
Audio CD$13.66
$22.70 (used)
A Parcel of Steeleye SpanA Parcel of Steeleye Span
Import
101 DISTRIBUTION 2009
Audio CD$13.60
$23.65 (used)
Wintersmith: In Collaboration with Terry PratchettWintersmith: In Collaboration with Terry Pratchett
Park UK 2013
Audio CD$11.94
All Around My HatAll Around My Hat
Shanachie 1989
Audio CD$10.06
$7.28 (used)
Parcel Of RoguesParcel Of Rogues
Original recording
Chrysalis Records
Vinyl$2.79 (used)
Another Parcel of Steeleye SpanAnother Parcel of Steeleye Span
Import
EMI Import 2010
Audio CD$13.66
$8.20 (used)
Below the Salt [Vinyl]Below the Salt [Vinyl]
Shanachie 1990
Vinyl$399.99
$4.88 (used)
TimeTime
Shanachie 1996
Audio CD$10.05
$2.99 (used)
Right Now on Ebay (logo)
STEELEYE SPAN S/t LP 12 Track UK Pickwick 1980 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 1h 29m
STEELEYE SPAN All Around My Hat LP 9 Track With Insert UK Chrysalis 1975 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 1h 30m
Great Lot British Electric Folk Fairport Convention/Steeleye Span/Pentangle LPs! USD $28.00 [0 bids]
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1h 43m
Steeleye Span Following Me UK 7" vinyl single record FLUT4 CHRYSLIS/DOVER 1989 USD $15.47 Buy It Now 1h 49m
STEELEYE SPAN All Around My Hat LP 9 Track UK Mfp 1975 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 1h 50m
STEELEYE SPAN Sails Of Silver LP 10 Track Some Creasing And Wear To Sleeve UK C USD $8.15 Buy It Now 1h 59m
STEELEYE SPAN GAUDETTE/HOLY & THE IVY SINGLE ADVERT 8X12" USD $12.45 Buy It Now 2h 14m
STEELEYE SPAN Storm Force Ten LP 8 Track But Has Ringwear To Sleeve UK Chrysali USD $8.15 Buy It Now 2h 28m
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Steeleye Span 7" vinyl single record All Around My Hat Dutch 104.942 CHRYSALIS USD $20.14 Buy It Now 2h 36m
STEELEYE SPAN / NOW WE ARE SIX ~ 1974 UK ALBUM ~ NR MNT USD $16.99 Buy It Now 2h 36m
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STEELEYE SPAN - PORTFOLIO original 1989 CD USD $15.56 Buy It Now 4h 18m
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STEELEYE SPAN - LIVE AT LAST!/SAILS OF SILVER * - NEW CD BOXSET USD $16.01 Buy It Now 6h 51m
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7h 20m
STEELEYE SPAN Fighting For Strangers 7" B/w Mooncoin Jig UK Chrysalis 1976 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 7h 23m
STEELEYE SPAN Following Me 7" B/w Two Butchers Pic Sleeve UK Chrysalis 1989 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 7h 28m
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STEELEYE SPAN Fox 7" B/w Jack Hall Pic Sleeve UK Dover 1990 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 7h 40m
Steeleye Span - All Around My Hat (CD New) USD $16.36 Buy It Now 7h 41m
STEELEYE SPAN All Around My Hat 7" Promo B/w Gaudete UK Chrysalis 1982 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 8h 13m
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STEELEYE SPAN Thomas The Rhymer 7" B/w The Mooncoin Jig UK Chrysalis 1974 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 8h 52m
STEELEYE SPAN All Around My Hat 7" B/w Blacky Jack Davy UK Chrysalis 1975 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 9h 13m
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STEELEYE SPAN--Live At Last!--LP USD $10.99 Buy It Now 9h 22m
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STEELEYE SPAN. STORM FORCE TEN. + INNER & INSERT 1977 USD $15.55 Buy It Now 19h 53m
STEELEYE SPAN. NOW WE ARE SIX.RARE FOLK ROCK 1974 EXC. USD $13.99 Buy It Now 19h 53m
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STEELEYE SPAN 'ALL AROUND MY HAT' UK 7" SINGLE #2 USD $3.10 Buy It Now 21h 56m
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STEELEYE SPAN Storm Force Ten LP 8 Track But Sleeve Has Some Creasing And Sticke USD $8.15 Buy It Now 22h 41m
STEELEYE SPAN Rocket Cottage LP 9 Track With Insert UK Chrysalis 1976 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 22h 42m
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STEELEYE SPAN All Around My Hat LP 9 Track UK Chrysalis 1975 USD $8.15 Buy It Now 23h 8m
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Steeleye Span - Ten Man Mop LP UK 1976 reissue VG/EX Folk Rock USD $23.34 Buy It Now 23h 15m
STEELEYE SPAN 'ORIGINAL MASTERS' UK DOUBLE LP USD $17.10 Buy It Now 23h 17m
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STEELEYE SPAN 1982 CONCERT PROGRAMME SIGNED AND TICKET USD $18.67 Buy It Now 1 day
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Steeleye Span "The Steel Eye Span Story " 2 records - Chrysalis Label CH2 1136 USD $15.50 Buy It Now 1 day
Steeleye Span "Commoners Crown" Chrysalis CHR 1071 USD $11.90 Buy It Now 1 day
Steeleye Span "Rocket Cottage" Chrysalis Records CHR 1123-British Folk/Rock USD $11.90 Buy It Now 1 day
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Steeleye Span "Now We Are Six" Chrysalis Label CHR 1053 -- 1974 USD $11.90 Buy It Now 1 day
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Steeleye Span "All Around My Hat" Chrysalis CHR 11091 USD $11.90 Buy It Now 1 day
Steeleye Span "Back In Line " Shanachie Records 79063 - USD $11.90 Buy It Now 1 day
Steeleye Span "Almanac" Charisma label CS12 --1973 USD $12.90 Buy It Now 1 day
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USD $6.00 Buy It Now
1 day
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Maddy Prior (Steeleye Span) - Changing Winds CD Import Beat Goes On 1978 folk USD $12.99 Buy It Now 1 day
Steeleye Span - Winter CD Brit Folk 2004 Park Records USD $12.99 Buy It Now 1 day
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Steeleye Span LP Rocket Cottage USD $9.00 Buy It Now 1 day
Steeleye Span Below the Salt LP Chrysalis CHR 1008 Gatefold Stereo UK Pressing USD $3.00 Buy It Now 1 day
Steeleye Span LP Commoners Crown USD $4.99 Buy It Now 1 day


