I've enjoyed most of Steeleye Span's post 1970s output (Including their Maddy-less period) but always felt it was a bit too 'light'.
I'm not a fan of Mr Pratchett, so I wasn't overly excited about a concept album based on his work. However, this is probably the best Steeleye Span album for years, possibly since the 1970s. The general sound is much more like the epic 1970s material (Thomas the Rhymer, Long Lankin, etc) on tracks like "Fire & Ice". The playing is good, the band is tight, and the vocals are excellent. Peter Knight is stunning throughout, and there's an energy that's been missing in Steeleye Span for some time. The 'concept' doesn't get in the way, so don't let that put you off! This album most certainly puts the rock back into folk!
on 7 December 2013
One of Steeleye Spann's greatest. They have trappped the mood, myth and magic of the book and indeed of this early winter season. The Dark Morris in insidious and plays around your mind as you walk in the bitter wind and I love the Band of Teachers.
Maddy's voice is still pure and lovely, almost as though we were back in hte 1970's - weren't we young then??
on 29 October 2013
A concept album in the 21st century? Yep, it can be done.
Several standout songs: "Dark Morris", "I Shall Wear Midnight" and "Ancient Eyes" are at the second listen already favourites. The core of Prior, Knight and Kemp make it obviously Steeleye with Zorn, Littman, Genockey adding a welcome dynamic that drives things along at a pace and adds a depth to the sound thats distinct from other Steeleye offerings.
It would have been nice to hear more of Knights playing - they tried out a few tracks on the last tour and the violin was higher up the mix and had a searing edge which was missing from the album, but it will make this Winter's tour worth waiting for.
on 5 December 2013
Like many others, I have followed Steeleye since the 70's, but had found their recent offerings rather tepid - but this album is a stunning return to form. Like many, I was very unsure whether a concept album would work - but it does - and you can tell the affinity the band has for Mr Pratchetts work. The more rocky numbers are extremely well produced and pack a surprising punch, Maddy's vocals have much more light and shade than I have heard in many years and demonstrate why she is still considered one of our greatest female vocalists.
The electric guitar on this album is exceptional, reminding us of the days of Bob Johnson. My favourite track is Crown of Ice, followed closely by We shall wear midnight. Actually there are no duff tracks, hence the 5 stars. If you like Steeleye, buy this album!
on 14 November 2013
I bought this because of my lifelong (well, nearly) love of TP's books and the characters he created; I've heard of Steeleye Span and knew they were some sort of folk band, having as a child come across them in my dad's record collection, but was not really familiar with their music.
I've played the album a few times now whilst pottering about the house and it has really grown on me - I wasn't too sure about it on first listen, but always like to give new music a fair chance before deciding I don't like it. And this is why. "Wintersmith" is a grower; the melodies work themselves into your consciousness, and elements that jarred at first soften.
Stand-out tracks for me are "The Dark Morris", evoking perfectly one of TP's most memorable ideas in a sinister stomp redolent of ancient forests and primal magic; "You", a beguiling and melodic song which persuaded me (via Youtube) to buy the album when I was dithering over it; "The Summer Lady", ethereal and sweet; "Crown & Ice", which I feel has an almost campy element to it, somehow - it made me think of David Bowie as the Goblin King! - and, of course, the final track, "I Shall Wear Midnight", which is drenched in beauty, poignancy, regret, hope and love, and is alone well worth the purchase price.
An excellent buy, and I'd recommend it!
on 6 December 2013
Being given a strong story line from which to develop their musical ideas has been a brilliant move for Steeleye Span. Pratchett's obvious fondness for their work means he & they have a strong affinity, and the band's style is a perfect match for the atmosphere Pratchett generates in his books. The tracks are consistency excellent both in lyrical and melodic terms, and I am not at all surprised that it has been driven into the Top 100 purely by word of mouth or viral spread of the news about the excellence of this album. If you like folk music and you quite like fantasy you will love this! The whole album is going onto my playlists for use in the car, and that is no mean tribute as I am quite selective and usually pick 2 or 3 tracks per album.
on 19 December 2013
Very slow off the mark here and preceded by 47 reviews, I decided to live with the new album for a while and see the band performing some of it during Peter Knight's final tour with them.
