New Music from Steeleye Span

Steeleye Span continue to renew themselves with fresh faces joining the old stalwarts. They were always a strong band vocally, but I count six out of seven joining in the singing on this track. This is from their upcoming new album, ‘EST’D 1969’, due out very soon I believe. Enjoy!

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Steeleye Span live at Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2018

Steeleye Span is 50 years old this year. Through the years they’ve gone through several different lineups, but lead singer Maddy Prior has always been at the heart of their sound. They first made a name for themselves by taking traditional folk songs and playing them with a rock sound, and they have never strayed from that winning formula. Their most recent lineup includes some fine younger players, including Benji Kirkpatrick of ‘Faustus’ and ‘Bellowhead’, and their current sound is very strong indeed.

Explore all things Steeleye at their excellent website here.

Here they are playing a one hour set at last year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival. Enjoy!

St. Swithin’s Day

Because everyone needs a bit of Billy Bragg in their lives.

Original song released on ‘Brewing Up With Billy Bragg‘ all the way back in 1984. Billy gets better with age.
Lyrics
Thinking back now,
I suppose you were just stating your views
What was it all for
For the weather or the Battle of Agincourt
And the times that we all hoped would last
Like a train they have gone by so fast
And though we stood together
At the edge of the platform
We were not moved by them

With my own hands
When I make love to your memory
It’s not the same
I miss the thunder
I miss the rain
And the fact that you don’t understand
Casts a shadow over this land
But the sun still shines from behind it.

Thanks all the same,
But I just can’t bring myself to answer your letters
It’s not your fault
But your honesty touches me like a fire
The Polaroids that hold us together
Will surely fade away
Like the love that we spoke of forever
On St Swithin’s Day

‘Reynardine’ (performed by Anne Briggs)

This traditional song was recorded by Anne on her 1971 album ‘Anne Briggs’. Bert Jansch learned the song from Anne and released it a few years later on his album ‘Rosemary Lane’. He created a very fine blues guitar arrangement, but to my mind, since then the song has been identified far too closely with the guitar arrangement and the lyric has faded into the background. Anne’s unaccompanied arrangement is still my favourite.

These notes come from the ‘Mainly Norfolk’ website:

This old ballad of seduction on a mountainside by perhaps an outlaw was published on lots of broadsides in the 18th century with varying titles, most often (Upon Those) Mountains High, Ryner Dyne, and Rinordine.

A.L. Lloyd sang four unaccompanied verses of this ballad with the previously seldom used title Reynardine—hinting with this change of name at possible connections to Reynard the Fox—in 1956 on his Tradition Records LP The Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love Songs. He commented in his sleeve notes:

A girl meets a man on the mountain and surrenders immediately to his persuasion. Who was Reynardine, with his irresistible charm, his glittering eye, his foxy smile? An ordinary man, or an outlaw maybe, or some supernatural lover? Is he that dreadful Mr Fox in the English folk-tale, the elegant gentleman whose bedroom was full of skeletons and buckets of blood? The song does not say. It puts a finger to its lips and preserves the mystery, letting the enigmatic text and dramatic tune hint at unspeakable things.

He recorded Reynardine in 1966 again for his album First Person. He added four more verses, and here he introduced the phrase “his teeth so bright did shine” that was used by many later revival singers. This track was re-released on e.g. the Fellside CD Classic A.L. Lloyd. A.L. Lloyd commented in his album’s sleeve notes:

A vulpine name for a crafty hero. Mr Fox is a disquieting figure in folk tales. A girl tosses her glass ball into his garden, and when she goes to retrieve it, he holds her prisoner. One thing she must not do if she is ever to regain her freedom: that is, to look under the bed. But she cannot master her curiosity, and one day when the coast seems clear, she looks under the bed, and there, grinning at her is Mr. Fox. In another tale Mr. Fox is an elegant witty lover with a cupboard full of bones and tubs of blood. The dread uncertainty is whether he is man or animal. Similar unease broods within this song. Some commentators have thought it concerns a love affair between an English lady and an Irish outlaw, and have set its date in Elizabeth’s time. Others believe the story is older and consider Reynardine, the “little fox”, to be a supernatural, lycanthropic lover. It was a favourite ballad in both Ireland and England in the nineteenth century. Bebbington of Manchester and Such of London were among several publishers who issued broadsides of the song, and it is widely scattered in North America from Arkansas to Nova Scotia. Mr Gale Huntington found a version scribbled in the back of the logbook of the New Bedford whaler Sharon in 1845. The (very explicitly) Mixolydian tune I use is but one of several attached to the song.