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STEELEYE SPAN shows & tickets


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STEELEYE SPAN discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

STEELEYE SPAN top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.81 | 36 ratings
Hark ! the Village Wait
1970
2.93 | 25 ratings
Please to See the King
1971
2.75 | 25 ratings
Ten Map Mop or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again
1972
3.68 | 37 ratings
Below The Salt
1972
3.53 | 30 ratings
Parcel of Rogues
1973
3.28 | 29 ratings
Now We Are Six
1974
3.12 | 23 ratings
Commoner's Crown
1975
3.13 | 25 ratings
All Around My Hat
1975
3.46 | 19 ratings
Rocket Cottage
1976
3.16 | 13 ratings
Storm Force Ten
1977
2.13 | 10 ratings
Sails of Silver
1980
2.49 | 5 ratings
Back In Line
1986
3.40 | 9 ratings
Tempted And Tried
1989
3.76 | 8 ratings
Time
1996
2.92 | 5 ratings
Horkstow Grange
1999
3.42 | 7 ratings
Bedlam Born
2000
3.51 | 9 ratings
They Called Her Babylon
2004
2.88 | 5 ratings
Winter
2004
3.00 | 7 ratings
Bloody Men
2006
2.94 | 7 ratings
Cogs, Wheels & Lovers
2009
3.21 | 5 ratings
Wintersmith
2013