"Wintersmith" works well and you don't need to be familiar with Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" books to appreciate it.
I felt that for a while, Steeleye albums (excluding the excellent " Cogs Wheels and Lovers"), became less homogenous than in former days, but this is a " band album" and the songs really fit together well as they relate the story of the Winter smith's attempts to conquer and rule. Lots of dark and shade contrasting with warmth and light and happily the good wins...because no matter what we're made of, if we don't have "strength enough to build a home, time enough to hold a child or love enough to break a heart"(The Making of a Man") we will be forever dancing " The Dark Morris".
Peter Knight's songs are gentle and poignant,with "We shall wear Midnight"surely a fitting epitaph to his 40 and further years with Steeleye. Else where, Maddy provides the fabulous (and funny) "Band of Teachers"which gives way to Bob Johnson's first of two songs. Although just a "guest writer", his vocals can be heard on "Wee Free Men", a great song which includes a lively burst of " The flowers of Edinburgh". As ever, Rick Kemp delivers the dark and threatening, here to be found in the title track and "Crown of Ice" (performed on the Nov/Dec 2013 tour) while latest band member Julian Littman, who has a very interesting and varied background, offers two excellent songs: "You" and the uplifting "Summer lady" demonstrating what a fine singer and lead guitarist he is.
The album seems to be selling better than any Steeleye album since 1976's " Rocket cottage" which for a band at this stage in their career is quite special.
It is sad that Peter has chosen to leave the band at such a successful time, but as he has more freedom to develop his own projects including the wonderful "Gigspanner", we would hope that rather than call it a day, the band will regroup and capitalise on their current strengths.
Of course, we all want that " bus" to keep on travelling, but whatever Steeleye Span should decide to do, their efforts with "Wintersmith" have paid off and they should be justly proud.
on 28 October 2013
As a lifelong Steeleye Span fan I have looked forward to this album. The first studio album in four years, and in the new formation with Julian Littman and Peter Zorn. These men already proved their skills on the life album 'Now We Are Six Again', which was released two years ago.
I received the Wintersmith album on Friday 25 October and I have played it many times over the last few days. The first impression was overwhealming. The more I listen to the album the more I like it. The music sounds great and is very energetic and varied. Maddy Prior is sounding as good as ever and newcomer Julian Littman turns out to be a very good singer as well, as he proves on the fourth track 'You'. Peter Zorn gives Steeleye Span a new sound by playing Sax on a few tracks, like 'We Shall Wear Midnight'. We have not heard sax on Steeleye albums since 1974, when Dave Bowie made a guest appearance on 'Now We Are Six'.
Good wine gets better with the years, and so does Steeleye Span! This album is stunning from the first track to the last and worth every penny.
Apart from the opening track 'Overture' and the following, very strong and powerful 'Dark Morris Song', I especially like the second part of the album with 'The Making of a Man', written and sung by Peter Knight and with Maddy Prior in wonderful shape on 'First Dance' and the haunting 'Ancient Eyes', written by Bob Johnson.
The final track, 'We Shall Wear Midnight', again written and sung by Peter Knight is a really beautiful song, reminding me of 'The Song Will Remain', on the 'Time' album, or 'What's the Life of a Man' on 'They Called Her Babylon'.
This is, without a doubt, the best, the strongest and most solid album Steeleye Span has produced in many, many years, More than one hour of great music! Go out and buy it! ... You will not be disappointed!
Do Not buy this edition of the album, It is the orignial release but instead of buying this edition buy the deluxe edition which contains this same album disc and a second bonus disc for a similar price.
The 22nd album from Steeleye Span is Wintersmith. It is a concept album based on the book Wintersmith and other writings by Terry Pratchett.
