Tag Archives: Steeleye Span

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.