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Steeleye Span - Ten Man Mop, or Mr. Reservoir Butler Rides Again CD (album) cover


Steeleye Span


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3.11 | 37 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Jigs, reels and hey nonny nonny

Steeleye Span have developed a reputation over the years for being an ever changing group of players, the line up depending very much on who is around at the time. The line up which recorded the band's second album "Please to see the king" did however manage to remain intact long enough to record this album, but fundamental changes were made after its release.

The rather odd title needs to be taken in two unrelated parts. The "Ten man mop" part refers to an olden days job selection process, the "Mop" being the group of available employees. A ten man mop was a collection of just ten candidates. The "Mr. Reservoir Butler rides again" part refers to an obscure performer who, according to band member Tim Hart, originally sang one of the songs on the album (although he cannot recall which song). The band were so taken with his unusual name that they incorporated it into the album title.

"Ten man mop..." as a whole has more in common with the band's debut than with the second album, the electric guitar of Martin Cathy being less dominant this time around. Many of the songs have Irish origins, something which would contribute to the departure of founder Ashley Hutchings; not because he did not like the songs, but because his ambitions for the band had been rooted in English folk.

The opening "Gower Wassail" has something of a post-Sandy Denny Fairport Convention feel, as it features predominantly male vocal. The piece features strong lead guitar played by Martin Carthy, yet seems all the while to be an a-cappella rendition. The following pair of jigs continue the Fairport similarity, Peter Knight's violin playing mirroring that of Swarb. Such tracks emphasise the traditional roots of the music while offering a pleasing diversion from the songs. "Four nights drunk" is a straight duet between voice and fiddle for the most part, although the full band join in for the closing jig section.

The first chance Maddy Prior has to take centre stage is on the delightful ballad "When I was on horseback", a song which has a similar moribund feel to Fairport's "Bonny bunch of roses". Prior's vocals are superb here, drawing out the full beauty of the piece. "Marrowbones" is straight from the hey nonny nonny song book of folk, with little development or enhancement.

"Captain Coulston" reverts to the style of "When I was on horseback", Prior stepping up for only the second time to sing lead vocal. An undoubted highlight of the album, Maddy's vocal prowess is on full display on this track. Another batch of toe tapping jigs follows, the ending rather disappointingly being a far from traditional fade out. The brief "Wee weaver" finds Prior and Knight blending voice and violin with both taking the lead melody.

The album closes with "Skewball", the rather cryptic sleeve notes implying this is the name of a horse (the second favourite behind the legendary "Creeping Jane".. but as Carthy will testify, that's another story). The lyrics bear out the racing analogy, the song indeed being a sort of up-tempo "Creeping Jane". Here we find strong hints of the style Steeleye Span would adopt on subsequent albums.

Had the line up which made this album stayed together, this album would have been summed up as one of marking time. The music is highly enjoyable if taken in a folk context. We find little if anything of the prog folk influences which are apparent on other Steeleye Span albums, although the two ballad tracks do have a bit more of that meat to them.

The Castle Communications CD release has three versions of the out of character single "Rave on" added to the first disc plus a studio outtake called "General Taylor". The second disc has a complete concert by the band from 1971, recorded for the BBC's Radio 1. The recording quality is pretty awful, but it does capture this line up live and for that we should be grateful.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |


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