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Maddy Prior

Possibly with the exception of the late great SANDY DENNY, the name of MADDY PRIOR is synonymous with British trad-folk and contemporary folk-rock. With a voice that transcends mere genre filing, she of course wooed a reinvigorated folk scene when spearheading modest 70s stars STEELEYE SPAN, a band who reeled off a few hits: namely `Gaudete’ and `All Around My Hat’ and some fine LPs, including the ground-breaking `Below The Salt’ and `Now We Are Six’. After a spin as SILLY SISTERS (alongside another gem, JUNE TABOR), Maddy moved through the fields of folk, combining a solo career (that included her Christmas-themed Carnival Band) and the aforesaid ‘Span.
MADDY PRIOR & JUNE TABOR’s SILLY SISTERS (1976) {*8} album boasted a host of fine folk names such as MARTIN CARTHY, NIC JONES, DANNY THOMPSON, ANDY IRVINE and Johnny Moynihan (both ex-SWEENEY’S MEN); a treasure chest of purist traditional cuts, although some, like `Burning Of Auchindoon’ and their own `Doffin’ Mistress’, were all too brief Bypassing festive ditties such as `The Seven Joys Of Mary’, their classy a cappella cues came courtesy of the bawdy `My Husband’s Got No Courage In Him’, The WATERSONS-ish `Silver Whistle’ (written by Moynihan) and `Four Loom Weaver’. Rising from the ashes of early-50s folk (and the pens of BOB & RON COPPER), `Dame Durdan’ took the trad genre into the 70s.
The magical MADDY PRIOR subsequently branched out on her lonesome (albeit with the help of hubby Kemp); releasing two solo sets in a short space of time: the self-penned WOMAN IN THE WINGS (1978) {*6} and CHANGING WINDS (1978) {*5}. She would go on to deliver a further two long-players in the early half of the 80s: HOOKED ON WINNING (1982) {*5} and GOING FOR GLORY (1983) {*5}, while many of her works with the aforesaid Carnival Band (including 1986’s A TAPESTRY OF CAROLS {*4}) were of the festive-folk variety.
While PRIOR had more or less maintained a concurrent solo career with on-off STEELEYE SPAN, she also issued two further collaborative sets on either side of the decade: the sophomore SILLY SISTERS set; again with fellow folk diva JUNE TABOR: NO MORE TO THE DANCE (1988) {*8}, and an album alongside husband Kemp: HAPPY FAMILIES (1990) {*6}. Augmented by Breton guitarist DAN AR BRAS (who donated `Agincourt Carol – La Route Au Beziers’ and the LE MYSTERE DES VOIX BULGARES-esque `Blood And Gold – Mohacs’; the latter penned with Jane Cassidy and ANDY IRVINE), plus Welsh avant-garde harpist Huw Warren, the part-a cappella set was peppered with classy tunes such as The WATERSONS’ `Fine Horseman’, Colum Sands’ (Family) `Almost Every Circumstance’, `Henry Purcell’s `Cakes And Ale’, and two lengthy trad ballads, `The Old Miner’ and `Rosie Anderson’; Kemp was behind `Somewhere Along The Road’.
The aforementioned “Happy Families”, meanwhile, was a blend of Celtic-Eastern (`Bewcastle’), folk-rock (`Fire On The Line’), scat-jazz (`Good Job’) and contemporary, JONI MITCHELL-like pop (`Rose’), the self-penned tracks duly put in the shadow by Maddy’s take of the old Connie Francis nugget, `Who’s Sorry Now’. STEELEYE SPAN was still going strong; bolstered by an all-in reunion concert in 1995.
MADDY PRIOR, meanwhile, was carving out her pop comeback through her contrived minor chart appearance with STATUS QUO, on their Christmas ‘96 rock’n’roll rendition of `All Around My Hat’. Having already made inroads back into purist folk a la YEAR (1993) {*6} – a partly traditional album and part self/part Kemp-penned – it was illuminated by her reading of LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III’s `Swimming Song’.
A slight change of direction for folk’s first lady, FLESH & BLOOD (1997) {*7} was complemented by the appearance and co-production work of new age/Celtic uilleann piper Troy Donockley (best examples on `Heart Of Stone’, `The Rolling English Road’ and Sibelius’ `Finlandia’). Dealing with a tale of incest and murder, the album opens with the dark `Sheath & Knife’, while the latter half of the set (subtitled “Dramatis Personae”), was confined to several Kemp-Prior cuts produced by keysman Nick Holland. MADDY PRIOR had now departed STEELEYE SPAN; her berth filled by Gay Woods.
Prior to Maddy’s reunification with the ‘Span, she delivered a plethora of solo albums RAVENCHILD (1999) {*5) – featuring six-song suite, `In The Company Of Ravens’; the live BALLADS & CANDLES (2000) {*6} – with JUNE TABOR, Peter Knight and Nick Holland on board; the concept mythical record ARTHUR THE KING (2001) {*7} – with long-time collaborators Holland and producer Donockley; BIB & TUCK (2002) {*5} – crediting her girls, and LIONHEARTS (2003) {*5} – the latter a shorter set, again with Nick and Troy.
Once again combining her work with STEELEYE SPAN with a prolific solo career, PRIOR’s mid-to-late-00s works – notwithstanding her Carnival Band sets – included UNDER THE COVERS (as Maddy + Girls; 2005) {*4}, containing songs once the property of GODLEY & CREME (`Under Your Thumb’), PJ HARVEY (`Sheela Na Gig’), STING (`715 Wave’), The PRETENDERS (`Complex Person’), LEVELLERS (`One Way’); among others.
One of the great and distinctive singers of the 20th and 21st centuries, MADDY PRIOR was in fine fettle on her umpteenth solo effort, SEVEN FOR OLD ENGLAND (2008) {*7}, a traditional and acoustic record augmented by folk musicians Benji Kirkpatrick and Giles Lewin. Folk aficionados might recognise dirges like `The Collier Lad’, `The Cuckoo’, `Bold General Wolfe’ and a revamped `Dives & Lazarus’.
Still spearheading the long-running STEELEYE SPAN (in 2019 they celebrated 50 years in the biz with `Est’d 1969’), MADDY PRIOR had also updated her C.V. by way of 2012’s 3 FOR JOY {*6} and 2017’s SHORTWINGER {*6}, two sets she shared billing alongside Hannah James & Giles Lewin.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2010/GRD/GFD // rev-up MCS Jul2019

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