STEELEYE SPAN Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.06 | 10 ratings
Live at Last
1978
3.00 | 1 ratings
Tonight's The Night, Live!
1992
0.00 | 0 ratings
Concert
1995
4.00 | 1 ratings
The Journey
2001
0.00 | 0 ratings
Folk Rock Pioneers In Concert
2006
0.00 | 0 ratings
Now We Are Six Again
2012

STEELEYE SPAN Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.00 | 1 ratings
Classic Rock Legends
2001

STEELEYE SPAN Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 4 ratings
Steeleye Span
1980
2.61 | 4 ratings
Portfolio
1988
3.00 | 2 ratings
The Collection
1991
2.05 | 3 ratings
Spanning the Years
1995
3.05 | 3 ratings
A stack of Steeleye Span
1996
0.00 | 0 ratings
First Steps
2001
4.00 | 2 ratings
The Lark In The Morning - The Early Years
2003
0.00 | 0 ratings
A Parcel of Steeleye Span - Their First Five Chrysalis Albums 1972-1975
2009

STEELEYE SPAN Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.03 | 4 ratings
Gaudete
1972
3.00 | 3 ratings
Fighting for Strangers
1976

STEELEYE SPAN Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Wintersmith by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 2013
3.21 | 5 ratings

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Wintersmith
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by SteveG

4 stars This is definitely an album that I have tried to play in the summer time with poor results. It's not because the album is bad. It's just too damn wintery in feel which makes it perfect for early December and the rest of the cold snowy season.

The Wintersmith, released last year (2013) is a collaboration between Steeleye and Discworld series author Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is the million selling author of young people's fantasy stories that are on par with the Harry Potter series of fantacies, just to give you an idea of what your in for.

Prattchett wrote the lyrics of Wintersmith, based on his novel of the same name, which deals with one of the seasons of nature , winter, taking on a corporeal form and falling for a village girl named Tiffany.

First off, I would have to say that between this concept and the folk hard rock fusion of the music, combined with trad. instruments like Northumbrian pipes, this is the most progressive outing from Steeleye Span that I've ever encountered and that was an unexpected delight.

The band drafted in uber producer Chris Tsanderides to engineer the album while Steeleye are still the producers. This helped to tone down Tsanderides' often shrill sounding production and resulted in an excellently heavy, but not overdone, rhythm section and some louder and more piercing electric guitar. it's not Deep Purple meets Fairport as some reviewers have made it out to be, but it is highly effective and a refreshing sound change for the band.

As the Wintersmith himself is a character, bassist Rick Kemp and guitarist Julian Littman alternate vocals with the evergreen Maddy Prior. I wish Maddy sang a bit more on this album but she is the incarnation of the heroine Tiffany, so it has to be. Kemp and Littman are both excellent vocalists, so fear not.

The album grabs you immediately with the Dark Morris song, a preview of the musical themes to come, before jumping in the brooding title track Wintersmith which teases with little telltale traces of the musical nuances that this album will soon offer and features the first of many great lead vocals from Kemp. Featured prominently is the Celtic tinged fiddle of 4 decade member Peter Knight, who more than anyone else, evokes a feel of the forest and the smell of pine into this music. The other member of note is long time drummer Liam Genocky, who pulls a few surprises with his deft drum work and percussion work.

Prior does her best "Annie Haslam' sweet sounding vocals on the songs Band Of Teachers and Hiver before both she and Kemp launch into the astoundingly propulsive Fire And Ice. Their vocal harmonies, along with Littman's, on the song's fantastic chorus is one of the album's many highlights.

After listening to the anthemic Crown Of Ice and the beautiful ballad First Dance, were off to the instrumental Dark Morris tune that sounds both maniacal and melodious at the same time. A virtual dance into the Wintersmith's dark cold world.

There are two beautiful ballads on this album, First Dance , elegantly sung by Prior, and the albums closer (when the Wintersmith eventually recedes due to on coming springtime) titled we Shall Wear Midnight. I believe the last is sung by Littman and instead of Kemp, but I'm not sure as it's still performed beautifully.

