Sunday 25 January 2015

Desert Island Discs - Second record: Steeleye Span


One Misty Moisty Morning was the first Steeleye Span track that I heard, the first electric folk music, and it led onto the first time in my life that music became very important to me.

At the time I heard it I was, rather unhappily, 'into' underground and progressive rock music - none of which I have since regarded to with enjoyment. So I was listening to a late evening BBC radio programme which played mostly this kind of stuff - hosted by a DJ called John Peel. However, Peel had eclectic tastes and on this occasion played something from a new album by Steeleye Span: this signalled the kind of music that I had been waiting for. 

Because some time earlier I had discovered Tolkien; and that had changed my life - and the implication of Tolkien seemed very much against pop and rock music, whereas Steeleye Span sang epic ballads about elves and the supernatural, earthly songs about ordinary people such as milkmaids and sailors, and played jigs and reels and other Hobbit-like dances.

Of course, they did this with un-Tolkien-like electric instruments such as guitar, bass, violin, dulcimer... but somehow that made it better, because electric folk seemed to represent the infusion of modernity by folk influences, a saving of shallow civilization by ancient thoughts - for me, then, it seemed to be the future.

Staying with Steeleye Span I moved to explore other electric folk, and other folk music of all kinds; also I discovered medieval and renaissance music- and then Bach and Telemann as the first classical composers I engaged with, at least partly because they used the Treble Recorder which I had come to like through early music and folk.

So, this Desert Island Disc of Steeleye Span represents for me that teen period of musical exploration and expansion; during which music came to occupy a more central place in my life than before or since. And although Misty Moisty is a long way from being my favourite Span track, I do still enjoy it.



drizzz said...

This album was my introduction to Steeleye Span since it happened to be at our local library. I really enjoyed it as well although my favorites now are Hark! The Village Wait and All Around My Hat. I was reading William Morris' Well At The World's End at the time All Around My Hat came out and I felt they complimented each other. To be honest, at this point in time Steeleye Span wouldn't be on my desert island list.

Andrew said...

Definitely not a desert island" choice, but I can't help crying almost every time I hear Sheepcrook and Black Dog. Everything about the song makes the sorrow and missed joy of the lyrics rather palpable.

I've also teared up quite a few times, joyfully, on their rendition of Gaudete. I have a fondness for both Gregorian Chant and Folk music, and their version is perhaps a perfect blending of the two. I can't "sing along" with chant, but must with this song. Perhaps it's the best hint at what a true British Roman Catholicism would feel like?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Andrew - Yes, the middle section of Sheepcrook and Black Dog is a gorgeous tune and amazing singing.