Maddy Prior is one of the veterans of the folk music world in England; she was the lead singer of the famous folk/rock band ‘Steeleye Span‘, whose stock-in-trade was playing traditional English folk songs with rock instruments and rhythms, and in later years she has performed as a solo artist as well as fronting her own ‘Carnival Band‘. She has explored several different musical genres, but I always associate her with traditional folk music.
Here she is singing the old folk song ‘Dives and Lazarus’; she is joined by Benji Kirkpatrick on guitar and Giles Lewin on a strange lute-like instrument (is it a lute, I wonder?).
Dives and Lazarus is based on the biblical parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), but it elaborates the story in a way that would have been frowned upon after the Reformation in England, which is why I have always suspected the song to be pre-Reformation in origin. Two nineteenth-century versions of the text are given in Child’s ‘The English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, but Child also notes possible earlier versions dating back as far as 1557. The tune is a well-known one and is often sung in Ireland to a song called ‘The Star of the County Down’.