The late sixties/early seventies folk scene was somewhat taken aback by the sound of British traditional folk songs being played utilising electric guitar, bass and drums in a rock style, on Fairport Conventions amazing album Liege And Lief. Equally astonished were those in the rock scene – but what a superb sound this combination created and in no better hands than the fine musicians of Fairport and wow! – that voice of Sandy Denny.
Tracks like ‘Matty Groves’ allowed the band to extend their interplay to lengthy pieces that kept us longhairs (yes, Steve I know times have changed!!) nodding in bliss – just listen to Tam Lin and Crazy Man Michael – but the whole album remains an absolute delight. What is also brilliant is that Fairport continue to impress both live and on record so none of their many albums will disappoint should you fancy giving them a go (if you haven’t already of course). Liege And Lief however remains the classic that started it all.
With the growing number of young musicians at that time becoming involved in the burgeoning folk scene it is no surprise that members of newly created bands overlapped each other at some time and so it was that Tim Hart and Maddy Prior put together Steeleye Span whose albums followed the same style as Fairport Convention. The first Steeleye album Hark! The Village Wait is itself a masterpiece on which we hear such well known songs as The Blacksmith, Blackleg Miner and Dark Eyed Sailor that would have been sung acapella or by a solo artist with a guitar at many a folk club. Here they appear with a range of instruments including the electric bass guitar, drums and electric guitar and again they sound terrific. Steeleye Span made many fine albums but to my ears this remains their jewel in the crown.
And there were other bands who followed the same route and themselves released worthy albums. Gaye and Terry Woods were members of Steeleye Span on that first album but split soon after. They went on to make their own album ‘The Woods Band’ which is another very respectable effort again adapting traditional songs but also including songs of their own.
Another band that should not be overlooked was Trees. They made two excellent folk/rock albums, Trees and The Garden Of Jane Delawney again writing much of their own material often with it being difficult to determine which was traditional and which was indeed their own. Again there was a female vocalist (a common feature in these bands) but the instrumental passages were more extended on these albums compared to the others mentioned. All great stuff however and now highly collectable.
There were a number of others who created worthwhile folk/rock albums in the same style i.e the adapting of traditional songs and tunes. So if you are interested in this area look out for bands such as Spriguns, the Irish outfit Spud and Hedgehog Pie to name just three who released some fine material.
To finish with it’s worth mentioning that the genre remains very much alive today – just check out anything by Circulus.
About the Author
Mike Warth – Retired teacher and Education Officer, old rocker, lover of prog, psych and folk – the latter for which I sometimes take some stick. (Why?) Currently having a ball working in The Sound Machine, Reading – independent Record Store par excellence and working with Vernon Joynson on the ultimate update to Tapestry Of Delights to be published October 2014.