Tag Archives: Maddy Prior

Hark! The Village Wait

20 Oct


From 1970 comes the debut recording of Steeleye Span. My vinyl copy is on the original RCA label but my CD is  a 1991 re-issue on the Mooncrest label (CRESTCD 003) with a different cover to the one shown here but a helpful sleevenote by John Tobler.

Formed by bass player Ashley Hutchings after he’d left Fairport Convention, the rest of the original line-up (which split-up pretty much on completing this recording and never toured) comprised two duos: From England these were Maddy Prior and the late Tim Hart (who’d made a couple of acoustic folk albums) and, from Ireland, Terry Woods (lately of Sweeney’s Men) and his wife Gay Woods.  This line-up lacked a drummer (a bit of shortcoming if the project was to make a folk-rock album) so they used two guests to fill-in as required – Dave Mattacks and Gerry Conway – hardly a surprise to anyone familiar with this genre!

There are twelve tracks, all credited to ‘traditional’ (although the opening ‘A Calling-On Song’ was adapted by Hutchings and the lyrics to ‘Fisherman’s Wife’ are by Ewan MacColl). And the sound is much, much, ‘folkier’ than Mr Hutchings’ previous  recording (Fairport’s ‘Liege and Lief’) with banjo and dulcimer high in the mix.

Although some sound very much ‘of their time’, this is a remarkable album – rather unlike anything else, including most of Steeleye’s subsequent recordings (indeed the band’s second album included a totally different version of track two ‘The Blacksmith’).

The standout tracks for me are track three (‘Fisherman’s Wife’) driven by Gay Woods’ autoharp and combining the two women’s voices really well; track five,  ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’ (same mix of voices plus Gay Woods’ concertina) which was adapted pretty much straight by June Tabor and the Oyster Band (see this blog 13 October) ; and track 10 (‘Lowlands of Holland’) which benefits from great drumming by Dave Mattacks.

The rest aren’t bad either: (Richard Thompson borrowed the version of ‘Blackleg Miner’ for his ‘1,000 Years of Popular Music’ project and Maddy Prior’s vocal on ‘All Things Are Quite Silent’, which has a great rock rhythm section backing courtesy of Hutchings and Conway) is outstanding.

If you’re too young not to have been there first time round, I’d urge you to track this down – especially if you only know Steeleye Span through their pop-influenced period. This was a different band, a more delicate sound and great music.


It’s Jack the Lad!

24 Aug


From 1973, and originally issued on Charisma Records, this was the first of four albums by Jack the Lad, a spin-off  involving past and future members of the British band Lindisfarne (see the first entry in this blog).  The CD I have contains two additional tracks (the A and B sides of the first single) and is on Virgin  (CASCD1085).

I have immensely affectionate memories of this band – indeed, subconsciously, I rather suspect that their roots in England’s north east influenced my application to attend a university in the same region, and led to the three years I spent in Durham!

Jack the Lad was a stonkingly entertaining, good-time, live band and they toured regularly from their formation which coincided with when my parents started allowing me to go to gigs with friends!   I must have seen them six or seven times before I went to university. I can remember at one gig in High Wycombe, but the majority of these occasions were at Friars in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.  For a few years, this 800-capacity club had a good claim to have been one of the hottest venues in the UK – with an inspired, eclectic and open-minded booking policy (see the history on the legacy website http://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk ).

Anyway. In 1973, Lindisfarne had split up after their brilliantly successful second album (Fog on the Tyne) had not been matched by their third (the under-rated but disappointing Dingley Dell). The way this played out was that the band’s two front-men kept the name  but that other three members (Rod Clements, Ray Laidlaw and Simon Cowe) stayed on the same label with their new project (adding Billy Mitchell from Newcastle folk band, The Callies). Confusingly, all five of the ‘original’ Lindisfarne later re-united while Mitchell himself joined later incarnations of the parent band.

Despite the album cover which, with its banjo and fiddle, rather gave the impression that they were a country outfit (the band itself was said to prefer the back cover!), the sound is a mixture of sixties beat group crossed with electric British folk (with Mitchell’s banjo and Cowe’s mandolin giving it a lighter sound than the guitar-driven Fairport Convention of the same period).  It’s not a great album by any means – indeed one track (‘Rosalee’) is naff but half of it is very good indeed.

Bassist Rod Clements is a strong writer (hey, he’d written Lindisfarne’s first hit  ‘Meet Me On The Corner) and he contributes some good tracks including ‘Fast Lane Driver’ and ‘One More Dance’) but it’s some of Billy Mitchell’s that carry the album (‘Promised Land’ and the gentle ‘Turning into WInter’ especially).  Maddy Prior, vocalist from Steeleye Span guests on ‘Song Without A Band’ but the folkiest track – and the one I play most often is  ‘A Corny Pastiche ‘a medley of five traditional instrumentals.

The album never troubled the charts but  many people who went to live music in the pre-punk seventies will raise a glass to memories of Jack the Lad.

Airs and Graces

26 Apr


This is June Tabor‘s first album from 1976 on the Topic label with the artist looking somewhat haughty and stern on the cover!  This is a one serious record – giving no quarter and expecting none!

I think I’d read a couple of reviews of June’s performances (probably in Melody Maker) and I knew she’d recorded an album with Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span. Anyway,  when I saw she was playing the Kings Arms in Old Amersham (a couple of miles down the hill from where I lived), I decided to check her out.  I was however unable to convince anyone I knew to join me – so I went on my own.   It wasn’t my first folk concert – but it was my first experience of a grassroots folk club (complete with floor singers and a raffle) so I was rather glad that the pubs in those days were fairly relaxed about licencing laws.

The week after attending  the concert, I went and bought this album – and have  acquired not everything she’s issued since – but certainly a majority.

There are ten tracks – most of which are traditional and sung without accompaniment. The instrumentation, when it appears, consists of  Nic Jones on guitar and fiddle, Tony Hall on melodeon and Jon Gillaspie on keyboards – all tasteful and restrained but the whole thing is dominated by That Voice!

June Tabor is without doubt one of the most powerful, distinctive and awesome voices I’ve heard – ever since I experienced it back then in the seventies. Combine this with an astute choice of material throughout her career and every collection is a winner. It’s not ‘easy listening’ – actually it can be damn difficult listening but, like hearing Dick Gaughan, it’s rewarding to hear a consumate singer make the material their own through the power of their  interpretation.

So the highlights: Well, the first is Eric Bogle’s ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ is probably the outstanding track.  (June’s version may have been the first cover but certainly was the one that made people thing this song was traditional). Then there are also some genuine and powerful  trad songs (my favourites are  ‘While The Gamekeepers Are Sleeping’, ‘Plains of Waterloo’ and ‘Bonnie May’) . I always think of these first three tracks as June nailing her colours to the mast!

And finally the closer – ‘Pull Down Lads’ by John Tams – a wistful neo-trad track which made me notice Mr Tams whom I’d first seen in Derbyshire foursome Muckram Wakes but not registered and who I’d next encounter in the Albion Band. On this occasion though, his song closed a stunning debut which left me feeling rather shell-shocked. This was music a million miles from rock, pop or folk rock – it was a manifesto for The Singer and The Song.

I can’t say that I often listen to the other five tracks on this album – they are an acquired taste. In fact, I generally listen to them when someone else does a version – when more often than not, I realise that June Tabor’s version sets the bar for quality!