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Steeleye Span Steeleye Span
Album: Ten Man Mop Or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again
Label: Talking Elephant
Tracks: 13

Mention Steeleye Span to most people of a certain age and the first thing they will recall is performances on Top Of The Pops with All Around My Hat. Originally Released in December 1971, Ten Man Mop… predates those chart appearances by some four years but, nether the less, in some ways marks the end of an era for this legendary band.

One of the reasons that Ashley Hutchings left Fairport Convention in 1969 and founded Steeleye Span was that he wanted to follow a more traditional path than his then band mates were taking and his approach is apparent all the way through this, Steeleye Span's third album.

This collection of traditional songs and tunes gets under way with an adaption of The Gower Wassail, Tim Hart's vocals and the stately pace of this traditional Welsh song certainly helps to conjure up images of the revellers processing around their orchards at new year making offerings and singing songs in the hope of a good harvest the following year.

Next up Peter Knight Is given the chance to showcase his not inconsiderable fiddle skills on a pair of traditional Irish Jigs, Paddy Clancy's Jig & Paddy Clancy's Fancy as he is later in the album with a set of reels, Dowd's Favourite, £10 Float & Morning Dew.

Several familiar folk song themes make an appearance, the drunken cuckold in Four Nights Drunk, an abbreviated version of the Folk Club favourite Seven Drunken Nights. Marrowbones is the obligatory murder ballad. A tale of an unfaithful wife whose efforts to dispose of her husband are thwarted by their doctor. Captain Coulston is a slightly confused piracy/emigration song. The Wee Weaver is that rarest of things in Folk, a happy love song in which the Weaver gets his girl, they marry & live happily ever after. Skewball is a traditional song known on both sides of the Atlantic about a late 18th Century Racehorse whose exploits somehow captured the contemporary ballad makers fancy.

On this edition of Ten Man Mop… there are also 4 songs that did not appear on the original release. A rousing sea shanty by the name of General Taylor and, for some strange reason, three versions of Buddy Holly's Rave On. One with fake "scratches"' as well as two and three verse versions. Personally I would rather have had one version of the Buddy Holly classic and a couple of other Steeleye Span outtakes as fillers.

The standout song on the album has, for me, got to be When I Was On Horseback. The sparse arrangement and Maddy Prior's haunting vocals add to the inherent poignancy of this traditional tale of a young soldier facing his imminent demise.

Even though this album is very much rooted in the traditional music of the British Isles, there are hints throughout of the future direction that the band would take. As I said at the start, Ten Man Mop.. marked the end of an era for Steeleye Span, by the time it's follow up, Below The Salt, came out in 1972, both Ashley Hutchings and Martin Carthy had left the band and they were well on the road to Folk Rock superstardom, chart success and Top Of The Pops.

Is this album worth getting? Definitely, Ashley Hutchings' sleeve notes make interesting reading and if you're not familiar with Steeleye Span's early work, this album provides a useful bridge to their later, more commercial, releases and an insight into how Steeleye Span got onto the path that made them the band they are today.

Finally, just where did that title come from? According to Ashley Hutchings it is an amalgam of two possible titles that the band couldn't decide between. A Mop or Hiring Fair was where labourers came to find work. A Ten Man Mop was one where not many labourers turned up and was, from the point of view of the potential employers, a poor fair. Mr Reservoir Butler was either a reference to one of the band's early roadies or the original singer of one of the songs on the album (history doesn't say which one) whose name was so unusual that the band decided it shouldn't be forgotten.

David Chamberlain