The album does have a few clunkers that drag out the running time like Wee Fee Men and the fairytale like The Good Witch, but all in all, it's a terrific album and one of the best ever produced by Steeleye Span. 4 Stars and I highly recommend it to fans of Folk Prog, especially to fans of both the Strawbs, Fairport Convention and Horslips. And remember, winter goes by quickly, so get it now.

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 Parcel of Rogues by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.53 | 30 ratings

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Parcel of Rogues
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The Below the Salt lineup of Steeleye Span returned the next year to unleash Parcel of Rogues on the world (wrapped in some of the most boring album artwork I have ever seen!). The musical style is more or less in line with what we'd heard already on Below the Salt - electric folk with medieval stlyings - though it doesn't feel quite as fresh as Below the Salt, almost as though it's a collection of songs that didn't make the cut for that album. Still, "not quite as good as Below the Salt" is still quite good as far as this style of British not-very-rocky folk rock goes.

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 Wintersmith by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 2013
3.21 | 5 ratings

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Wintersmith
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
Special Collaborator Symphonic Team

3 stars Steeleye Span + Terry Pratchett = true

Wintersmith is a conceptual album based around some novels by well-known fantasy author Terry Pratchett. What is less well-known--at least it was news to me--is the fact that Pratchett is a long-standing fan of Steeleye Span and a personal friend of the members of the band. As is clearly written on the cover, Pratchett even participated in the making of this album. Though, his precise role in the proceedings is somewhat unclear to me (is it him doing the spoken word section in The Good Witch?). Clear is at least that the songs are based around themes from Pratchett's writings, specifically the novels featuring the Tiffany Aching character (which I haven't read, but I've read a few others of Pratchett's many books).

Putting music to Pratchett's Discworld has been done before by Dave Greenslade with moderate success. Steeleye Span is more successful. The imagery of Pratchett and the inventive Folk Rock of Steeley Span is a very good combination and it seems that the band gained in inspiration from working with a conceptual theme. This is one of those albums that are instantly likeable. The songs are catchy and easy to get into. There is a nice variation in tempos, instruments (they even dusted off the old saxophone and add some pipes & whistles) and vocals (male and female), but the songs are not overly progressive. The typical sound of the band, and the distinctive voice of Maddy Prior, is unmistakable and this album is in their trademark style. A fun and enjoyable listen. It is not however up to par with such strong latter-day Steeleye Span albums as They Called Her Babylon and Time.

This album is recommended for fans of both the band and the author. Now I feel like reading some Pratchett (a great man who sadly is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease).

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 Wintersmith by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 2013
3.21 | 5 ratings

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Wintersmith
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by DrömmarenAdrian

3 stars Steeleye Span is one of my favourite band and it has been in for approximately eight years. "Wintersmith" is their twentyfirst studio record of which I haven't heard everyone. 1970-1978 was their best time of music fantasy but I have also heard very good stuff from them of later years. "They called her Babylon" is perhaps a 4/5-record and I also thought their last record of 2009 was pleasant. What's so fantastic is that the band is quite intact (in form of line up) with Maddy Prior on vocals, Rick Kemp on bass and vocals, Peter Knight om violin, vocals and piano, Liam Genockey on drums and percussion, Julian Littman on guitar, vocals and piano and Peter Zorn on guitar, saxophone and vocals. This record is a cooperation with the auther Terry Pratchett.

Steeleye Span is an always going train of folk rock music, just like Fairport Convention. When FC lost the most of its interest in the early seventies SS continued with their special sound and to be honest this latest effort "Wintersmith" is quite progressive. I feel like Steeleye Span here has done a different record and tried new approaches to their music. Then of course it's hard to find the I my mind known Steeleye style in these songs.

The record is mystic and has many interesting songs. It seems to be a concept record and in some songs they're going back to old themes such in "The Good Witch"(7/10) with lovely Maddy Prior vocals in the beginning in a melody which sounds very "Steeleyeish". The album's best songs are the title track "Wintersmith"(8,5/10) whish is of different kind. Just like Alison Gross, that song takes a new direction of folk rock and I love it, and "Band of Teachers"(8,5/10), also a lovely song. Some more tracks are worth mentioning: "The Wee Free Man"(8/10) is short and contains typical folky Steeleye harmonies, "Fire & ice"(8/10) contains perfect male and female voices and "The Summer Lady"(8/10) is also a lovely track. Beside of these tracks the album contains many nice songs but they don't interest me much.

