Saturday 16 January 2021

The press gangs - (sad) Steeleye Saturday

Two sublimely beautiful songs from Steeleye Span about the horrible practice of coercively 'pressing' men into the Royal Navy; both told from the perspective of the woman left-behind. The first song has an implied happy ending, the second is characterized by tragic resignation. 

Both exhibit the special power I find in my native folk music - melodies as poignant as anything by the great composers; lyrics with that distinctive, ambiguous, nuggety, fascinating quality that comes from oral transmission - resulting in something beyond the powers of even poets of genius 

First, Maddy Prior does an unaccompanied, multi-tracked version of Weary Cutters - a song from my part of England (Tyneside) which suffered the Press Gangs more than most, because of the seafaring and fishing traditions. 

This astonishing arrangement is literally hair-raising; I cannot listen to it without tearing-up. 

(Note, the very last chord is slightly spoiled by a too-rapid segue into the next track.)


And now, from Steeleye's first album, All things are quite silent, where Maddy Prior's lead is supplemented by alto harmonies from Gay Woods. This magnificent song was, fortunately for us, collected in Sussex by Ralph Vaughan Williams (in 1904). And I cannot imagine anything better than Steeleye's delicate and strong arrangement.  


Ranger said...

For some reason I can't watch the videos you embed with my Brave browser. First time I noticed it was on your post about noble death.
I'm not sure if I'm the only one with this problem.

Bruce Charlton said...

@R - I use a Brave browser to post the videos, and watch them - so I doubt if that is the problem.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I can watch them on my PC but not my mobile. Both use Brave.

Ranger said...

Can now confirm it works on my PC but not on my mobile (Brave for both). Thanks!

Karl said...

My mobile browser (Chrome on Android) offers me the option to "view web version", and when I view the web version, I can play Bruce's embedded links.

Bill said...

Very needed videos, thank you!

Crosbie said...

Thanks for the recommendation. 'Parcel of Rogues' is particularly apposite today!