Here are the lyrics:

One evening as I rambled amongst the springing thyme,
I overheard a young woman conversing with Reynardine.

And her hair was black and her eyes were blue, her mouth as red as wine,
And he smiled as he looked upon her, did this sly bold Reynardine.

And she says, “Young man, be civil, my company forsake,
For to my good opinion I fear you are a rake.”

And he said, “My dear, well I am no rake brought up in Venus’ train.
But I’m searching for concealment all from the judge’s men.”

And her cherry cheeks and her ruby lips they lost their former dye,
And she’s fell into his arms there all on the mountain high.

And they hadn’t kissed but once or twice till she came to again,
And it’s modestly she asked him, “Pray tell to me your name.”

“Well, if by chance you ask for me, perhaps you’ll not me find,
I’ll be in my green castle, enquire for Reynardine.”

And it’s day and night she followed him his, teeth so bright did shine.
And he led her over the mountain, did the sly bold Reynardine.

Martin Simpson also does a very fine version of this song.

Rachael McShane and the Cartographers: ‘The Molecatcher’

This cheeky little traditional song is found on the album ‘When All Is Still’, a superb little gem by Rachael McShane and the Cartographers. If Rachael looks familiar to traditional folk music fans, that’s probably because she used to be part of the folk supergroup ‘Bellowhead’.

Here are the lyrics:

In old Tawney Common there’s a pub and a cow,
And there lives a molecatcher and I’ll tell you how.
Well, he goes a-molecatching from morning till night,
While the jolly young farmer goes playing with his wife.

Chorus (after each verse):
Singing, o-ho-ho all day and all night,
Singing, o-ho-ho till the moon it shone bright.

Oh the molecatcher jealous of the very same thing,
So he hid in the alehouse and watched him come in,
And when that young farmer jumped over the stile,
Well, it caused the molecatcher to laugh and to smile.

He knocked at the door and thus he did say,
“Oh where is your husband? Good woman, I pray.”
“Well, he’s gone a-molecatching so you need not fear.”
But little did she think the molecatcher was near.

She went upstairs and he followed the sign,
But the molecatcher followed them closely behind.
And when they got into the middle of their sport
Well, the molecatcher grabbed him quite fast by his coat.

He clapped his hands and he laughed at the sight,
Saying, “Here’s the best mole that I’ve caught in my life.
And I’ll make you pay well for ploughing my ground,
And the money it shall be no less than ten pound.”

“Very well,” said the farmer, “the money I don’t mind,
For it only works out about tuppence a time.”
So come all you young farmers and mind where you’re at,
Don’t you ever get caught in a molecatcher’s trap.

There are some interesting and rather amusing notes on the history of this song at ‘Mainly Norfolk’ here I particularly liked this comment from John Howson and Mike Yates:

Versions of The Molecatcher have turned up all over the place, not that you would necessarily know this, because collectors have been extremely reluctant to include the words in their printed collections. In 1904 the Reverend Baring Gould felt obliged to rewrite the text before printing the song, and five years later, when Ralph Vaughan Williams published three tunes for the song in the Journal of the Folk Song Society, the words were omitted as being “unsuitable for this Journal”. Surprisingly, there appear to be no known broadside texts and it would seem to be a song that has circulated in the oral tradition for at least a couple of hundred years.

This is what Rachael has to say about her version of the song:

I found this cheeky song lurking in a dark corner of the Internet and decided to give it a new melody and a chorus. We decided that our friend Ian [Stephenson]’s studio where we recorded this album deserved a tune, so Julian [Sutton] wrote Simpson Street Waltz. No moles were harmed in the making of this song.

Rachael’s website is here. Here’s the page for the album, which I received as a Christmas present from my very perceptive wife, who knows that the way to her husband’s heart is ringing with the sounds of traditional folk music!