Though do I lack very strong tracks such as on "They called her Babylon" and the album has too many okey songs. I absolutely appreciate the vocals both of Maddy Prior and of course of Rick Kemp. With 2013 over all music, this is certainly a 4/5-star record and I would consider it high standard music. Though must I review it as a Steeleye Span record, then is such a high rating unfair. 3,5 would have been the best, in their discography I feel comfortable with three stars.

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 Below The Salt by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.68 | 37 ratings

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Below The Salt
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Tim Hart and Maddy Prior steer the good ship Steeleye Span into medieval waters, with a range of classic traditional songs given the electric folk treatment. With a mixture of full-band effort, a capella pieces, and a wide emotional range, the album is another success in the Span's ongoing project to explore the potential of electrified versions of traditional British folk music. It's not the trippiest, spookiest, proggiest or most psychedelic of the albums in this vein that would emerge in the UK at this time - you'd have to look to Comus or the Incredible String Band or Fairport Convention for that - but it is one of the more warm and inviting examples of the style.

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 Hark ! the Village Wait by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 1970
3.81 | 36 ratings

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Hark ! the Village Wait
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Steeleye Span's debut album may not be a very authentic collection of quasi-medieval folk rock numbers, but damn if it isn't an enjoyable one. The translation of tradition material into an electric folk rock context is expertly judged, with none of the awkwardness which can occasionally come with such exercises, ably fulfilling Ashley Hutchings' goal of exploring traditional British folk to a greater extent than Fairport Convention were willing to do. Hutchings' apprenticeship in the Convention is put to good use here, with his assembled recruits all turning in excellent performances - the recruitment of Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, whose prior career as a duo had demonstrated their own knack for traditional folk material, is a particular coup and their vocals here are a particular treat.

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 Cogs, Wheels & Lovers by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 2009
2.94 | 7 ratings

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Cogs, Wheels & Lovers
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by DrömmarenAdrian

3 stars "Cogs, Wheels and Lovers" is Steeleye Span's twentieth studio record and they still do nice folk rock which sounds a bit like their golden days of the seventies. Well the music doesn't have the same egg or sharpeness in instrumentation but Maddy Prior's voice is still great and the melodies are sweeping. "Cogs, wheels and lovers" came four years ago 2009, 39 years after their debut "Hark! The Village Wait" and now the musicians of Steeleye Span are: Maddy Prior(lead vocals), Rick Kemp(bass, vocals), Peter Knight(violin, vocals), Ken Nicol(guitar, vocals) and Liam Genockey(drums and percussion). Unfortunately Tim Hart died in the same year but he hadn't been a member since 1980.

What's most obvious from the beginning is Maddy Prior's voice that is still beautiful, little darker than in old days, not as sharpe but on the other hand it's more mature now. The best songs here are "The Machiners' Song", almost the title track with weird machine sounds and a playful melody and good bass line, spiced with great song and harmonies. If something is little progressive on this disc, it may be that song. "Locks and Bolts" has a dark tune with fine violin work and "Just as the Tide" has an interesting lyrical approach and nice melody. In "Our Captain Cried" Steeleye Span reuses a bit of the melody of "Fighting for strangers" (from "Rocket Cottage"), this song is good but perhaps too soft. "Two constant lovers" is tho only song with male lead vocals and that is a pity they are so few. The lyrics are mournful and beauteous but I lack the edge in melody and instrumentation. "Madam Will You Walk" is little rockier and has a dashing approach which I like. The other songs are little uninteresting but still they have MP's great voice. What I lack here, what was present formerly was a little mor stumbling instrumentation, with a dominant bass and little more originality. This is some ways too soft and coherent, perhaps this listening was too easy for my taste. But consider this is the bands 20th disc, almost fourty years after the band's debut, then it's amazing they still do good music. This is nice but if you haven't heard Steeleye Span I rather recommend "Below the Salt", "Parcel of Rogues" and "Please to See the King" than this.

