Steeleye Span

Band members               Related acts

- Martin Carthy -- vocals, guitar, keyboards (replaced 

  Gay and Gary Woods) (1970-78)
- Tim Hart -- vocals, guitar (1969-
- Ashley Hutchings -- bass (1969-
- Robert Johnson -- guitar (replaced Martin Carthy) (1972-)
- Rick Kemp -- bass, guitar (replaced Ashley Hutchings)

- John Kirpatrick -- vocals (1977-78)
- Peter Knight -- vocals, violin (1970-
- Nigel Pegrun -- drums (1974-
- Maddy Prior -- vocals (1969-
- Gay Woods -- vocals, percussion (1969-70)
- Terry Woods - vocals, guitar, mandolin (1969-70) 



- The Albion Band (Ashley Hutchings)
- Brass Monkeys (John Kirkpatrick)
- Fairport Convention
- Tim Hart (solo efforts)
- Martin Carthy (solo efforts)
- The Pogues
- Maddy Prior (solo efforts)
- Silly Sisters (Maddy Prior)
- The Woods Band (Gay and Terry Woods)


Genre: folk-rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Below the Salt

Company: Chrysalis

Catalog: CHR-1008

Year: 1972

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

GEMM Catalog ID: not yet listed

Price: $8.00


Recruiting accountant-cum guitarist Bob Johnson and bassist Rick Kemp to fill in vacancies, the reinvigorated band returned with 1972's "Below the Salt". Co-produced by the band and Jerry Boys, musically the album did little to tamper with their patented folk-rock oriented sound. Among the few notable changes, the band largely abandoned reworking traditional numbers in favor of group-penned originals. Also worth mentioning, "Spotted Cow" and "Royal Forester" (nice fuzz bass on the latter), were among their most rock oriented effort to date; Johnson and Kemp adding such much needed instrumental muscle to the mix. To our ears "Saucy Sailor" marked one of their prettiest melodies. In an interesting fluke, an accapella cover of a Latin hymn was released as a single and provided the group with an English hit ("Gaudette" b/w "The Holy and the Ivy"). Propelled by the single's success, the parent album just missed the English top-40. Too quirky for domestic audiences, in the States the LP vanished without a trace. If you want to start somewhere outside of a "best of" set, this is probably the LP to buy.  (The album was originally released with a gatefold sleeve.)

"Below the Salt" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Spotted Cow (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 3:01
2.) Rosebud In June (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 3:36
3.) Jigs - The Bride's Favorite/Tansey's Fancy (instrumental) (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 3:06
4.) Sheep-Crook and Black Dog (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 4:39

(side 2)

1.) Royal Forester (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 4:29
2.) King Henry (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 7:03
3.) Gaudette (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 2:21
4.) John Barleycorn (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 4:42
9.) Saucy Sailor (Tim Hart - Maddy Prior - Rick Kemp - Knight - Robert Johnson) - 5:45




Genre: folk-rock

Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  Steeleye Span Live at Last!

Company: Chrysalis

Catalog: CHR-1179

Year: 1978

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG

Comments: original inner sleeve; minor ring wear

Available: 1

GEMM catalog ID: 4469

Price: $10.00

Cost: $66.00


I'm quite fond of early Steeleye Span so was curious to hear this live set.


1978's "Steeleye Span Live At Last!" captured the band while touring in support of their recently released "Storm Force Ten" album.  Musically the set's a bit shaky, though much of that's probably attributable to the fact it was recorded in the wake of personnel upheavals that saw longstanding members Bob Johnson and Peter Knight replaced by lead guitarist Martin Carthy and singer/multi-instrumentalist John Kirkpatrick. The track line up is certainly surprising in that it avoids virtually all of the group's better known efforts.  There's still plenty of amplification, but tracks such as 'The Maid and the Palmer' and 'Hunting the Wren' are notable for their return to a more folk-oriented sound.  The album's also notable for some extremely flat and uninspired performances - the one notable exception being the weird cover of The Four Season's 'Rag Doll'.  


