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Steeleye Span:Similarities

If you like Steeleye Span then you'll also like Metallica, Crowded House, Eurythmics, The Wombles…

A strange assertion, and one that I'm not seriously advancing. You may very well like none, some or all of the above, but it doesn't immediately follow from liking Steeleye Span. Nevertheless, there is a connection to each of the above.

A common reason for looking through lists of albums is to find more of the music you've just discovered you like, both more albums by the group and also by the individual members.

With Steeleye Span, this can be a daunting task. In over 25 38 years and 16 27 albums there is a wide variation of style, and someone who likes All Around My Hat may not like Please To See The King at all.

Steeleye Span are a gestalt. They are not just a backing group to Maddy Prior. They are also unique. You won't find anything else quite like them. Nevertheless, the search is rewarding in its own right.

I first started with Now We Are Six and Commoners Crown, worked my way backwards and forwards from there, then started exploring the related groups and people. Sometimes I discovered unexpected linkages with groups I already liked; sometimes the journey led to performers that just didn't appeal to me.

Here are some groups and performers with some similarity or connection to Steeleye Span, together with some personal recommendations.

NOTE: This particular page is somewhat of a living document, so as of February 2014, I've made some more updates. Added a little more information; added some more groups (people just will not stop playing this wonderful music!)

Ancestors

Starting with Steeleye Span's immediate parentage, we have:

Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention (later, just Fairport) is the 'other' great English folk-rock band. Its history is complicated enough to have had books written about it! It was formed by Ashley Hutchings.

About the time of Steeleye's genesis Fairport were experimenting with folk music. The albums Unhalfbricking and Liege and Leaf produced around this time may well appeal.

Dave Swarbrick joined Fairport for Liege and Leaf, while after the latter Sandy Denny left to form "Fotheringay" (one eponymous album, also recommended) and Ashley Hutchings left to form… Steeleye Span!

If you like Steeleye Span, look into Fairport; but over its long history and wide musical range don't be surprised to find a very different band.

Sandy Denny

Highly regarded during her lifetime, Sandy's reputation has grown still more after her death. A wonderful singer; a somewhat idiosyncratic (though developing) songwriter); her choice of material was sometimes a little erratic. The release of a trove of work discovered after her death gives a better appreciation of the depth of her talent and what she might have become.

I recommend you start with the Fairport Unhalfbricking and Liege and Leaf albums, then the two Forthingay albums.

Richard Thompson

A brilliant and prolific performer and songwriter. Widely recognised as one of the world's top guitarists, and an even better songwriter, I recommend giving him a listen if you have not already done so. He records with a stable circle of backing musicians, including at one time John Kirkpatrick, whence comes another Steeleye connection. His sometime producer, Mitchel Froome, also produced Crowded House (and Tim Finn wrote lyrics to and recorded Richard's song Persuasion), hence the tenuous link mentioned at the start.

Ashley Hutchings

After starting Fairport and Steeleye Span, Ashley Hutchings left to form a series of "Albion" bands, or possibly one band with many lineups and the commonality of Hutchings as a member (not always leader) and "Albion" in the name somewhere (The Albion Band, The Albion Country Band, The Albion Dance Band, etc.) Still going strong, Albion is in general quite different in feel from Steeleye Span. Despite having started all three of the top electric folk groups, Hutchings never managed to make any of them his band, except perhaps Albion, and even then Rise Up Like The Sun is mostly John Tams' album. Later incarnations are more firmly Hutchings' band.

Ashley is also responsible for the wonderful Morris On bands

I recommend starting with Rise Up Like The Sun and No Roses.

Tim Hart & Maddy Prior

Tim and Maddy's albums are all covered in these pages, though their individual solo efforts are generally quite different from the band. Summer Solstice by Tim & Maddy is the one most like a Steeleye Span album (it's also superb!). Also surprisingly good is Tim's My Very Favourite Nursery Rhyme Record, despite being just what it says—an album of nursery rhymes!

Tim's solo album is very different.

