Sails of Silver

14th November 1980

Chrysalis (UK LP - CHR 1304)
Recorded at Sawmill Studios, Golant, Cornwall
Producer - Gus Dudgeon
Engineer - Jerry Boys


With the return of the Classic line up the band for the first time released an album of mainly original compositions. As Maddy said: "What we came up with reflected traditional themes, yet sounded contemporary". Not least due to Peter playing more keyboard than fiddle. When the band first practised Gus Dudgeon (Elton John's producer) thought they had only had 1 1/2 songs (Let Her go Down and verse of Tell Me Why) and the others needed to have more contemporary arrangements, and so he sent them off to write some more or alter them. He gave them 2 weeks! Gus had suggested that they couldn't go back and do what they had done before, that they had to move to a more contemporary sound, which the band broadly agreed with. Bob said at first they had taken a more nostalgic approach and thought they would just pick up from where they left off. Tim said that they were at one point one track short and so he went off into a little studio to finish 'My Love' so they could add it to the Album, Rick did the same with 'Where Are They Now', sitting up all night to finish. Bob described the overall sound as too 'sophisticated' and the whole band referred to it as a transitional album. 

Maddy: "Because we'd all kind of gone in different directions, all doing different things, with different ideas, that certainty that we'd had before, we'd lost. We were so in disarray, and we didn't have the material we were confident with. So Gus [producer Gus Dudgeon] had a lot more input, and I think that's why it sounds very sweet and rounded and nothing offensive in it, you know. And that wasn't what we were known for, and it isn't what we do, what we're good at." Still, she insists, it's not a bad album, really. " I actually think it's quite a jolly album. And very accessible."

Bob described it as more American sounding with a glossy sheen (talking about the influence of Gus)....  (Johan's Interview) 

1. Sails of Silver

(3.27 Written by Tim Hart)

Single: Nov 1980: Sails of Silver (b: Senior Service)


[1980] UK Comeback Tour
[1981] UK Spring Tour; Cambridge Folk Festival; Vienna Folk Festival (see video opposite/below)
[1982] Winter Australian Tour; UK Autumn Tour. 'On Tour' LP (1982); 'Gone to Australia CD' (2001)
[2009] Spring Tour. Rare outing which only lasted a few dates on this tour, Sung by Maddy as before.

2. My Love

(2.53 Written by Tim Hart using a traditional tune)

Peter Knight when responding to a Question on his old site, said of the song that it was Tim's words put to an old tune. Someone later responded that it was possibly a tune called 'Kelvin Grove' in a book called 'The National Songbook' but I have not managed to verify this. The tune is definitely the one used on the traditional song 'The Shearings not for you' (Here, is a 1970 recording) so the more likely home of the tune, unless Kelvin Grove is an older version.

[1980] UK Comeback Tour
[1981] UK Autumn Tour

3. Barnet Fair

(4.34 Lyrics written by Rick Kemp. The credits suggest 'traditional' for the tune but this has not been confirmed and if traditional, it has not been identified)

Rick: 'Here I tried to re-create the atmosphere in a town anticipating the arrival of a travelling fair, in the days before hydraulics made the fairground experience bigger, racier, and much more expensive.'
Per Rick this was turned into a more Rock n Roll arrangement by Gus.


[1980] UK Comeback Tour
[1981] UK Spring Tour;  Vienna Folk Festival (see video opposite/below)' UK Autmn Tour
[1982] Winter Australian Tour; UK Autumn Tour (probably). 'Gone to Australia CD' (2001)

4. Senior Service

(3.31 Written by Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp)

[1981] UK Spring Tour; Cambridge Folk Festival - Higher tempo version with Peter's violin played through a 'RAT' Pedal - available on Youtube. (Video opposite/below)
[1981] UK Autumn Tour
[1982] UK Autumn Tour (possibly)
[2023] UK Green Man Tour - played once as a special request in Portsmouth!

5. Gone to America

(4.21 Written by Peter Knight but the melody might be traditional, not confirmed)

Bob: "Incredible, some of the low notes that she [Maddy] hits, there's a power in her voice, she was actually pregnant, she was very, very pregnant when she sang that and I remember her sitting down singing this. I was amazed at how much power she got out"
When played live has lengthy guitar solos, unusual for Bob in particular. Accompanied by Peter on Keyboards.

