Wednesday, January 07, 2015

[record] Steeleye Span "The Best of Steeleye Span"

I have had this album for ages but only ripped it to iTunes recently; Rob Young's Electric Eden has rekindled my interest in all things related to English folk music. The compilation seems to have been released in 1984 and the songs are from between 1970 and 1980. They feature many of the Span's well-known folk rock tunes, like 'All Around My Hat' and 'Gaudete' (tunes that the author of Electric Eden dismisses as inconsequential tat). 'Gaudete' is an a capella tune sung in Latin, with vocal harmonies and stuff. I think it may involve god bothering. You may recall that Alan Partridge plays it in his car once to show off his sound system. After that it is all a bit more electric, with the voices of Maddy Prior and other band members being set against a rock accompaniment. Many of the tunes have Jacobite themes, which probably reflects the nature of the tradition.

One curiosity is the inclusion of a tune called 'Long Lankin', a variant of the same tune played by Alasdair Roberts on his Too Long in this Condition record. The strange thing is that I have had this Span record for what, 20 years, but have never noticed the gruesome lyrics of child murder and torture on this track, while they leaped out at me from the Roberts rendition (which uses a completely different tune and somewhat different words).

This record still leaves me with a slight sense of disappointment. There are some great tunes on it (all the ones mentioned so far, also 'Alison Gross', 'Thomas the Rhymer' and 'Cam Ye O'Er Frae France') but there does seem to be a fair bit of inconsequential filler on it. And it is clearly not the actual best of Steeleye Span, as another record of theirs I have features some truly great tracks not included here (e.g. 'The Boys of Bedlam' & 'Blackleg Miner'). I suspect record company issues.

image source (page on the record, from Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music

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