This is a really great album with a load of originality. The songs are on top form and the atmosphere is brilliant. There is the line up of Maddy Prior, Peter Knight, Rick Kemp, Julian Littman, Pete Zorn and Liam Genockey. Then there are guest musicians Kathryn Tickell on Northumbrian pipes and John Spiers on melodeon. Also Bob Johnson joins in along with vocals by Terry Pratchett himself.
The Writer Terrry Pratchett is a big fan of Steeleye Span and asked the band to create an album based on one of his books Wintersmith. Effectively the book is aimed at children as its main audience.
The original story from the book concerns a girl who is being trained by a witch. The witch takes her to see a dark morris, or morris dance. The morris dancers wear black and welcome in the winter. The girl joins in the dance and meets the personification of Winter, the Wintersmith who mistakes her for the lady of summer. There is a lot more to the story and a clever ending (which I won't give away here). But the book does have a strong mythical folk and pagan theme connected to the seasons.
Steeleye together with Pratchett take these elements and create a great folk album with strong melodies and lyrics. It really is a great concept album. It also stands out amongst the previous albums by Steeleye Span.
The album was released at the end of 2013 and it was a welcome addition for any fan of Steeleye. The album was very successful with a lot of media attention and radio play on BBC Radio Two. The album was the first album by the group in years to chart. It only made 77 but it is a sign of how this was a good period for the group.
At the end of 2013 Peter Knight left the band and so this album is the last Steeleye Span album to feature him.
However the album has been re released here in 2014. Only twelve months after its first releae and there are four new tracks and some live recordings added. So do not buy this edition. Get the deluxe edition with more on it. Anyone who is a big fan and bought it the first time now has to buy it again to get the bonus tracks which are on a separate disc. Its annoying because if we had known twelve months ago that you could get this album and a bonus disc for the price of one album we could have waited. I even wonder if it was always the intention all along to get more money out of fans since there was room for at least three of the bonus tracks to go on the original release and they are part of the story.
Anyway if you didn't buy the album first time around buy the deluxe edition. Do not buy this edition.
on 15 October 2014
The first time I heard this music was at a Steeleye Span concert in Milton Keynes last year. It hadn't been released yet, but they sprung a few songs on us and hearing it for the first time performed live was intense to say the least! I got the CD as soon as it became available.
My partner described this new direction for the band as "heavier and darker," which I would agree with, but Steeleye Span have always had a knack for darker and intense music as seen in old favourites like Twelve Witches and Seven Hundred Elves, two of my personal favourites from their past catalogue. Working with a fantasy theme seems to have brought out this side of their song writing talents.
Over the years, Steeleye Span has evolved with a smooth elegance that has led up to their current line-up, which I saw again at the same venue last night (including their new violinist, Jessie May Smart) and their performances are tight, as if the same line-up had been together all along. Imagine how well that translates in the recording studio! I'm hoping there will be more fantasy soundtracks in their future, as this music really suits the band and vice versa. While we're not all as well known as Terry Pratchett, any Fantasy writer would appreciate the potential of this music to bring out the depths of our created worlds.
Steeleye Span have added songs to this soundtrack which will be released in a deluxe edition on my birthday, October 27th. One excellent song, To Be Human, which is among the added songs has been made available for free on their Facebook page. I'll have to decide whether to buy the album again or to buy the individual songs that have been added, but the point is, the music is great stuff. Those of us who like dark and intense music and the sort of soundtracks that bring out the best in Fantasy films and stories are certain to love this.
The Dark Morris would have to be my single favourite track. It's the sort of music that inspires mental imagery. Though my dancing days are several years and a broken ankle behind me, I can't help correographing in my mind what the dance must look like if it were translated to film or video, it's that powerful.
I sincerely hope the band will be doing more of this sort of thing. It's emotional, evocative and intensely experiential. Excellent combination of subject and musical style!