Friday, August 24, 2007

Steeleye Span-TEN MAN MOP, OR MR. RESERVOIR BUTLER RIDES AGAIN 2-CD set; PLEASE TO SEE THE KING 2-CD set (both are on the Castle label out of the EU[gh!])

Ah yes, I remember a particularly energetic phone conversation I had with Bill Shute, this was back in the nineties when he'd call me up sometimes like every other day and we'd talk about this, that 'n the other thing in a totally free association sorta way (believe-you-me, if I had transcribed some of our phone calls they'd read like those two-way reviews you used to read in CREEM!), and anyway the subject of...I believe Fairport Convention came up. Well, I sorta fuzzily remember asking the Man of Stature what he thought of that long-running English folk rock act, and to my surprise Bill suddenly flew into a tirade having to do with not the Fairport people at all, but fellow English retro folksters Steeleye Span. Bill HATED the whole lot of 'em and let me know so in a particularly frothing way about what a buncha no-account losers the whole lot of those foppy English menstruals were. After I told him that in fact Fairport Convention (at least the early group which I had been listening to and liking for about a decade at the time) and Steeleye Span were pretty much two different balls of wax with different approaches to the British folk-rock idiom despite having shared members, Bill 'fessed up to me that he'd never even heard Fairport at that time, but boy did he hate Steeleye w/a bloody passion! And Bill, if you remember this conversation, think I'm talking outta my blowhole and would like to chime in with your own two pences, feel free to do so.

Oddly enough, the only Steeleye Span I'd heard at the time was this track about some fair maiden searching for her spotted cow that appeared on one of those old Warner Brothers "loss leaders" that was wallowing around under the name THE DAYS OF WINE AND VINYL, and although I certainly didn't buy that 'un to hear Steeleye Span (I got it for the early Bowie single side, the Beefheart cut and Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain") I at least cherished the opportunity to hear such a track that otherwise I wouldn't. Come to think of it I sorta liked it, maybe because at the time I was harboring a pseudo-interest in early millenial English names wondering how similar they were in spelling and pronunciation to current monikerage (do you ever get those sorta weird obsessive impulses in you, like wanting to know more about the evolution of eyeglass frame stylings and logo differentiations from then to now???), but it wasn't like I was all that interested in hearing an entire album of late-twentieth-century English hippoids harkening back to their medeval pasts sorta like their Amerigan counterparts were rollicking in Wild West gear. I mean, maybe I'd like to hear an album where Geoffrey Chaucer sings along with Mahogany Brain, and William Shakespeare would have made a fine frontman for Can, but hearing 197X sons and daughters of the British middle class playing at damsels in distress and fairies flittering over some pseudo-Tolkien landscape just ain't my idea of having a fun time!

So anyways...years later I come across some maybe not-so-obscuro SS mention in none other'n UGLY THINGS magazine (a review of their latest coming sooner'n you expect!) where someone 'r other drops a mention about just how great these guys rilly are. What made this comment speak out all the more was that whoever wrote this blurboid was telling us eager readers that Steeleye Span weren't exactly the proggy/dudsville hippie/folk act that everyone seemed to remember them as but (ta-DAAH!!!) an honest-to-goodness Velvet Underground-influenced band with actual Sterling Morrison-inspired lead guitar workage! Yeah, (in other words) SOMETHING TO MAKE ME WANNA FORK OUT ALL THE DOLLARS IN EXISTENCE TO HEAR because as you all know the Velvet Underground remain my main reason for existence even this late in the postmodern game! And true, although most of these groups claiming to carry on the Velvets banner forty years after-the-fact make me wanna head out and kick jams to the comparatively wild strains of Jan Garber, I'll still admit that when I hear proudly pro-Velvets acts closer to the taproot of VU-obsession like Le Stelle De Mario Schifano and Les Rallizes Denudes cranking out pure white shards at a time when the Velvets were still alive and kicking, boy does my sense of reasoning take a backseat. In other I need more Velvets-inspired atonal crank in my system??? Does Jay Hinman need humility????

So anyways I forked over the $$$ for the Steeleye Span Cee-Dee in question and felt foolish afterwards, almost felt as bad as the times where I'd spend hard-earned on some mid/late-eighties Velvets wannabes who put their own platter out only to hear what sounded like Go-Gos outtakes, or worse yet some doof folkster who covered a Velvets track on his dippoid platter sounding rather douse-like in the process. And, like most bad listening experiences, I decided for the sake of sanity to shut that Steeleye Span experience outta my least until I came across the recent Volcanic Tongue online catalog hawking the recent Span reissues with head Tongue David Keenan giving the ol' Velvets razz-ma-tazz to their earliest wares making 'em sound the closest to the aforementioned taproot since the LAST big Velvet Underground flash to hit the toilet water! Now, I've been around the block a few times and usually can smell diapers a mile away, but sheesh, Keenan seems such a nice guy so how could I but not trust someone who seems to have his head stuck up the same orafices I do and harbors the same tastes and covets the same money as well!!!

So, along with another huge heaping order I had Keenan stick in two of the Steeleye Span disques he thought came closest to a Velvets drone and burn, and heavens to Betsy it turns out that '71's TEN MAN MOP and PLEASE TO SEE THE KING were the ones he most recommended. I was supposed to get some sorta copy of this particular article/review or whatnot that Dave had which mentioned their Velvets absorption (written in the then instead of the now) but I guess the guy fergot! Of course Keenan is smart anyways because he sells all these records that most of you guys would wanna get your greasy paws on and lend ear to. He's also smart because he knows that if I hate these particular disques he's too far away for me to punch 'im out.