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 Hark ! the Village Wait by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 1970
3.81 | 36 ratings

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Hark ! the Village Wait
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by GruvanDahlman
Prog Reviewer

5 stars I really, really love the british folk rock of the early 70's. Being a sucker for all things british I can't help but being totally under the spell of music such as this. It fills my body and soul with such energy and tranquility, sense of history and existence it is hard to describe in words.

"Hark!..." is probably one of my all time favorites, a constant member of my top5 when speaking folk. It is simply outstanding. The material, the vocals and the intrumentation is classic and truly magnificent. There is a questionable quality to the audio, sometimes, but in some weird way it oly adds to the value of the music. I think that the murkyness enhances the experience. Maybe that's just the case if you, like me, love the music behind the fuzzy veil.

There are beauty and there's grimness, tragedy and sorrow on here. My favorite tracks HAS to be "Dark-eyed sailor" and "The blacksmith". Actually, the latter I've heard in several renditions but none matches the crude brilliance of Steeleye Span's version.

For some Steeleye Span came to their fore on later albums but I beg to differ. This is their finest hour and what an hour it is. It is not so that later albums lacks in charm or quality. No, that is not what I mean. All I am saying is that this is inspiration through divine intervention. Apart from being partial to the British isles I am also partial to history and listening to "Hark!..." I get the sense of ability to transport myself through time and space, absorbing history and music in one stroke.

"Hark!..." has not left my Ipod for the last couple of years and brings the same smile to my face now, listening to it as I write, as the first time I heard it way back. Alongside Fairports "Liege & Lief", Barry Dransfield's first solo album, John Martyn's "Solid air" (for it's amazingly progressive rendition of the folk prog genre) and Pentangle's "Basket of light" this first album of Steeleye Span ranks as THE folk album one must have if you are at all interested in the genre.

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 Commoner's Crown by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.12 | 23 ratings

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Commoner's Crown
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer

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.

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 All Around My Hat by STEELEYE SPAN album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.13 | 25 ratings

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All Around My Hat
Steeleye Span Prog Related

Review by Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 9.5/15P. After the symphonic folk grandeur of the previous two albums Steeleye Span abstract the through-and-through folk material even more, at least on about one half of the tunes. But this time it frequently sounds quite much like children's music. If you want to inure your small children to folk rock, however, go for it!

After the pretty atmospheric art rock/folk rock melange of the previous two albums with full-time drummer Nigel Pegrum, Steeleye Span decided to intensify their approach of implanting folk melodies into self-penned (art) pop songs even more. The critics weren't as deeply impressed as in the case of, for example, Please To See The King, but I do think that there's still a good bunch of fine songs on this album, some of them even able to compete against the immaculate side A of Commoner's Crown. Notwithstanding, some of the through-and-through pop numbers tend to become a bit boring after a while, even though even some of these songs include some little specialities - in their lyrics, in their rhythm or in their arrangement - which keep me from skipping them.

The fairytale-like song Dance With Me, which - without Maddy Prior's vocals - wouldn't be out of place on Caravan's Cunning Stunts, begins in a really sublime way with a classically inspired variation of the chorus harmonies, played by two electric guitars; like quite a lot of bands in 1975 Steeleye Span had also discovered the Uni-Vibe chorus/vibrato device and use it to quite a good effect on this album. But then Nigel Pegrum jumps into a pretty stupid shuffle rhythm, and for the rest of the piece the estrangement of this song from its folk roots happens to be a few tads too acute for me. Neither the more or less featureless fiddle solo nor the uninspired backing vocals really grade the whole thing up considerably. Nonetheless I must admit that this ultra-jolly song has a sort of morbid humor to it because of its pretty awkward story. The girl who wants a knight to dance with her is, in fact, an elf princess who - in a carrot-and-stickish manner - pampers the knight before announcing she will curse him to death. This song originally stems from Denmark, and - indeed - this is the country which a really popular German ballad comes from: Der Erlkoenig ('The Elfin King') by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In Goethe's ballad a feverish boy is taken home on horseback by his father, and meanwhile he hallucinates about an elfin king who frightens the child with announcements of both caress and death; in the end, the child dies - contrary to the knight in Dance With Me whose fate remains dubious. So at least, the irony of this ridiculously huge contrast between music and lyrics keeps me interested - as well as the lyrics which are, without doubt, more profound than most of the songs which sound similar.