Maddy Prior

Maddy has a musical life apart from Steeleye, with a large body of work solo or with her own backing bands, where she writes her own material as well as singing traditional works. She also records hymn tunes and carols with the Carnival Band.

Maddy's individual outings are a little more folky than Tim's. Spot which album has the Eurythmics appearing on it.

Maddy's collaborations with June Tabor, as the Silly Sisters, are quite wonderful, and should lead you to June's solo albums, which however are quite a way from Steeleye Span.

Gay and Terry Woods

Gay and Terry's albums are quite unlike Steeleye Span's. They are also very difficult to get hold of these days. Terry went on to join the Pogues; Gay returned to the band for later albums, but then left again.

Martin Carthy

Martin Carthy was Godfather to the band, and joined two of its lineups. He also has a long list of albums of his own (alone or with Dave Swarbrick) and with the Watersons. But beware! Martin's version of "Hard times of old England" is nothing like Steeleye's.

Martin's style is much more 'traditional'. Don't be surprised if you don't automatically like his solo work. However, if you do acquire the taste you're in for a treat. Martin Carthy is a superb musician. He has influenced numerous musicians, including Paul Simon and Bob Dylan (who mentions him in the notes to The Freewheeling Bob Dylan) to name but two.

I recommend Crown of Horn as a good starting point. Martin also sings with The Watersons and with Brass Monkey. Having married into the Watersons, there is now a second generation in the form of Eliza Carthy, and her albums are also highly recommended.

Fellow Travellers

Jethro Tull

Ian Anderson is credited as "production consultant" on Now We Are Six. He also produced (and Jethro Tull is the uncredited backing band for) Maddy Prior's first solo album. Maddy returned the favour by singing backup on the title track of Too old to rock and roll, too young to die.

The Chrysalis label on which Steeleye Span recorded most of the early (pre breakup and reunion) albums was initially created to record Jethro Tull.

Steeleye Span's first American tour was as support act to Jethro Tull.

About Songs from the wood Jethro Tull's musical direction took a folk bent, and they later added Dave Pegg from Fairport as drummer.

So, the band that won a Grammy for 1989 best heavy metal album (beating out Metallica) has close links to Steeleye Span and, for whatever reason, Steeleye Span fans are often also Jethro Tull fans.

Morris On

a.k.a./Son of Morris On/Grandson of Morris On/Great Grandson of Morris On. These are a couple of 'various artists' albums featuring Kirkpatick, Carthy, Thompson, Hutchings and others (different lineups on the four albums) playing morris tunes in the electric folk idiom. Great albums, and you get to find out what the tune used as the instrumental break in the middle the live version of "False Knight on the Road" off Live at Last! is called.

Planxty

Sort of an ancestor as well (they formed 3 years after Steeleye). Planxty came out of the same Irish tradition as the Woods (Terry was in Sweeney's Men, which was the precursor to Planxty) and, driven by similar forces to Steeleye, came up with a somewhat different response. Planxty's instruments are more 'traditional' (despite annexing the bouzouki to be a traditional Irish instrument). Compare Planxty's version of "The Blacksmith" with Steeleye Span's two versions. Start anywhere, and jump into the glorious sea of 'celtic rock'.

Nic Jones

Nic Jones wrote the music to Boys of Bedlam and appears on the Silly Sisters album. Sadly, he was badly injured in a motor accident and no longer performs, but his albums are well worth listening to. I'd recommend working backwards from his last album, Penguin Eggs. You can also get 'new' CDs of previously unreleased, mostly live, material from Fish Records.

Shirley Collins

Married to Ashely Hutchings about the time that he was with Steeleye Span, she appears on Rave On, Morris On, with the Albion Band, with her sister Dolly, and on her own solo albums. She has a much more traditional singing style than most of the other people mentioned here. Start with the No Roses album by Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band, and Folk Roots, New Routes with Davey Graham if you can find it.

