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Steeleye Span - Storm Force Ten CD (album) cover


Steeleye Span


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3.45 | 19 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Out with the fiddle, in with the accordion, and the return of a legend

Having held together for what was in Steeleye Span terms an eternity, the classic line up of the band finally came to an end in 1977 with the departure of Bob Johnson and Peter Knight. The two had initially been granted leave by the record company to work on a side project, but they simply did not return. Most significantly, this meant that the band were without a fiddle player for the first time since their debut.

On the plus side, the surprise return of the great Martin Carthy filled the lead guitar position perfectly. Carthy brought with him accordionist John Kirkpatrick, whom Carthy had unsuccessfully tried to introduce to the band when he had joined previously. It seems it was always recognised however that Carthy and Kilpatrick's participation in the band would be a temporary one.

The title refers in part at least to this being the band's tenth album. "Storm force ten" actually includes some fine prog folk material, including the wonderful 8 minute "The victory". This was in many ways one in the eye for those who abandoned the band as a result of "All around my hat", reassuring the faithful that Steeleye Span were still quite capable of complex arrangements, excellent instrumentation and outstanding vocal harmonies. "The victory" contains all of these in bucket loads, and must surely rate as the band's most under appreciated song.

Elsewhere on side one of the album, we have the slower but equally striking opener "Awake awake" and a couple the light vocal tracks "Sweep, Chimney Sweep" and "The Wife of the Soldier". "The Wife of the Soldier" and "The Black Freighter [From The Threepenny Opera]" are interesting as they are not traditional pieces but poems by early 20th century writer Bertolt Brecht set to music by Patrick John Scott and Kurt Weill respectively. Being extracted from a bona fide opera, "The black freighter" sounds rather different to the usual Steeleye Span fare. The presence of accordion and Maddy Prior's vocal style still offer a connection with folk, but there is no denying the operatic nature of the material.

"Some rival" is the most orthodox song here, Maddy delivering the simple melody through a beautiful vocal performance, accompanied by acoustic guitars. The multi-track harmonisation of Maddy voice and a peaceful flute solo only add to the appeal of this very old folk song. "Treadmill song" describes a device used in prisons as a form of punishment in the 19th century. The rhythm reflects the drudgery of walking upon the treadmill for hours on end, with drum raps suggesting the occasion flick of the whip to suppress any slacking. The album closes with " Seventeen Come Sunday", a song based on writings by Scottish poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns. This is as close as we get to a jig on the album, Kilpatrick's accordion playing being jaunty and spirited. The song tells the tale of a one night stand, the soldier deciding that "The fife and drum is my delight".

The constant presence of accordion in place of fiddle immediately gives this album a different flavour, even when the material is similar to that on previous albums. The ambitious nature of some of the tracks, the inclusion of the sublime "The victory" and the cod operatic "The black freighter" offer concrete reassurance that the band are not prepared to simply sit on their laurels, but are keen to continue to develop their music.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |


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