Anyway I slap on TEN MAN MOP and proceed to bore myself silly. Of course, not being as much a fan of the British Folk Boom sounds definitely would hurt any chances of me clasping MOP to my boobies, but when I hear this music I feel like I'm going to walk past a well and find a child drowned in it. It might have a shard of Old Time English Whiz true, but MOP doesn't sound authentic enough to be an archival statement of any sort and as far as being a rock & roll goes it seems to fall flat on its back, especially with the acapella version of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" complete with the faux skip that sorta puts all of that British Isles Holly worship into some strange perspective I'm not sure I'd wanna know more about! I wouldn't be surprised if a lotta the proto-punks in England were spinning this stuff alongsides the Stooges though. These days I'll believe just about anything!

I remember seeing PLEASE TO SEE THE KING a whole lot in various record bins at the time. The cover was sorta reminded me of the front of THE MAD SAMPLER paperback where someone had stitched Alfred E. Neuman's mug into the fabric. But that's about all I can say about this 'un which once again flounders into sainted relics of the Olde English Dayse back when they used to spell words a lot different'n they do now. Still nothing quite exciting about this sorta historical revision via the new rock, and if you wanna get your medeval thrills in the right way maybe a viewing of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL would satisfy you more.

Of course, it's not like this entire offering is a douse. I think the group comes off much better (performance and even sound-wise...given the usual x-generation tapes used!) on their various BBC Peel Sessions live or studio (y'see, these new reissues have additional tracks and extra all-new disques just so's the people who already bought 'em will buy 'em AGAIN for the new material!), and even when they're singing sea shanties and other quap straight from the ESP-disk folk archives they sound fab, kinda like you're listening it from the middle of the former Soviet Union or somethin'. Heck, even an old turd like I liked the idea of 'em reproducing the skip on "Rave On" live and to great applause as well. Maybe Steeleye Span sound better here because these live radio sessions always tended to bring out the performers at their most primed, which is why I find things like Roxy Music's FIRST KISS much more preferable to their legit sides. Whatever, I liked these sessions perhaps because of the poor sound quality (and I woulda thought the BBC's opened their vaults up to Castle!) and the live announcers (the tee-vee track where someone apologizes for the video technical glitch is priceless!) and maybe "When I Was On Horseback" does have that Velvets glide to it like Keenan says, or maybe that's just because it sounds a bit like John Cale singing "Venus In Furs" on that 1965 demo tape! Anyway, I'm stuck with 'em...maybe I shouldn't be complainin' that much after all!


Anonymous said...

Actually, if you want to feast your ears on some 70's British folk-rock imbued with a VU-ish sense of lyric mordancy and propulsive singlemindedness, check out String Driven Thing, esp. their self-titled debut with the song 'Circus'. You're welcome.

Christopher said...

String Driven Thing? Always had them pegged as yet another in the long line of early-seventies progresive rock schlockitude out to grab my money! I remember seeing their stuff at flea markets throughout the eighties and nineties. Are you sure this ain't just another hoax???

Anonymous said...

Steeleye Span bassist Nigel Pegram went on to play in 70s UK novelty-punk band, The Pork Dukes. Interestingly, the other members of the Pork Dukes had been in the Jethro Tull/Gentle Giant like early 70s prog band Gnidrolog!

Anonymous said...

Your memory is correct regarding me and Steeleye Span. My hatred of that name came about from repeated plays of the album NOW WE ARE SIX,
released in 1974, and to a lesser extent PARCEL OF ROGUES, released in 1973. I remember that during this period, when I was in high school, Span toured with Jethro Tull, which somehow seemed fitting.
Back then,
I tended to like the kind of thing that is now retroactively called "acid folk," but bands such as the Now We Are Six-period Steeleye Span seemed to me hollow and pretentious. Please note, Chris, that I had not heard any pre-1973 Steeleye Span at that time. It might well have been fine material--I wouldn't know. It seems as though the albums you were
recommended are all earlier material. That early stuff may be great. I'll have to hear some of it.
However, the 73-75 material sucked ass!!!I think that part of my hatred of that Now We Are Six album came from 1) the fact that it was played all the time straight-through by people at school and, especially, 2) it was played all the time by people I hated. Pretentious upper-class art-school types. The combination of the pretentious music with the pretentious people was deadly.
Remember, this was at a time when I was playing Anthony Braxton,
Captain Beefheart, Yazoo Records 1920's blues reissues, the Standells, and BYG/Actuel free-jazz albums on our highschool radio station. I remember that some jocks had a $20 contract out on my copy of either TROUT MASK REPLICA or Braxton's FOR ALTO.
If you can hear a taste of Steeleye Span's NOW WE ARE SIX for free online, please do it, and you'll see why I hated it so. It's everything that Black To Comm/Blog To Comm was founded to be against!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hope all is well...

Bill Shute
San Antonio, Texas

Anonymous said...

Oh my god Steeleye are the pits. I too was swindled by the same guy's lying article and while I happen to like folk-rock (like the Trees or Stone Angel or better yet Pat Kilroy) Steeleye's early albums (I bought the first 3 at one go!) sound like one of my mom's Celtic christmas albums and the later ones are like Tull at most boring.

Love your comment about expecting to find a child dead in a well. Medieval times weren't nothing to fantasize about.