Commoners Crown

1975   Chrysalis (CHR 1071)

PRIOR - HART - JOHNSON - KNIGHT - KEMP - PEGRUM

Recorded (Oct '74)at Morgan Studios
Produced by Steeleye Span and Robin Black
Engineered and mixed by Robin Black


















Peak UK Chart Position - 21 (4 weeks on chart). 3rd best performing album.

The title was conceived by Maddy Prior and the award winning sleeve art was a real sculpture.  The second album recorded at Morgan Studio and again featuring Robin Black as Co-Producer.

Seen by many fans as a 70’s career highlight, this album is often overlooked (including by the band when choosing Live songs) , as it was released in the same year as the breakthrough hit All Around My Hat. Additionally, it was largely un-promoted in the UK upon its release, as the band had declared a 'rest period' for the first months of 1975 – actually occasioned by parting company with manager Jo Lustig and waiting for the termination of his contract.

Interviewed in Record Mirror during the sessions for the album Rick said; 'everybody's very pleased with (the new album) … which is unusual. It's the first one in fact.'

Similarly, Tim declared upon its release; 'I'm very happy with … Commoner's Crown ... it could have been done better with more time.'

Working Titles reveal the prevailing weary attitude of the band after 1974’s hectic year: 'Over The Top' and 'Poor But Famous', and due to the factors mentioned above, its chart performance was not as good as the previous year’s Now We Are Six album.

Nevertheless, it has produced some Steeleye classics that have remained in the live set for many years, and some that have curiously not…

1. Little Sir Hugh 

(Trad. Child 155. Well known traditional song with lots of variants but here heavily adapted and a new melody by Bob Johnson) – 4:44

Brought into the sessions by Bob, adapted from Child Ballad 155. Noted by Nigel that it had been played on stage before recording but it was the only one of Bob's that had. (So not Long Lankin)

An early ‘murder’ ballad, with a melodic arrangement belying its grisly subject matter which was originally anti semitic - Steeleye removed these references.  During the 70’s the song was usually extended by singing the acapella chorus twice at the end of the song. The Electric Folk version extends the song further by adding 2 extra choruses to the beginning and 1 to the end

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LIVE/RELEASES:
[1973] debuted on BBC TV’s Electric Folk (Penshurst Place)
[1974] Now We Are Six Spring tour, the Summer US concert tour and the Autumn UK tour. 
[1975] Seemed to have survived into 1975 (including Rockpalast), and some dates on the All Around My Hat UK tour. 
[1981] reappeared on the Spring UK Tour 
[1982] Australian Tour and some Summer European dates.  On Tour LP (1982),  Gone To Australia CD (2001)
[2009]40th Anniversary UK Autumn Tour
[2017] Winter Tour 2017
[2018] Shrewsbury Folk Festival
[2019] 50th Anniversary Spring tour. '50th Anniversary Tour DVD/CD
[2021] UK Autumn Tour

 

2. Bach Goes To Limerick

(Written by Peter) – 3:41. A combination of Classical and Irish jigs. The former Peter studied at The Royal School of Music and the latter in the pubs of London..

LIVE:
[1975] BBC TV’s Electric Folk (The New Inn). Not played again.
[1980] reappeared on the Winter ‘Comeback’ Tour
[1981] Spring UK Tour
[1982] Australian Tour, some Summer European dates and Winter UK Tour (Tim’s last).  On Tour LP (1982), Gone To Australia CD (2001)  
[1984] ‘Gone To Australia’ Tour and US ‘Reunion’ Tour

 

3. Long Lankin 

(Traditional, Child 93. Arranged and melody written by Bob) – 8:40

Brought into the sessions by Bob, adapted from Child Ballad 93. Exists in many variants with the protagonist having many different names (usually a Stone Mason). In almost all live versions, there is a violin instrumental at the end of the song not found on the studio version.

Bob (2002) - Opinions differ on who Long Lankin actually was. it is thought that he entered folklore as a kind of 'Nightmare on Elm Street' and that some mothers would warn their children "if you're not good, Long Lankin will get you"

Nigel Pegrum's favourite song as he felt the whole banned 'really gelled' on this track 

Re-recorded for the 'Present' Album (2002) 