Hard Times Of Old England really makes me wonder how the band made such an arrangement of a song which, for instance, the all-acoustic Etchingham Steam Band (around Ashley Hutchings and Shirley Collins) in a diametrically different way one year earlier. Again there's the straightforward shuffle rhythm, but this time there's no weird story which could re-define the meaning of the recording. All in all this 5-minutes-plus track is just too long, and apart from a brief pseudo guitar solo the band just tries hard to get all the stanzas together (and, again and again, the chorus). And the brief guitar solo lacks the blazing lead playing of, for instance, Richard Thompson. Steeleye Span had great guitarists (Bob Johnson on Seven Hundred Elves was pretty cool and avant-garde), but none who could play well on top of a rock'n'roll groove; this solo is actually some slight deviation from the rhythm guitar track. I skip this track.

Gamble Gold continues this children's music attitude - most authentically with Nigel Pegrum providing the hook of the song, a really simple melody, on three recorders in an accurate music school fashion. Overall this is pretty dull and cliche-laden, and representative of the way how I don't like folk to be - too much pop and too few inspiration. I even liked the tongue-in-cheek St.Eleye choir stuff from Now We Are Six much more since it had some jolly humor and some kind of atmosphere. This is basically pop - in spite of some nice academic little twists, such as the 3/8-chorus interspersed in the 4/4 song.

All Around My Hat, another rock'n'roll shuffle thing, is on a different level; it's a pretty crude combination of two different folk songs, one of them apparently also used by the Irish as some kind of a protest song in the British-Irish civil war. You actually don't notice that these are two different songs stuck together, and you don't notice any political connotations either - neither one was conceived as a political song, anyway. Although it's got the very same rhythm as Hard Times Of Old England, the catchy and 100% positive chorus give it a charm which is hard to resist. Maddy Prior's lead vocals in the verses, on top of the tight shuffle, are filled with Prior's trademark vocal glissandos and some snotty accentuation which I always liked a lot. There are simply not too many folk singers who deliberately 'jump off' the basic vocal melody, just in order to slide to the correct note from, let's say, four half-tones below. And, to lighten things up even more, Nigel Pegrum can be heard playing some recorder counterpoints very low in the mix - and of course one shouldn't forget the clever mandolin/fiddle-unisono adaptation of sort of a Scottish jig coming in at about two thirds of the song. That's art pop of a different type - inspired music providing fun for both the analytic and the more immediate listeners.

Sum Waves is, apart from some low notes which are seemingly vocal drones, an instrumental piece of Scottish origin, given a faintly bluesy treatment. Maddy Prior states in the liner notes that the band intended to abandon a clear melody in favor of atmosphere and drone. Especially via headphones this approach sounds quite interesting indeed, although there are many folk songs - including Steeleye Span recordings (Saucy Sailor, for instance) - which get into those Scottish/hypnotic/ambience realms even more. The multi-tracked violins and the deep vocal drones, however, are impressing, and the sedate bluesy rhythm is something you don't find too often in this context.

But Steeleye Span were able to force the whole matter further up with a set of four songs which I like even more than the previously mentioned songs. The Wife Of Ushers Well, a relic from the Now We Are Six sessions, for instance, is an amazingly good piece of folk rock. Dense riffs, mighty harmony vocals and enough little rhythmic twists overall, most probably brought in by drummer Nigel Pegrum, to keep the listener entertained. Tim Hart, along with Maddy Prior the only original folk musician in the band, takes the lead vocals in the quiet narrative stanzas - surrounded by Nigel Pegrum's multi-instrumental work on flute and oboe which really proves that the collaboration of the two proficient arrangers Peter Knight and Nigel Pegrum was a real fruitful one. The anthemic chorus, sung by Prior, Knight, Hart, Kemp and Johnson to Pegrum's quick hi-hat 16ths, brings the music back to its British roots and make this track the only genuine 5-star moment on this album. Interestingly, parts of the chorus share melodies with a beautiful song Maddy Prior and Tim Hart already performed in 1968 as a duo, The Gardener, which in turn also appears under the name Proud Maisrie. The complete duo work by Hart & Prior has been collected on an inexpensive 2CD set called Heyday - essential listening for friends of British folk!