"Steeleye Span Live At Last!" track listing:

(side 1)

1.)The Atholl Highlanders/Walter Bulwer's Polka (instrumental)   (traditional) - 5:07

2.) Saucy Sailor/BlackFreighter   (Brecht - Weill) - 9:50

3.) The Maid and the Palmer   (traditional) - 6:37

4.) Hunting the Wren    (traditional) - 3:08


(side 2)

1.) Montrose   (traditional) - 15:16

2.) The False Knight On the Road   (traditional) - 6:06

3.) Rag Doll 




Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  All Around My Hat

Company: Chrysalis

Catalog: CHR-1179

Year: 1975

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG

Comments: original inner sleeve; minor ring wear

Available: 1

GEMM catalog ID: 4469

Price: $10.00




Maddy Prior: vocals
Tim Hart: dulcimer, guitar, vocals
Bob Johnson: guitar, vocals
Rick Kemp: bass, vocals
Peter Knight: violin, keyboards, vocals
Nigel Pegrum: flute, drums

Always mentioned as one of their better records, I think it stands the test of time and sounds just as good today as in '75 when it was released. The harmonies, melodies and general tone of the session is the Span relaxed and comfortable. And you just can't argue with the cover art. This one is a British pressing, but I don't think there are any differences between this and the stateside product.



  1. Black Jack Davey
  2. Hard Times of Old England
  3. Cadgwith Anthem
  4. All Around My Hat
  5. Gamble Gold (Robin Hood)
  6. Wife of Usher's Well
  7. Sum Waves
  8. Dance With Me
  9. Batchelors Hall


The biggest selling of all Steeleye Span albums is also their hardest rocking record. They sound like would-be competitors to the Who on the opening bars of "The Wife of Usher's Well," and Robert Johnson's electric guitar grinding out power-chords like nobody's business. The vocals have their usual elegance, the harmonies soaring exquisitely, but between the choruses the guitar puts out lots of wattage. The guitar competes with Maddy Prior's voice for dominance on tracks like "Hard Times of Old England," "Batchelors Hall," and "Dance With Me." There's some more traditional sounding material here, including the lovely "Cadwith Anthem," "Batchelor's Hall," and "Gamble Gold (Robin Hood)," where the group returns to acoustic instruments. A single of the upbeat title track also made the charts in England, and the overall sound was the work of producer Mike Batt, who gave the band a raw, stripped-down style, with only the smallest touching up, with the very lightest of overdubbed strings.

All Around My Hat is a 1975 album by Steeleye Span, their eighth and most commercially successful.

The title track was Steeleye Span's biggest hit single, reaching number 5 in he UK charts, with Black Jack Davey as a B-side, though the recording is actually more of a combination of the original with another song, "Farewell He".

The album cover and back feature illustrations of the band members' faces presented very elongated, when the album is looked at from the correct angle, however, the images appear normal.

The title track is an Irish rebel song.


Let's begin by getting "Commoner's Crown into perspective. On the whole it wears well -I've repeatedly returned to it, and found it a much better proposition than when I first heard it.

I find it works best, through, as a synthesis of Steeleye's output up to that point, since it contains somewhere along the line most of the ideas and themes the band had tinkered with; for the average Steeleye fan, there is no doubt that it is a fine album indeed and its sales, though initially disappointing, have reflected this - it is now their best-selling album after "Now We Are Six"

On the other hand, it seemed to indicate that Steeleye were running out of steam; it began to seem as though they'd got nowhere else to go.

Thus "All Around My Hat" sees the band, now recharged with a new manager and producer, trying to relocate their sense of direction. They tackle the album positively and single-mindedly, even if this has necessarily entailed forsaking a certain balance in the songs.

The pace is hot, and never lets up; Steeleye are faster and brasher than ever before. Give us a little more bite, said the critics  and this is just what has happened.

I'm not altogether sure whether all this works entirely (and certainly Steeleye's origins in traditional folk music are becoming ever more murky), but I feel it succeeds in one important respect.

Apart from "Sum Waves", an instrumental selection of some venom, they have just laid down one fine song after another, songs which without exception contain effective and memorable choruses. Why, virtually all the tracks here are potential singles and, as I understand it, that always was the best way to compile an album.

Hence - and this is my point - the selection of the material, together with the type of production that Mike Batt (Mike Batt?) has provided means that this album is more commercial than the rest of Steeleye's work put together. There are songs here which seem ideally suited for been blasted out of car radios.

Many of the songs are already familiar from their last round of concerts and their current television series (which as so far been disappointing, has it not?). For starters there's "Black Jack Davy", for the love of whom a lady of noble birth forsakes her family and finery. Maddy Prior takes the lead vocal, and there's a lusty male voice chorus, oddly reminiscent of the Monty Python team. It's indicative of what is to follow; Batt has used horns in several places, and Strings on a Steeleye Span record? When they've already got Peter Knight?

"Hard Times Of Old England" (the band have retained their penchant for the traditional song that is still contemporary) has a mandolin introduction, heavy drumming and a nice guitar break from Bob Johnson. A west country song, "Cadgwith Anthem" is done accapella, though Batt effectively throws in a French horn towards the end.

