Musical Archaeology (part 5) – Steeleye Span

Jane Burcher-Smith is a Director of Procurement Excellence, a leading procurement consulting firm. She started her career in microbiology and worked in specialist scientific recruitment for many years. And she came to the Reading festival with me last weekend...

They are remembered mainly for a Christmans "novelty" hit (Gaudete) but actually, Steeleye Span were a hugely influential band.  The first to blend folk with serious, flat-out rock,  they were inspiration (whether consciously or not) for the modern boom in "nu-folk" - Laura Marling, Bon Iver, and of course the Mumfords, triple-platinum selling world dominating folk-rock stars.

They were also a brilliant live band and I have seen them many many times - I saw them in 1974 and the power went, so they performed acapella for half an hour before it came back! Yet Rick Kemp was / is as good a rock bassist as anyone in conventional rock, and Peter Knight was perhaps the first heavy metal violinist.

Parcel of Rogues and Now We are Six (including "To know him is to love him" with Bowie on sax) are probably the best two albums to start with. And they're still touring in 2011....

This is from Parcel of Rogues (1973)  but performed in 2008 we think - listen to the bass playing as well as the brilliant violin, and of course Maddy Prior's timeless vocals.

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Voices (4)

  1. PlanBee:

    Re Oscillator

    I’d agree that Fairport paved the way for Steeleye, rather than SS being the first. Not sure I’d call them very unremarkable though.

    I did buy my Bellowhead loving brother a Steeleye Span greatest hits, and I have to say that on listening to it, it sounded a bit flat. Should have gone with Fairport instead. But I’s happily go to another SS gig.

  2. Oscillator:

    I think Fairport Convention (amongst others {Fotheringhay for instance) would have a far greater claim to being first (in UK) to blend folk with rock than SS. And as for say the Byrds (and even they had predecessors)…..
    And the respective violinists with It’s a Beautiful Day, Flock and The United States of America all predate Mr.Knight (who’s style is hardly “heavy metal” in any event), not mention our very own Curved Air, although they’re about he same time I think.
    Steeleye Span were a very unremarkable band indeed really.

  3. Dom O'Riley:

    I I actually remeber them well (think somewhere in the loft lurk some 12″ vinyls)..see to remeber one with a great riff.. Thomas the Rhymer I think???

  4. The Guitar Man:

    What a great series this is!

    I’ve always been a huge fan of Steeleye Span and the combination vocally of Maddy Prior and Tim Hart has barely been beaten in either folk or folk-rock. They really did set the scene in the 70s for the, now common place, crossover of traditional forms of music with pop or rock – see also the popularity of ‘New Country’, one of my other guilty pleasures.

    My personal faves are the albums Below the Salt, Please to See the King as well as (the Mike ‘The Wombles’ Batt produced) All Around My Hat which is still hugely enjoyable. Well done Jane, I’m straight home now to dig out the turntable and vinyl albums from the loft, put on some inappropriate old English clothing and dance around the living room!

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