Black Jack Davy and Cadgwith Anthem, however, come pretty close. Black Jack Davy, a song with both a history in America and Great Britain, ties in well with the sound of the previous Commoner's Crown album, but adds a string arrangement by Mike Batt, who also produced the album. I'm not a definite fan of Mike Batt's AOR solo material, but songs like The Ride to Agadir and Winds of Change feature the handwriting of a songwriter and arranger with an independent style, a distinct voice and an ability to record songs which are bombastic, but rarely embarrasing. His string arrangements are pretty similar: they do have a certain Victorian pomp, but I never really cared if they are (or aren't) inappropiate to this kind of music. They blend in fine and add to the atmosphere - and, most importantly they get along extremely well with Pete Knight's classically influenced fiddle playing and Nigel Pegrum's oboe counterpoints. Maddy Priors sings lead in the verses, and the male choir of Hart, Johnson, Kemp and Knight takes the pre-chorus and chorus. Especially the pre-chorus is really powerful, and - comparing this recording with other renderings of the song - Steeleye Span have added quite a lot of original ideas to a song. Re-arranging a folk song in a convincing way, contrary to what some critics say, definitely does require a songwriting skill, even if one mostly works with songs which already exist. And it needs a certain 'historical' commitment, as well, which makes working in this genre a really different, but interesting task.

The Cadgwith Anthem brought me - who originally comes from Bavaria (Germany) - memories of the kind of the authentic Bavarian traditional music. Sadly, this area of Germany is widely (and incorrectly) known as the mere capital of beer, pretzels and a particularly slimy deviation of folk music, including yodeling on plastic europop rhythms. Both the Cadgwith Anthem, which deals with a small town in Cornwall, and many Bavarian folk songs share the close connection of music to human settlements, elaborate harmony vocals and the tender homophonous brass pads (trombone/horn/trumpet). All in all, the relation between the Bavarian music and the music of the Scottish Highlands people would be even bigger, but this comes pretty close. (If you get that special emotional connection to this kind of music as well, and if you're interested in music of different ethnic cultures, I can highly recommend you check out the album Tiroler Kirchtagmusig by the Inntaler Saenger, which is basically authentic Alpine folk music.)

For the lengthy album closer Batchelors Hall Tim Hart uses his electric dulcimer again, enveloping the listener in the gentle drone of this fine instrument. The song might remind you of American country music - and if it does, it doesn't without reason: it's in fact a rare Steeleye Span arrangement of an American folk song. Bassist Rick Kemp, previously destined to be the successor of Gordon Haskell in King Crimson in 1971, sings the lead vocals here and gives the song a tight, gritty mood. Furthermore I'd like to mention the beautiful fiddle solos by Pete Knight which have that special broken-hearted feel of the real good American country fiddlers, such as Byron Berline. Sadly, the first chorus - again with the huge string arrangements in the background - gets a bit too sweet to fit in with the biting lament of the verse. The second one works out fine because the band gradually build up more layers of sound after the first chorus; hence, the change to the second chorus is more fluid.

Taken together it's hard to decline that this album ain't flawed. But in its best moments it still shows a band with a distinct vision and sound, and a healthy balance of pop professionalism (mostly in the arrangements) and atmosphere. Even though all the preceding Steeleye Span albums are more captivating than this one, I can thoroughly recommend this to folk rock lovers - especially in the context of the affordable A Parcel of Steeleye Span compilation which includes the complete five Steeleye Span albums between 1972 and 1975, plus four bonus tracks.

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