The side closes with "The Wife Of Ushers Well", a song which couldn't find space on "Commoners Crown". That was surprising then, and seems even more so now as it's one of the most successful tracks. The tune is taken from "The Gardener", off Tim & Maddy's "Folk Songs Of Old England - Vol.II". It's where the Batt treatment is at it's most sympathetic, but the fine vocals are a forcible reminder of where Steeleye's unique attributes lie.

"All Around My Hat" is the title track. (And that's something that reflects the wind of change in the Steeleye camp - the use of one of the tracks as an album title is a device they've previously avoided). It's well-chosen as the single because, although not the best track, it contains the quintessence of the Steeleye/Batt approach. Accapella vocals, Steeleye's trademark, are used at the beginning and end and in between the band play at a pace that suggests Batt must be chasing them with a meat cleaver.

The most successful track is "Dance With Me" now that really is something; lovely vocals from Ms.Prior, and a wonderful song into the bargain.

The album's very different to It's predecessors. Meaty, beaty big and bouncy, sure; this is the first Steeleye album that will give you a headache.

Were they ever meant to sound like that? I'm not sure. The album's definitely worth purchasing - "Dance With Me", "The Wife Of Ushers Well", "Gamble Gold" and "Robin Hood" (where the arrangement is slightly more delicate that elsewhere) are value enough - and at the moment it just seems full of jewels.

I'm just worried that it all seems too immediate, a bit to brash, and that it might not have the staying power of their other albums. Mike Batt has certainly filled out the sound in every way, but the production is geared to one overall sound; which is good for the radio, but not always so good for the domestic hi-fi.

Anyway, the album's major blunder has got nothing to do with the music.

The sleeve displays grossly-distorted portraits of the members of the band and employs a device known as Anomorphic projection. This means that if you hold the sleeve and a second piece of cardboard in a certain juxtaposition and squint your eye in a particularly painful way, and if It's the last quarter of the moon and it hasn't rained for three days, you might just see the band portrayed normally, as indeed they could have been in the first place.

Cheap 'n' nasty gimmickry? You bet yer bodhran it is.


Let's see, it must be about 20 years ago, at least, when Maddy Prior came whirling down the aisles of the Perth Concert Hall, spinning off the arms of those on the end seats who leapt up for a quick jig and spin with British folk's leading lady - sadly, her only real contemporary Sandy Denny would die from a brain haemorrhage two years later, after falling down the stairs in her home.
So reel we did, she all flowing dark hair and flood of skirt. The quintessential folk moment. Just like Bushwackers dances on the Esplanade on hot summer nights were the essential Australian folk moment.

The song was Steeleye Span's biggest hit, All Around My Hat, the title track to their eighth album which backed up after the wonderfully successful Commoner's Crown that featured actor Peter Sellers playing ukulele on New York Girls and was preceded by Now We Are Six produced by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson and starring one D. Bowie on sax on To Know Him is To Love Him.

Hat itself was produced by Wombles singer and renowned studio persona Mike Batt. Point is Steeleye Span - along with Fairport Convention, Pentangle and a host of offshoots - were the core of the British electric folk boom that swept largest chunks of the Western world for nigh on a decade crossing into the pop charts and progressing into the rock market while retaining the essence of their traditional roots and instrumentation.

It was all marvellous. One big folk family. And really it's been there ever since, although not as high profile, of course.
So 20 years or so later, and 27 since their formation, here we are sitting in the lounge of the Sebel Town House nattering about the best Steeleye Span disc in ages, Time. A return to those halcyon days and that electricity. Steeleye plugged in, gorgeously eclectic and loaded with supernatural songs flashing wizards and witches, death, love, immortality, poetry and the tradition in magnificent harmony-laden songs featuring four-part harmonies.

And a reunited Steeleye Span at that. Gaye Woods, founding member with Prior, back singing after bringing up her daughter and a successful career as one-half of The Woods, Bob Johnson who loves a good big ballad and a solid dose of sorcery and Peter Knight whose violin reaches epic emotional peaks, particularly on the album's opus magnus "Elf-Knight", a full-blooded tale where two worlds collide, reality and fantasy, good and evil, spread over eight minutes.

Prior, just the wrong side of 50 according to a few hasty calculations, is wrapped up in a friendly deep blue track suit, happily united with a beer and chatting like it was just yesterday. The hair's streaked grey with no attempt to hide it, the instantly recognisable face, not quite as, as a pair of spectacles alter the countenance. Lovely lady.