LIVE/RELEASES:
[1975] Debuted at Hammersmith Odeon (April), BBC TV’s Electric Folk Raby Castle, Rockpalast broadcast, All Around My Hat tour & Winter European dates;
[1980] reappeared on the Winter ‘Comeback’ Tour, Cambridge Folk Festival
[1981] Winter Tour;  Cambridge Folk Festival (1981) (played on BBC Radio 2) 
[1982] some Summer European dates & Winter UK Tour (Tim’s last) (1982)
[1986] Back In Line Australian Tour (So probably in UK as well but no set lists)
[1993] Chasing Rainbows Tour
[1998] Horkstow Grange Tour
[2002] winter ‘Reunion’ Tour
[2004] UK & US 35th Anniversary Tours.  available on  35th Anniversary Tour DVD (2004) & Folk Rock Pioneers in Concert CD (2004) 
[2006] Spring Tour, Cropredy, Bloody Men Tour
[2008] Spring Tour
[2011] Spring Tour (some dates)
[2013] Spring Tour
[2014] Irish dates
[2015] Winter Tour, North American Tour; Festivals (Including here at Shepley) 
[2018] Autumn Tour; Available on the '50th Anniversary Tour DVD' (not on the CD)

 

4. Dogs and Ferrets 

(Traditional lyrics. Melody was written by Peter Knight) - 2.44  

A popular traditional song about poaching, also known as 'while Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping' was seemingly never performed live, apart from the Electric Folk version which mirrors the studio version.

LIVE:
[1975] BBC TV’s Electric Folk Raby Castle 

5. Galtee Farmer 

(Traditional) – 3:47

Rarely performed live. The Electric Folk version, as usual, extends the song instrumentally at the end as the credits run through. Reprised most notably in 1977 with John Kirkpatrick’s accordion replacing the original dulcimer/electric guitar backing.

LIVE:
[1975] BBC TV’s Electric Folk New Inn
[1977] Storm Force Ten Tour
[1978] Live At Last! Farewell Tour. New live album - Live at De Montfort Hall CD

 

6. Demon Lover 

(Traditional. Child 243 - 'The House Carpenter') – 5:54. Heavily adapted from the Child lyrics and the inclusion of a chorus using part of the 'original' lyrics. I have not heard the song sung to this melody either so a probable original tune.

A song about the ultimate revenge against an ungrateful young woman exists in many variants. Despite its catchiness, it was rarely performed live (although set list information is scant in early ’75). The Electric Folk version extends the song by having a violin introduction at the beginning.

LIVE/ RELEASES
[1974] Autumn UK tour
[1975] BBC TV’s Electric Folk New Inn;  Rockpalast TV broadcast (1975)

 

7. Elf Call 

(Traditional. Child 40 -'The Queen of Elfan’s Nourice') – 3:54. Simplified version of the Child Ballad adding the various call backs/refrains

Apart from kidnapping babies (changelings), the fairies also co-opted the assistance of mortal mothers to help to rear their ‘offspring’. One such mother mourns for her own child, with a characteristically unsympathetic response from the Elf King. An edited single (without the end instrumental section) was issued in Australia presumably as promotion for 1975 ‘Play It Again Span’ tour, so we should assume it was played live then. However, it did not survive to the Autumn All Around My Hat UK tour. The Electric Folk performance is a faithful reproduction of the LP.


A Rare Collection CD (1999) (Australian only edited single)

LIVE:
[1975] BBC TV’s Electric Folk Rivington Hall Barn; Australian Tour (almost certainly)

 

8. Weary Cutters 

(Traditional) – 2:04

A haunting lament sung by a mother who’s child has been press ganged to serve at sea. Maddy double tracks herself in this often overlooked gem. Performed live for the first time in 2015. The Steeleye version sticks closely to early singing of the ballad.

LIVE:
[2015] European Tour, UK Autumn Tour.  Available to view Skegness Great British Folk Festival (Youtube)

 

9. New York Girls 

(Traditional) – 3:12

Popular song about the perils of tourism and meeting ladies of ill repute. Recorded late in the sessions for the LP, no doubt to accommodate the guest appearance on ukulele of Peter Sellers (see below). Verses sung in order by Rick, Tim, Pete and Bob. Performed on the Raby Castle episode of Electric Folk where Tim substitutes ‘credit card’ (becoming all the rage in the mid 70’s) for ‘lady friend’. Despite being released as a single, we have no clear evidence it was played live at this time (although set list information is scanty in early ’75). Reappeared live 40 years later in 2015.

