By Hugh Fielder
11 June 1977
Being the history of Steeleye Span condensed from nine albums into two. As the undisputed kings of folk-rock (which is not diminished by adding that they are also virtually the only survivors from the original movement), Steeleye deserve the opportunity of looking back over their career and these four sides should give them cause for considerable satisfaction.
Steeleye have stuck to their guns through thick and thin. Even when folk-rock became 'acceptable' they didn't slow down but pushed on to seek still wider audiences for their music.
They've always drawn flak from the purists and their decision to use Mike 'Womble' Batt as producer for their 'All Around My Hat' album (and again on 'Rocket Cottage') drew fresh howls of anguish from those who'd initially opposed the whole folk - rock movement but had gradually accepted it. But their protests had lost all validity; once you accept that you can interpret traditional folk songs (and isn't every performance of a folk song an interpretation?) then you are merely arguing about degrees. What's important is that Steeleye have never lost sight of the fact that they are a folk band. What they've done is to popularise folk for today's folk. Much of the sniping I suspect is just pure jealousy.
The two albums here include most of their stage favourites as well as hits like 'Gaudete' and 'All Around My Hat' In general the running sequence goes back in time and includes one previously unreleased track, 'Bonny Moorhen' from 1973 (quite why I'm not sure; it's nothing special) and a live version of 'The Wife Of Usher's Well' .They even go back beyond their Chrysalis catalogue to find two tracks from 'Please To See The King' and 'Ten Man Mop' which were originally released on Mooncrest and have just been re-released, together with 'Hark The Village Wait', by B&C.
But Steeleye aren't just popularising both either. 'Fighting for Strangers' from 'Rocket Cottage' (and included on this package) is perhaps the clearest example of their highly developed and adventurous sense of arrangement for a folk song. They've come a long way but songs like 'Fighting of Strangers' continue to open up whole new avenues for them to explore.
*Click here to see the cover & track listing.