“Parcel Of Rogues” by Steeleye Span - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1973Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

In 1972, Steeleye Span had provided the soundtrack for a stage adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” at the Lyceum in Edinburgh, which ran for 2 weeks in August. With the play being set against the backdrop of Scottish events of the 18th century, the group dug deep into the period for authenticity – many of the pieces formed the basis for their 5th LP, “A Parcel of Rogues”, laid down in the studio in January / February 1973. They line up: Maddy Prior (vocals); Tim Hart (guitar, dulcimer, vocals); Bob Johnson (guitar, vocals); Rick Kemp (bass, drum, vocals) and Peter Knight (violin, viola, mandolin, piano, recorders, harmonium, vocals).

One Misty Moisty Morning” (19c) starts the album off in a jolly fashion – there aren’t too many groups who get away with using a nursery rhyme to start off a new album, but Steeleye Span are no ordinary group. “Alison Gross” (19c) is next, a song about “the ugliest witch in the North Country”. We learn it’s unwise to say no to a witch – our man is turned into an ugly worm. Here, the group play pure rock guitar – but with no drums. It’s unusual and all the more effective for it. “The Bold Poachers” (17c) is a tragic ballad which tells the tale of three brothers tried for poaching pheasants; two are transported to a far-off land and one is hung as a token. Harsh! Jollity returns with “The Ups And Downs” (17c) as a pretty butter-selling Aylesbury maid is distracted by an admirer, puts out, but fails to snare her man, being dismayed to learn he is a soldier boy. “Fol-der-o diddle-o-day” is the oft-chanted refrain. Yep, you’ve guessed it, he’s Irish! “Robbery With Violins” then proceeds to close side 1 wildly and instrumentally, as Pete’s strings try to jig, and Bob’s guitars attempt to funky wah-wah. This is the definition of a culture-clash. I’m not entirely convinced that this works – but fair play to them for trying something different.

Opening side 2 is “The Wee Wee Man” (19c), an improbable tale about a long-bearded wee guy, just six inches tall, who can lift up a 6ft tall stone and throw it farther than you can see. We’ll put that one down to a bit of escapism shall we? “The Weaver And The Factory Maid” is interesting as it explores an old tension from the days of the industrial revolution – our man, a respected hand weaver, falls for a factory maid who’s a steam weaver. Much to the chagrin of his family, he will give it all up for her. The album liner-notes tell: “There was a great bitterness felt between the hand-loom weavers and those who worked on the steam looms introduced during the industrial revolution. This feeling polarised in the Luddites (named after their mythical leader Ned Ludd) who were unemployed hand-loom weavers bent on destroying the steam looms which had put them out of work.” “Rogues In A Nation” (18c) depicts the treacherous devils in the Parliament of Scotland who accepted bribes to sign the Act of Union with England in 1707. “We were bought and sold for English gold, such a parcel of rogues in a nation!” They were dirty, rotten traitors – and never a truer word was sung. The group’s delivery recalls their “Gaudete”, in that it’s being sung a Capella earnestly. The primitive bhodran thump adds to the atmosphere – this is pure theatre which, I suspect, might have brought at least 45% of the house down in Edinburgh!

Cam Ye O'er Frae France” (19c) maintains the rebel-rousing, and openly mocks George I, the first Hanoverian King. After the House of Hanover succeeded to the British throne in 1714, the Jacobite risings intensified. As Dick Gaughan once dryly noted: “The Scots apparently found it illogical to have a puppet king who hardly spoke a word of English, seemed unaware of the existence of Gaelic, and appeared to have an intense preoccupation with gardening.” Steeleye’s classic version of the Jacobite traditional introduces some rare drum into the proceedings and the piece marches grandly, with a truly superb vocal from Maddy and some aggressive but disciplined guitar from Bob. “Saw ye Geordie Whelps and his bonny woman? Were ye at the place ca'd the Kittle Housie? Saw ye Geordie's grace riding on a goosie?” The nickname Geordie Whelps is a reference to the House of Welf, the original line of the House of Hanover. The “goosie” was the King’s favourite mistress, the lean and haggard Madame Schulenburg, crested Duchess of Kendall but commonly nicknamed “The Goose”. Who could deny the Jacobites their fun? “Hares on The Mountain” closes the set more pleasantly (i.e. boringly) with a Somerset-flavoured love song. Pete and Bob were responsible for bringing this one, a song which they had sung together in their folk club days. It’s not the best but it’d be churlish to moan – there are many sides to this wonderful group and that’s a major part of the attraction.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [03:30] 7.2.png Steeleye Span - One Misty Moisty Morning (Traditional) Folk
A2 [05:29] 7.0.png Steeleye Span - Alison Gross (Traditional) Folk Rock / Americana
A3 [04:18] 7.0.png Steeleye Span - The Bold Poachers (Traditional) Folk
A4 [02:45] 6.9.png Steeleye Span - The Ups And Downs (Traditional) Folk
A5 [01:47] 5.3.png Steeleye Span - Robbery With Violins (Traditional) Folk Rock / Americana
B1 [04:01] 5.9.png Steeleye Span - The Wee Wee Man (Traditional) Folk Rock / Americana
B2 [05:21] 6.7.png Steeleye Span - The Weaver And The Factory Maid (Traditional) Folk
B3 [04:34] 9.2.png Steeleye Span - Rogues In A Nation (Robert Burns) Folk
B4 [02:49] 9.4.png Steeleye Span - Cam Ye O’er Frae France (Traditional) Alternative Folk
B5 [04:33] 5.2.png Steeleye Span - Hares On The Mountain (Traditional) Folk

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