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STEELEYE SPAN Now We Are Six Again

STEELEYE SPAN Now We Are Six Again
Park Records PRKCD113

Released in 1974 by new sextet format Steeleye Span, Now We Are Six was an important formative stage in their recording history and evolution. For the Spring 2011 tour, the present gang of six (including three from the earlier incarnation) revivified and performed live all 10 tracks from the original in order. This is the result, offered with a (presently, perhaps, rather riskily worded!) ‘bonus’ second CD of 11 other live tour tracks – “classics, rarities and audience favourites” (and yes, the Latin imperative to rejoice and green be-willowed hat are there) taken from their 21 studio recordings although mining mainly from the 1970s and quite recent releases.

Lyrics to the songs on the first CD are given in full and rich with wonderful mythopoetic content - nature, magic and murder involving cuckoos’ nests, milking maidens, tossed petticoats, plentiful elves, lunar matters and shapeshifting. Proper folk terrain then, and some fascinating socio-cultural and historical insights to be had, and not just to the Band’s history!

Recorded near to studio quality (with marginal audience intervention), the musicianship is excellent. Tight as the proverbial drum, the outstanding rhythm section of Liam Genockey (drums/percussion) and Rick Kemp (bass guitar) provide oodles of rhythmic detail and interesting dynamic range. That characteristically complex, progressive and jazz rock intricacy and interest is a mainstay and remains a thoroughly engaging backdrop behind Maddy Prior’s enduringly unique and charming voice and the embroidery of Peter Knight’s exquisite legato and classically precise fiddle work. Multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn provides many attractive additional details too, although new electric guitarist Julian Littman has not yet achieved the aplomb Ken Nicol eventually developed. It all adds up to a truly powerful and distinctive soundscape, recognisably Steeleye Span’s own and still evolving.

Oh yes, and finally, that ‘b’ word? Well, unlike those associated with some businesses, do check out the pricing. You may well feel the tag is reasonably applied and the whole double issue is a great way of capturing the 2011 experience especially if, like me, you missed them live and local at the time!

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.