Songs You May Have Missed #718

Maddy Prior: “Gutter Geese” (1978)

From Maddy Prior’s 1978 Ian Anderson-produced solo album Woman in the Wings comes this cheery Britfolk-flavoured ditty.

And yes, that’s Ian Anderson taking the flute solo here, making the instrumental bit sound very much like a Songs From the Wood-era Jethro Tull outtake–and that’s a good thing indeed.

If Maddy’s distinctive voice and Olde English folk sound appeal to you but you’ve never heard Steeleye Span, the links below will turn the key to a whole new world for you.

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2013/05/08/recommended-albums-47/

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2012/10/18/songs-you-may-have-missed-200/

Some Important Observations On Steeleye Span, Experiments In Folk Rock And Cows

(via The ARTery) uly 20, 2015 by Chris Braiotta

I want to talk to you about what it means to experiment. Let’s begin with the following sentence: “We did try a reggae ‘Spotted Cow’ and we weren’t terribly convinced by it, so we stopped doing it.”

You’ll be needing a little context for that. “Spotted Cow” is a song from around 1740. It’s about a woman who’s lost her cow. She complains about it to this guy she runs into. He’s like, “Lady, I am game to help you find your cow. Let us do this.” They go off to a field to find it. Obvious place to start, right? Before long … well, you know how fields are. Sexiest thing in nature. So they decide to do what comes naturally to a man and a woman in a field, which isn’t really looking for cows. From then on, whenever the lady’s looking for a bit of you-know-what, she finds some guy and tells him about her cow.

The speaker of that sentence was Maddy Prior, singer of the great English folk-rock band Steeleye Span. This is a band that she’s led since 1969.

So, to sum up: ‘70s English folk-rock band, cow used as cover story for Georgian booty call. And then: reggae.

“When you’re experimenting with things they can’t all be winners,” she says. “I’m pleased that we tried things.”

I don’t care how “out there” you think your favorite band is. This is what it means to be fearless. This is what experimenting is…

Read more: Some Important Observations On Steeleye Span, Experiments In Folk Rock And Cows | The ARTery (wbur.org)

See also: Recommended Albums #47 | Every Moment Has A Song (edcyphers.com)

See also: Songs You May Have Missed #200 | Every Moment Has A Song (edcyphers.com)

Some Important Observations On Steeleye Span, Experiments In Folk Rock And Cows

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(via 90.9 wbur in Boston)

I want to talk to you about what it means to experiment. Let’s begin with the following sentence: “We did try a reggae ‘Spotted Cow’ and we weren’t terribly convinced by it, so we stopped doing it.”

You’ll be needing a little context for that. “Spotted Cow” is a song from around 1740. It’s about a woman who’s lost her cow. She complains about it to this guy she runs into. He’s like, “Lady, I am game to help you find your cow. Let us do this.” They go off to a field to find it. Obvious place to start, right? Before long … well, you know how fields are. Sexiest thing in nature. So they decide to do what comes naturally to a man and a woman in a field, which isn’t really looking for cows. From then on, whenever the lady’s looking for a bit of you-know-what, she finds some guy and tells him about her cow.

The speaker of that sentence was Maddy Prior, singer of the great English folk-rock band Steeleye Span. This is a band that she’s led since 1969, and they’re playing on July 24 at Johnny D’s in Somerville.

So, to sum up: ‘70s English folk-rock band, cow used as cover story for Georgian booty call. And then: reggae.

“When you’re experimenting with things they can’t all be winners,” she says. “I’m pleased that we tried things.”

Read more: http://artery.wbur.org/2015/07/20/steeleye-span

Recommended Albums #47

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Steeleye Span: All Around My Hat (1975)

First, a point of clarification: The similarity in name to American jazz rock band Steely Dan is purely coincidental. British folk rockers Steeleye Span, who formed three years earlier in 1969, took their name from a character in an English folk song, “Horkstow Grange”–a song they oddly never got around to recording until 1998.

Unfortunately Steeleye Span’s finest album was blighted with what is unquestionably their worst album cover, especially given the fact that their previous record, Commoner’s Crown, was graced by a stunner of a cover featuring an exquisite sculpture of a crown comprised of hundreds of tiny human figures.

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If the cover of All Around My Hat was also artistic it was so in a more abstract way. As the CD reissue’s liner notes insufficiently explain, the idea was that the album’s cover “…was designed to be viewed through three small holes cut in the inner sleeve which had to be held at a particular angle, or something like that, but it simply didn’t work, and looks as if the group were photographed in distorting mirrors at a fairground.” Okay then. Enough about the cover I think.

Steeleye Span were one of two main progenitors of 70’s British folk rock, with the other being Fairport Convention. Fairport, initially at least, had a bit more of a diversity of influences: they covered artists such as Dylan and Joni Mitchell on early albums. They also boasted a more distinguished pedigree in that their early lineup included immortal songbird (and ex-Strawb) Sandy Denny as well as a fast-emerging legend in teenage guitarist/songwriter Richard Thompson.

