The Forgotten Arm: Steeleye Span

I have a tumultuous relationship with folk music. It stems from two simple things: I’m often too close to it to appreciate it, and it’s a genre that, if poorly executed, can easily devolve into self-parody. Still, there are a few oddball groups that fall into the extremely broad category of “folk” that I genuinely enjoy. Formed in 1969, Steeleye Span is one such oddball group.

Steeleye Span took bona-fide ye olde folk songs and gave them a ’70s psychedelia makeover. They were keen to their roots, though, and rarely changed instrumentation or arrangements. Instead, they just made everything louder. Where contemporary bands like Fleetwood Mac and Renaissance were creating their own songs in the likeness of these ancient melodies, Steeleye Span weren’t shy about presenting this distinctively unhip music to the masses. Unsurprisingly, Steeleye Span found more favor with the folk community than the rock world, though they did have a handful of crossover hits. They, along with Fairport Convention and the Pentangle, were the rock band that the folkies were allowed to like.

Throughout its 40+ years, Steeleye Span has gone through countless personnel changes, with singer Maddy Prior being one of the more consistently present members. They remain active to this day, but Steeleye Span’s finest works were recorded between 1972 and 1976. That span boasts their best known songs, “Alison Gross,” “All Around My Hat” and “One Misty Moisty Morning,” as well as great renditions of old favorites like “Black Jack Davy” and “Saucy Sailor.”

It’s best to approach Steeleye Span’s music as rock music that just happens to be heavily folk influenced. That way, you won’t find yourself accused of listening to folk music.

Watch: Steeleye Span – “All Around My Hat” from All Around My Hat (1975)

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~ by E. on November 12, 2010.

One Response to “The Forgotten Arm: Steeleye Span”

  1. I am currently compiling a pub music quiz and know that both Steeleye Span and Fleetwood Mac recorded the same tune on at least one occasion but for the life of me I cannot remember its name. Can you help me on this matter please and did it only happen once?
    Many thanks,
    Frank.

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