LIVE:
[1975] BBC TV’s Electric Folk Raby Castle
[2015] European Tour, UK Autumn Tour. With Maddy on the Uke. Available to view  Skegness Great British Folk Festival (Youtube)


How a Goon came to play Ukulele for Steeleye Span

Melody Maker - 26th October 1974


It was like the coming of a new Messiah. Everyone sat around nervously awaiting the arrival of HIM, the man who was gonna make this recording session a Very Special Occasion. The sort of stuff to make a rock legend. A real happening. No one in the band seemed to believe it. There they were, little ol' Steeleye Span who’d started out some five years ago as a bunch of folkies with nothing much but a few new ideas. But here they were recording their seventh album and HE was going to be on it.

They'd all got to the studio early in honour of his coming, and they sat around talking amongst themselves until conversation dried up and they just waited HE's late, fiddler Peter Knight observed, and doubts began to creep in about whether he’d make an appearance at all. Knight told a joke which wasn't very funny, but it whiled away a couple of minutes, and Maddy Prior spilled her drink.

Then they decided to play the tracks through again it was ‘New York Gals’ a famous shanty sometimes known as "Can't You Dance The Polka," given an entirely new bouncy treatment full of saucy touches and vintage Maddy back-up harmonies. There's a break in the vocals somewhere in the middle, and that's where HE‘s going to come in and transform the album. That's if HE turns up...

But the fears are unfounded. The word goes round quickly and a tremor of excitement is felt in the studio. It's HIM. And sure enough, in strides Steeleye's manager Jo Lustig, followed by the man himself - Peter Sellers. The introductions are formal and polite, Steeleye look in awe at Sellers. This is, really the man who had them all on their backs laughing, The Pink Panther, The Wrong Arm of the Law, The Man with a Girl in his Soup.

Yes, this tanned, fit-looking gent is really Sellers, fresh from another successful hearing at the divorce courts. Incredibly Sellers seemed diffident, even apprehensive He's not completely new to the recording studios, after all he's had a couple of big hits in the past with Sophia Loren, not to mention the Goons. But this is still a long way from his normal avenue of activity and sitting in with a rock band (even a traditional based rock hand) is an entirely different matter to cutting a novelty comedy record.

He's here because Bob Johnson of Steeleye saw Sellers playing ukulele in a film once and thought the solo in the middle of "New York Gals" would he an ideal part for him. It was just what they needed to give the track an extra bit of impetus - the reasons Sellers has been asked to play with Steeleye are, of course, purely artistic Who was the cad that suggested it mightn't be a bad publicity gimmick, either?

Sellers was happy to agree to do the session. He has a long and deep interest in music, at one time playing drums in a band. It didn't need much to persuade him to bring his ukulele along to this session, even if he hadn't previously been too well-versed with the intricacies of Steeleye Span's music.

There are a few self conscious jokes as Sellers unveils his Martin ukulele and then he settles down to listen to the track and hear what they want him to do. He listens impassively and at the end of it, mutters "Hmmm" The others wait for his verdict and finally he say. "Okay, let's see if I can do it," and picks up his ukulele. There's trouble with tuning the instrument in the right key, but through a systematic process of slowing and speeding the track to make the tuning fit, they finally get it right.

Sellers plays his part adequately enough and gets more ambitious as his confidence grows and he finds that over in the sound room they like what they hear. Eventually there's no holding him. Give him his head and he'll dominate the whole track. He's already given word to postpone an appointment with Vogue until another day and you get the impression he wouldn't mind the chance to have a go at some of the other tracks as well.

Earlier there had been some discussion amongst the members of the hand as to whether they could possibly ask him to do a bit of Goonery as well. They decided they couldn't, but it didn't matter for as he tired of playing the same ukulele piece over and over again, Sellers suddenly launched into "Play that matelot, Min"

By the end of the session the track was filled with strange sounds and quick fire cracks, almost obscuring Maddy's backing voice. Hilarity broke out in the studio, Peter Knight, who had been playing a leading role in the production operation, had to leave his seat he was laughing so much, and the others were falling about similarly.

In Bob's words in 1994: 

"Well it was, you know, as you say time, it was a wacky period and anything went. We were doing this little sea shanty and we needed some ukulele on it and I remembered I had heard 'Peter Sellers' playing ukulele on a old album 'Songs For Swingin' Sellers', I had when I was a little boy, because I was a big fan of 'Peters' and I thought this will be a hoot, let's ask him along, so we did and lo he said yes, some what puzzled I remember he was very tense and puzzled in the studio because he couldn't play very well and he was sort of wondering why he was there and we were all sitting in the booth beginning to feel tense and puzzled and wondering why he was there and suddenly, I think to relieve the tension he went (Goon noises) all over the track, we all fell about, everybody rolled on the floor clutching their sides and suddenly we knew that's why he was there.”

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