But while the consensus seems to be that Fairport were the more influential and “important” band, Steeleye Span’s music more often hewed close to traditional English folk song, and made for more consistently enjoyable listening. And where Fairport lost steam very early on as key members departed, Span’s work arced upward both artistically and commercially over their first eight albums, culminating with 1975’s high water mark, All Around My Hat.

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There was never any confusing Steeleye Span’s–or indeed Fairport’s–intentions. As Richard Thompson explained in a recent interview in Prog magazine, “Prog rock was usually more classical-influenced–these were people who studied classical music and took it into the rock arena, with a harmonically intricate style. With Fairport, we couldn’t think of anything more radical to do than electrifying British roots music.”

This electrification of the country’s indigenous music had a parallel of course to what Dylan and The Band had been doing in America. And in England, Fairport and Steeleye Span weren’t the only artists of the time delving into collections of centuries-old murder ballads and presenting them to a new generation. Artists such as Bert Jansch and Pentangle did the same. But there was a sharp divide between the relative purism of those coffeehouse acoustic acts and the full-on electrification of Steeleye Span’s true folk/rock hybrid. The band re-worked ancient material in ways that people raised on contemporary rock music would find appealing. They augmented rock music’s traditional guitar/bass/drum sound with appropriately folksy mandolins, fiddles, accordions, recorders and the like for a bit of period flavor. But they were a rock band–one who could win over arena-sized crowds on tours supporting acts such as Jethro Tull.

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If modernizing was indeed compromising, well–the band’s ascension from the coffeehouses to the arenas proved the validity of their instincts.

Steeleye Span were titans of a pioneering genre, and incalculably influential. Without the bands who first “plugged in” to modernize music of antiquity in England, it’s difficult to say if Ireland’s Pogues would even have come into being in the mid-80’s, which means no one to pave the way for bands like Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys and others today.

And they did so much more than plug in: effects pedals, stereo panning, Genesis-like instrument doubling, even avant-garde experimentation were part of their kitchen-sink approach (one of their songs features a chorus sung in two keys simultaneously, for example). And the ace up their sleeve was the multipart harmonies that make a capella breaks–and entire songs–highlights of their albums, and a band trademark (see “Cadgwith Anthem” below). These “folks” carried a big toolbox to work.

All Around My Hat charted for five months in the UK, peaking in the top ten and even spawning a top 5 hit single with its title track. Respected producer Mike Batt and engineer Geoff Emerick (a name familiar to Beatles fans) not only achieved a sound superior to that of the band’s previous work, but created at appropriate times a dramatic tension befitting the weighty bearing of the centuries-old lyrics.

It’s straightaway apparent from the first bars of “Black Jack Davey”, when a heavily-reverbed backbeat is augmented by castanets and shivering strings to set a stirring scene. Then the voice of the queen of British folk herself, Maddy Prior, alternates with band harmonies in the chorus of a song that perfectly sums up the band’s template. If you don’t like this song, you need listen no further.

But if you do, a rich trove of similar pleasures awaits.

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Listen to: “Black Jack Davey”

 

Listen to: “All Around My Hat”

 

Listen to: “The Wife of Usher’s Well”

 

Listen to: “Gamble Gold (Robin Hood)”

 

Listen to: “Cadgwith Anthem”

 

Listen to: “Hard Times of Old England”

 

Listen to: “Bachelor’s Hall”

 

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2012/10/18/songs-you-may-have-missed-200/

Songs You May Have Missed #200

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Steeleye Span: “Marigold/Harvest Home” (1980)

My two favorite songs of the Autumn season happen to fall (yes, fall) at numbers 100 and 200 in this series of posts. And in fact, they are two of my favorite songs, period. British folk rock legends Steeleye Span and the great Maddy Prior evoked the melancholy of the season beautifully in this medley from their 1980 reunion album, Sails of Silver.

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If you want the mood to last, listen to it along with #100 “Autumn” by Strawbs:

You’ll be ready to go outside and…harvest something. Or just cozy up with some warm cider by the fire and watch the Yankees get knocked out of the playoffs. God our maker doth provide indeed.

When the marigold no longer blooms
When summer sun is turned to gloom
See the forecast winter snow
See the evergreen that lonely grows
Move close to the fire place
Neglect the garden
See the ground harden
At a ghostly pace

The golden summer sun is silver now
The fruit has fallen from the bough
The season moves to chestnut time
Toffee apples, treacle and mulled wine
Quilts and furs and woolens gay
You wrap around you
But the cold confounds you
On an autumn day

Stout and strong the walls of home and hearth
The curtains drawn against the draft
The rake has reaped, the blade has mown
Nights draw in to call the harvest home
The quiet of a heart at rest
In peace abounded
By love surrounded
Here the home is blessed

Come, ye thankful people, come
Raise the song of harvest home
All be safely gathered in
‘Ere the winter storms begin
God, our maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied
Come, ye thankful people, come
Raise the song of harvest home
Raise the song of harvest home

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2013/05/08/recommended-albums-47/

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