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STEELEYE SPAN - Wintersmith (in collaboration with Terry Pratchett)

STEELEYE SPAN - Wintersmith (in collaboration with Terry Pratchett)
Park Records PRKCD132

As an adolescent, apparently, Sir Terry’s mate Dave put him “between two huge speakers and turned everything up until eleven”. When he played Boys Of Bedlam “the chimney wobbled” and he became a lifelong “Spanner”.

This extraordinary concept album interweaves words (some voiced by TP himself) and themes from his Discworld Wintersmith novel, into a song sequence to form an eccentric sort of Morris musical where at times you might think Judas Priest has wandered into folk rock! On The Dark Morris Song in particular, the enormity of the riffing and clichéd metallica, arising from the ‘special talents’ of producer Chris Tsangarides could risk more structural damage than mere chimney movement!

Heaviness aside, last year’s Now We Are Six Again line-up combine their enormous musical skills, aided and abetted by Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes) and Bellowhead-er John Spiers (melodeon), often to considerable atmospheric and menacing effect in shrilly scything, churning and scraping as if let loose in a weird workshop packed with heavy duty industrial power tools!

Yet, along with the new metallic limits and pedal board excesses to which the core sextet’s progressive jazz rock riffing and serpentine chordal intricacy have now been taken, thankfully the pleasure of Maddy’s voice, the intense elegance of Peter Knight’s violin, Rick Kemp’s intricate melodic bass lines and all that collective catchiness, are still recognisably present but woven into a much denser tapestry.

Riddled with elemental mystery and myth, wickedness and witchcraft, ‘fearsome sights’ and screaming mayhem abound, almost comic in their theatricality at times (the Chumawamba type sequence in The Good Witch and a Scottish Reel interlude for example). So, I suggest, now we are (almost) hex!

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.