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Steeleye Span: Portfolio
Chrysalis CNW 7 (2 LP, UK, October 1988)
Note: On the LP cover, the track Prince Charlie Stuart is misspelled as Prince Charlie Stewart.
The Chrysalis and Shanachie double LPs have twenty tracks:
|Side 1||Side 2|
|Side 3||Side 4|
#1 was originally released on
Hark! The Village Wait
#2 and 3 were originally released on Please to See the King
#4 and 5 were originally released on Below the Salt
#6 was originally released on Parcel of Rogues
#7 was originally released on Now We Are Six
#8 and 9 were originally released on Commoners Crown
#10 and 11 were originally released on All Around My Hat
#12 and 15 were originally released on Rocket Cottage
#13 and 14 were originally released on Storm Force Ten
#16 and 17 were originally released on Sails of Silver
#18-20 were originally released on Back in Line
Both CDs, however, miss four of the LP tracks (Prince Charlie Stuart, Long Lankin, The Black Freighter and Gone to America) and therefore have only sixteen tracks:
- Dark-Eyed Sailor (Roud 265; Laws N35; G/D 5:1037; Henry H232) (5.57)
- Boys of Bedlam (4.18)
- Gaudete (2.22)
- Saucy Sailor (Roud 531; Laws K38; G/D 1:49) (5.46)
- Alison Gross (Roud 3212; Child 35) (5.22)
- Thomas the Rhymer (Roud 219; Child 37) (3.13)
- New York Girls (Roud 486) (3.00)
- All Around My Hat (Roud 22518) (4.07)
- Black Jack Davy (Roud 1; Child 200; G/D 2:278; Henry H124) (4.15)
- Fighting for Strangers (4.18)
- The Victory (Roud 2278) (8.33)
- Sligo Maid (3.42)
- Let Her Go Down (3.33)
- Edward (Roud 200; Child 13; TYG 35) (6.15)
- White Man (4.36)
- A Canon by Telemann (1.39)
As far as traditional British music is concerned Steeleye Span are not the real McCoy and they have never pretended to be. Traditional British songs were unaccompanied and harmony was seldom used; as they have pointed out using Spanish guitars and American banjos to accompany the songs is as anachronistic as using electric instruments.
Their avowed intent was to take the music they loved and present it to their contemporaries in a form that they could relate to and enjoy. The `folk boom' of the sixties was over and the declining folk clubs were increasingly playing to the converted while the majority of the music loving public had no access to, or awareness of their musical heritage.
A touch of evangelism was called for and it was Steeleye Span's raison d'être to take up the torch and lead the way. They adapted, arranged, collated and in many instances re-wrote the songs but they always managed to retain the traditional essence which gave their music its distinctive appeal, and inject a sense of irreverent fun that would not have been tolerated in the stuffy folk clubs.
It did however take a while to get off the ground. The first incarnation of Steeleye Span, formed at the end of 1969 and consisting of Maddy Prior (vocals), Tim Hart (vocals, guitar, dulcimer), Ashley Hutchings (bass), Terry Woods (vocals, guitar, banjo) and his wife Gay (vocals, concertina), just managed to finish recording Hark! The Village Wait for RCA before Terry and Gay left. They were replaced by the highly respected Martin Carthy (vocals, guitar) who had already strongly influenced the music of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, and Peter Knight (violin, mandolin). This line-up recorded Please to See the King and Ten Man Mop for B&C before Martin and Ashley left and brought to an end the `electric-folk' era of Steeleye Span. Up to this point they had been acoustic musicians experimenting with electric instruments but the new members Robert Johnson (vocals, guitar) and Rick Kemp (bass) were experienced rock musicians and with their influence Steeleye Span the `folk-rock' band was born and they signed for the newly formed Chrysalis Records in 1972. Any doubts that the pundits may have had about this change of direction were quickly dispelled by the release of Below the Salt which contained their first hit, the unaccompanied Latin chant Gaudete and the classic Saucy Sailor. This was the first of their many albums to go gold and marked their accession to the main-stream of popular music. From here on the music industry began to take them seriously and they embarked on their first American tour.
At the end of 1972 they returned to the UK to record Parcel of Rogues including the track Alison Gross, a ballad exemplifying the dramatic power of electric instrumentation, and realised during the recording that one of their distinguishing features, the fact that they didn't have a drummer, had become a handicap. On the advice of NME's Charles Shaar Murray they added Nigel Pegrum (drums, flute, oboe) to their ranks and became a six piece band. To celebrate this event they fittingly called their sixth album Now We Are Six. It was produced by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson and included a guest appearance by David Bowie on saxophone and the outstanding track Thomas the Rhymer which more than justified Nigel's recruitment.
Their next album, Commoners Crown was produced by the band with Robin Black and featured a guest appearance by Peter Sellers playing ukulele on the shanty New York Girls, and the beautiful ballad Long Lankin. But it also marked the end of an era for Steeleye Span.
Having added Australasia and Europe to their touring itinerary they had worked without a break for four years and the strain was starting to show. They parted company with their manager Jo Lustig and for a while the music press was rife with rumours that the band had split up.
Instead Steeleye Span once more did the unexpected. They appointed Tony Secunda, who had previously managed The Moody Blues and T Rex among others, as their manager and invited Mike Batt of The Wombles fame to produce their next album. The result of this unlikely marriage was the hugely successful All Around My Hat and by Christmas 1975 the album and the single of the same name were in the Top 5 and Steeleye Span were a household name.
The next album Rocket Cottage, again produced by Mike Batt and recorded in Holland for tax reasons, included the eerily powerful anti-war song Fighting for Strangers and a furious version of the Irish tune Sligo Maid. By this time the band really needed a long break but when it came time to get together again Peter Knight and Robert Johnson decided instead to leave. To the surprise of many Martin Carthy rejoined the band and with him he brought John Kirkpatrick (vocals, button accordion, concertina) which resulted in a much more folk sounding band and an almost completely new repertoire. They recorded two albums, Storm Force Ten which included Rick Kemp's song about the battle of Trafalgar, The Victory, and the live album Live At Last, from which comes the Brecht/Weill classic The Black Freighter. This line-up, which was originally formed to fulfil a few months gigs, eventually disbanded at the end of 1978.
For two years Steeleye Span ceased to exist but in 1980, at the request of Chrysalis Records they reformed the line-up of Maddy Prior, Tim Hart, Peter Knight, Robert Johnson and Nigel Pegrum and with Elton John's producer Gus Dudgeon at the helm recorded Sails of Silver, a selection of self written songs including Peter Knight's Let Her Go Down and Gone to America. At the end of 1982 Tim Hart left but the band continued to work as a five piece and in 1987 release the album Back in Line on their own Flutterby label.
But the impact of Steeleye Span was far greater than the sum of their albums and concerts. Their success at home and especially abroad made British musicians of all persuasions aware of the relevance and importance of their musical heritage. And, to a far greater degree than they could ever have hoped for when they first formed the band, they took traditional British music out of the folk clubs and gave it a permanent place on the rock music stages of the world.
Tim Hart, 1988