“Below The Salt” by Steeleye Span - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1972Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

At the medieval food table, salt (an expensive and rare commodity of the time) was placed at the centre of the table. Above the salt sat the family and intimates of the household, below the salt sat the servants and dependants. A Steeleye Span album is an education! So consistently brilliant is the fourth set from these British Folk revivalists that it’s a wonder I have only one of theirs in my collection – a wrong which will hopefully be righted in the fullness of time. They’ve had a changing line-up since their formation in 1969, with only Maddy Prior and Tim Hart still being in place by the time of this one. “Below The Salt” was their first on Chrysalis; thankfully there are no commercial concessions as they continue to mine the traditional books for songs which date back anywhere between 100 to 700 years. They line up: Maddy Prior (25, vocals); Tim Hart (24, vocals, appalachian dulcimer, guitar); Peter Knight (25, violin, viola, mandolin, banjo, piano, vocals); Rick Kemp (30, bass, drum, vocals) and Bob Johnson (28, guitar, vocals).

Opener “Spotted Cow” is as English as they come, as chivalrous gent assists helpless maid to find her lost cow. It’s very charming and easy to hear why it was a great live favourite at the time. “Royal Forester”, the lyrics of which date to 1293, comes from a long tradition of folk songs where men deflower young maidens and then run, although, here, the female protagonist gets the upper hand in the end, forcing the bad lad into marriage thus elevating her status. The LP goes from strength to strength as “King Henry” opens up side 2, as Maddy steps aside from lead vocals and Rick Kemp steps up. In this ballad, the king must appease the loathly (ugly) lady as she demands sexual favour from him; in fear of his very life he agrees. “Her teeth were like the tether stakes, her nose like club or mell, and nothing less she seemed to be, than a fiend that comes from hell” The next morning, he is surprised as he awakens with a beautiful woman; a curse has seemingly been broken and his beast has become a beauty. The mesmerizing brilliance is maintained on “Gaudete”; of all the sacred Christmas carols which have been sung A Capella entirely in Latin this is, undoubtedly, my favourite. Amazingly, it became a massive Festive hit, reaching number 14 on the UK charts. When it was performed on Top of the Pops, Pan’s People (the show’s resident dance troupe) walked onto the set in medieval-style robes, holding candles, followed by the members of Steeleye Span. There’s not many like them around; this is a bedazzling gem.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [03:01] 7.9.png Steeleye Span - Spotted Cow (Traditional) Folk
A2 [03:36] 7.3.png Steeleye Span - Rosebud In June (Traditional) Folk
A3 [03:06] 7.2.png Steeleye Span - Jigs: The Bride’s Favourite / Tansey’s Fancy (Traditional) Folk
A4 [04:39] 7.1.png Steeleye Span - Sheep-Crook And Black Dog (Traditional) Folk
A5 [04:29] 8.7.png Steeleye Span - Royal Forester (Traditional) Folk
B1 [07:03] 8.9.png Steeleye Span - King Henry (Traditional) Folk
B2 [02:21] 8.8.png Steeleye Span - Gaudete (Traditional) Folk
B3 [04:42] 7.9.png Steeleye Span - John Barleycorn (Traditional) Folk
B4 [05:45] 6.8.png Steeleye Span - Saucy Sailor (Traditional) Folk

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