Anne Briggs

Until recently it was difficult hear any of Anne's music since her recorded output was small—she hated recording. Now her wonderful Anne Briggs : A Collection is available and you can hear the voice that influenced everyone about her, including Led Zeppelin! The Guardian has an interview with her where she recalls her times in the industry.

Nick Drake

Where Anne Briggs hated the recording process, Nick Drake hated live performing or giving interviews.

He suffered from depression (which coloured his songwriting), and at his early death, aged 26 (in 1974) he had not achieved wide recognition. However, his work has subsequently become more widely known and he is credited with being influential on a wide range of artists, including Dream Academy, Kate Bush and Beck.

Try Five Leaves Left

June Tabor

June was inspired to sing after hearing Anne Briggs. She burst upon the scene with the Silly Sisters album collaboration with Maddy and has gone on to a long and successful solo career.

Her solo material is almost as famously gloomy as Richard Thompson's, although she can rock out with the best of them in her Oyster Band parings.

Start with Silly Sisters and then 1976's Airs and Graces which includes the stunning And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Pentangle

Not so much folk-rock as folk-jazz, Pentangle were active in the late 60's and early 70's. They comprised Jacqui McShee, vocals; John Renbourn, guitar; Bert Jansch, guitar (Anne Briggs's boyfriend); Danny Thompson, double bass (later collaborator with Richard Thompson [no relation]); and Terry Cox, drums.

Check out Basket of Light or the single Light Flight

The Incredible String Band

Practitioners of progressive hippie folk. Which is not quite as pejorative a description as it first appears. They influenced what has become known as 'world music' and produced two hugely influential albums: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and Wee Tam and the Big Huge.

Davey Graham

The most incredible guitarist that you've probably never heard of. But everyone else in the British folk scene in the early sixties had. He is credited with introducing and popularising the DADGAD guitar tuning, and his influence permeates modern music today, both through the guitarists he influenced (Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Ritchie Blackmore, Paul Simon, Jimmy Page, …) and the guitarists they influenced.

His albums are now mostly available on iTunes. I suggest starting with Folk, Blues and Beyond or The Guitar Player.

Bert Jansch

Bert was influenced by Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie MacGhee and Davey Graham and was himself hugely influential. Even if you've never heard of him, you have certainly listened to artists who have been touched by him: Al Stewart, Paul Simon, Johnny Marr, Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, Donovan, or Neil Young.

Start with Pentangle or any of his work on iTunes.

Led Zeppelin

"Oh come on now! You can't be serious!"

Led Zep, in particular Jimmy Page, borrowed freely from Davey Graham, Bert Jansch and Anne Briggs. They only ever had one guest singer record with them, and that was Sandy Denny.

The distance between the genres is not so far as you might think.

The Wombles?

Yes, there is a connection

Moving On

And what hath the 21st century wrought? Well, the musical descendants of Steeleye Span are thriving. Here are some artists you might find interesting.

Afro Celt Sound System

The name is pretty well exactly descriptive of the music. The brainchild of Simon Emmerson and supported by Genesis's Peter Gabriel, this mix of West African, Irish and rave appeared in 1996 and is still going strong.

Sometimes classed as 'World' music, this probably owes more to rock than Groaci Nose Flute, nor is it a linear descendent of Steeleye except in its exuberance and energy.

Start with Volume 1: Sound Magic. Continue.

The Imagined Village

Simon Emmerson of Afro Celt Sound System created a band to represent modern British multiculturalism: a band that includes Martin Carthy and Eliza Carthy! The circle closes, and the stone rolls ever on.

Their first eponymous album (The Imagined Village) includes versions of John Barleycorn, Tam Lyn, Death and the Maiden, and Hard Times of Old England.

Start with The Imagined Village.

Eliza Carthy

Martin and Norma had a daughter, who started performing with her dad as a toddler and has since (somewhat unsurprisingly) gone on the garner a slew of awards for her own work, both solo and in collaboration.

Eliza is a singer and fiddle player. She is also the mother of two daughters. Another generation of wonderful musicians? Who can tell?