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STEELEYE SPAN "Horkstow Grange" Park PRKCD44

After a 28 year odyssey Steeleye Span have reached the goal they set themselves back in the days of hippydom: a real fusion between traditional and contemporary music that sets the music of the British Isles on a level with popular music from across the Atlantic. Not that it will get them played on the radio, of course, but that is because of the prejudices of the producers and presenters rather than any lack in the music.

Perhaps the greatest triumph is the almost unnoticeable updating of the ballad into modern language. One suspects that Bob Johnson is the main catalyst in this. He always approached the tradition from a different, more academic stance, than most revivalists. In earlier days that sometimes led towards the twee, but reaches fruition particularly in "Lord Randall", where the story is subtly brought into a modern idiom but with changes that are barely noticeable. The same can be said for "The Bonny Birdy", "One True Love" and even the traditional song "Australia", which sounds to have more relevance to the 1990s than the 19th century.

The loss of Maddy Prior could have been severe were it not for the rediscovery of Gay Woods, who repeats her successes of the early years with the likes of "The Bonny Irish Boy" and "I Wish That I Never Was Wed", as well as a Maddy-style rendering of "The Old Turf Fire".

This is pretty much an unplugged Steeleye, with occasional drums from Dave Mattacks. For the first time the band turn to the song which gave them their name, although their version of the adventures of Steeleye Span at Horkstow Grange does seem a little less lucid than the version Ashley Hutchings took with him to record with Shirley Collins all those years ago.

I see no reason why Steeleye fans won't love this album, and it has the potential to interest lots of people who have never heard of electric folk and wouldn't know a folk song if it lived upstairs.

Bob Harragan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 30 of The Living Tradition magazine.