And we're talking about Status Quo - that's right, messrs Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt's boogie boys of Paper Plane, Caroline, Roll Over Lay Down (And Let Me In), Down Down, Whatever You Want and Rockin' All Over The World fame. Classic stuff. Buy us a pint then and let's get down.

Steeleye are going out in December as Quo's UK tour support. Pardon!

"They've done a cover of 'Hat'," she gurgles merrily, "and I sang on the album. They also did a show at the Brixton Academy and I went along and sang with them. It was great. I really enjoyed it.

"Francis is great. He's a very direct man. Their most satisfying quality is honesty in all things, both in their music and in what they do. They're great to watch in interviews because if Rossi's bored, he's going to look bored. He won't cover it. I always thought that was wonderful because I'm really quite polite.

"And they get such terrible, terrible press and I don't know why really because I like what they do. Everybody says it's that straight thing. But it ain't easy. You ought to try doing it. When we did the show, afterwards Rick wandered in and said 'oh, that arm aches, you know'. There he was wringing it."

This leads on to in-ear monitoring, which does away with the speakers stagefront. Simply, it's a couple of hearing aid-like plugs, one in either ear. Only problem is you can't hear anything else but what you're playing. The audience is a sea of movement (hopefully) and silence. Prior's solved that by wearing one plug in and taking a monitor on the other side.

Not our Francis.

"He has both of 'em in," she says, accent thickening, "and he couldn't hear the audience. So they tried a few things which didn't really work. So what he does know is take 'em out. So these what look like hearing aids are dangling from his ears while he chats to the audience. Only Rossi could do that, you know, with his hair tied back. I don't know what the audience thinks they are. They probably think he's hard of hearing..

"Anyway, when he's ready to do the next song he just pops them back in: what an extraordinary thing to do. Nobody else would be that un-conscious of themselves or their image. His image is kind of a joke for him, which I find incredibly refreshing.

"We're both old dinosaurs, really."

Unlike the dinosaurs they haven't been wiped out by changing climates - in taste, culture and sound. Cool doesn't matter when it comes to Steeleye Span. They're way beyond cool. Folk, for that matter, doesn't rely on anything else but the ability to dig the roots of music and celebrate some weighty concepts. Lyrically, the Span are as far out as the "X-Files" and Tolkien wrapped together in an electric mesh.

And they bring weighty bunch of knowledge to play out their historical dramas - real or unreal. Johnson has a Master's degree in vocational psychology (of the supernatural), Woods has done a course in Jung and Maddy is no slouch when it comes to that particular philosopher.

Prior has a lovely way of looking at it all. A perspective.

"Traditional music comes round in a cycle. I've always seen it like an ellipse. It never goes right to the centre; it never completely disappears. It's always there. It's passing quite close, right now. A bit like Halley's Comet.

"I think there's always an interest in historic quality and the cultural, past at some level. Sometimes it's intellectual, sometimes it's emotional. We have a lot of lyrics of ballads because the literati took up collecting them. They, unfortunately, didn't collect the tunes but that was because they were interested in the ballad as a poem form.

"At least we had that. But we're very unpurist. We don't pretend to be purists or to be carrying on the tradition. If you understand the tradition as a museum piece that's not what we're into or interested in.

"We're interested in it as the basis of where we come from. There was no golden age. There was never a point where it was entirely down to the man in the field singing the song.

"There has always been interest from outside, from court music, from musicals. Throughout its history folk music has been influenced by - as people always are - what they are hear.

"I think we've always tried to take the heritage and add something new to it, with our own songs and the expression."

How they've done that, the balance between Johnson's modern arrangements of ballads and the supernatural tales, Prior's collection of more traditional tunes and Knight's self-penned epics is a lengthy discourse that ends with the simple statement that Steeleye Span is "a very democratic band".

"Nobody runs it," Prior chuckles. "It all comes into the middle. Then everybody fights for their corner, basically."

And Maddy is still surprised their all still in there fighting. Absolutely.

"You know, back then in 1969 I didn't even think I'd be alive in 1996. I've never thought in terms of future. I live entirely, seemingly, in the moment. I live as far ahead as the next tour.

"I don't think in terms of longevity. I'm not sure anybody does really. I have known a friend actually who said 'well, I think we'll move once more' which was the nearest to having some scope of planning what you're going to do with your life.

"A lot of people seem to mooch through from one crisis to the next really, which is more or less what we've done."

Maddy Prior takes a considered sip of her beer. "Well, I think one must enjoy it being hectic for the length of one's life or one wouldn't do it. It'd drive you insane. If you've been going this long you either have to be totally jaded or you have to enjoy it."


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