[1980] UK Comeback Tour
[1981] UK Spring Tour;  Vienna Folk Festival (see video opposite/below); UK Autumn Tour
[1982] Winter Australian Tour; UK Autumn Tour (probably);  'On Tour' LP (1982); 'Gone to Australia CD' (2001)
[1984] UK Spring Tour (Played on BBC Radio Folk On Two in Dec); US 'Reunion' Tour; Australian Tour (2nd encore)
[1987] Autumn Tour (encore)
[1993] UK 'Chasing Rainbows' Tour
[1994] Australasia May Tour; Summer festivals
[2008] Spring UK Tour. 'Live at a Distance CD' (2009)

6. Where Are They Now

(4.11 Written by Rick Kemp but melody might be traditional, not confirmed)

Rick: 'Seems as if my chums Peace and Environment are on the defensive again. Written overnight and recorded by Steeleye the next morning'

[1980] UK Comeback Tour
[1981] UK Spring Tour;  Vienna Folk Festival (see video opposite/below)
[1981] UK Autumn Tour

7. Let Her Go Down

(3.36 Written by Peter Knight)
Written by Peter during the time when he was not in Steeleye (1977-79) and owned a commercial fishing boat with a friend off the coast of Hastings. The song has been covered by The Hollies. Although Peter has said it is not about a specific incident, knowing Peter it is more than likely a metaphor for other experiences not relating to a ship...
Peter: "This song reflects the dangers of the sea and how quickly the weather can change without warning".

Peter also explained in a bit more detail on his website once: " There are various meanings to this song if 'meaning' is the right word. 'Feelings' would be closer. I left Steeleye at one point and bought a small fishing boat and fished off the coast of Hastings. Although we would always check the weather forecast before going to sea, there were times when we were caught in unexpected bad weather. At these times the consequences can be uncomfortable or lives can be lost, and decisions have to be made quickly. This song came from that time and is about human nature. It may be that the captain was a coward. Perhaps his decision to tell the crew to abandon ship was wrong. Maybe all hands could have saved her. The captain had his reasons. What they were I don't know."

When recorded it was considered a potential single and as a result the final verse was re-written to allow Maddy to sing a verse. It also meant the lyrics didn't quite make sense and when questioned about it on his website (around 1999) Peter explained about the re written verse and for the first time said what they had intended to be (below).

Peter said that 'the Captain could have save the ship but didn't...Sometimes the crew know best'

'I wondered if my shipmates
Had been lost in that rolling sea
So I called their names out one by one
But there was no one else around but me
And as that ship went down in the fading light
I knew we could have saved her
The captain lied when the captain cried
“There's none of us here can save her”  

Studio Re-recording - 'Present' CD (2002)
Re recorded with the original as intended verse. After this date the song was always sung live with these lyrics. See 2nd video below for this newer version.

[1980] UK Comeback Tour
[1981] UK Spring Tour;  Vienna Folk Festival (see 1st video opposite/below); UK Autumn Tour
[1982] Winter Australian Tour; UK Autumn Tour (probably). 'On Tour' LP (1982); 'Gone to Australia CD' (2001)
[1984] US 'Reunion' Tour; Australian Tour
[1985] US Tour and probably UK Tours
[1987] World Tour (probably all tours that year)
[1989] Cropedy Festival
[1994] 25th Anniversary Tour; '25 Live' VHS Video (1994)
[2002] UK Reunion Tour
[2004] Australian Tour; UK 35th Anniversary tour; UK 'Winter' Tour;  'The 35th Anniversary World Tour 2004 DVD (2005). (See 2nd video below)
[2006] UK 'Bloody Men' tour
[2007] Spanfest
[2009] UK 40th Anniversary Tour (some dates)
[2011] Spring UK Tour; 'Now We are Six Again' CD (2011)
[2013] Spring UK Tour

8. Longbone

(3.58 Written by Bob Johnson. Interpreted the lyrics from Norse mythology ballad and wrote the melody)

Apparently Gus didn’t like as it was too 'Status Quo', Bob thought it was a good Jig rhythm. Gus then turned into a West County Country funk (as described by Peter and Bob!)

[1980] UK Comeback Tour
[1981] UK Spring Tour; Cambridge Folk Festival;  Vienna Folk Festival (see video opposite/below); UK Autumn Tour
[1982] Winter Australian Tour; UK Autumn Tour (probably);  'On Tour' LP (1982); 'Gone to Australia CD' (2001)
[1984] Winter Australian Tour; US 'Reunion' Tour.
[1986] Autumn British Tour
[1999] UK 30th Anniversary Tour

9. Marigold / Harvest Home

(3.05 Part a/ written by Maddy Prior; part b/ Trad. Arr.)

[1984] Winter Australian Tour; UK Spring Tour; US 'Reunion' Tour. As part of the 'Autumn to Spring Medley. 'A Rare Collection' 1972-1996. (1999)

10. Tell Me Why

(3.56 Traditional Lyrics, also known as 'Devil's Nine Questions'. Melody written by Bob Johnson) 

This was the half a song of the 'One and a half' songs that Gus liked when the band first rehearsed the album. This one had to be altered to take out the references to Lucifer in the original lyrics as an engineer thought it could be a single. 

Never performed live as far as we know

1998 CD Reissue

The Park Records CD reissue had 3 bonus tracks.

Thomas the Rhymer (Live)
Recorded in March 1997

My Johnny was a Shoemaker (live)
The Lark in the Morning (live)
Both recorded in December 1996 when they supported Status Quo

Sadly no other live tracks from either concert have ever been released.

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