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Steeleye Span: Rocket Cottage

Steeleye Span: Rocket Cottage (Chrysalis CHR 1123)

Rocket Cottage
Steeleye Span

Chrysalis CHR 1123 (LP, UK, September 1976)
Chrysalis 6307 584 (LP, Portugal, 1976)
Chrysalis/Festival L 35972 (LP, Australia)
Chrysalis/Phonogram 6307 584 (LP, Germany)
BGO Records BGOCD 318 (CD, UK, October 1996)

Steeleye Span: Rocket Cottage (BGOCD 318)

Produced by Mike Batt;
Recorded at Frans Peters Studios, Hilversum, Holland


Maddy Prior: vocals;
Tim Hart: vocals, guitar;
Peter Knight: violin;
Robert Johnson: guitar, vocals;
Rick Kemp: bass;
Nigel Pegrum: drums


Side 1

  1. London (4.14)
  2. The Bosnian Hornpipes (0.58)
  3. Orfeo / Nathan’s Reel (Roud 136; Child 19) (6.01)
  4. The Twelve Witches (4.32)
  5. The Brown Girl (Roud 180; Child 295) (5.06)

Side 2

  1. Fighting for Strangers (4.26)
  2. Sligo Maid (3.44)
  3. Sir James the Rose (Roud 2274; Child 213; G/D 2:235) (6.16)
  4. Camptown Races (Roud 11768) (2.11)
  5. The Drunkard (Roud 1165) (5.44)


Recorded at Frans Peters Studios, Hilversum, Holland, June ’76. Produced by Mike Batt. Recorded very fast, in just over a week in fact, with the band in the studio 12-14 hours each day. The rest of the time was mostly spent cycling to and from the hotel, and sitting in Hank’s Bar outside the studio (where the album’s back-cover shots were taken). This turned out to be an uneven album, with the second side more interesting than the first. It included one track that is not mentioned on the record or the sleeve - the band were singing Camptown Races, while waiting for Maddy to finish powdering her nose, and Batt recorded the results without them knowing. The best track, Fighting for Strangers, was a tragic military montage of three songs segued together against layers of percussive over-dubbing. The results were both experimental and exciting.

Tim Hart, Robin Denselow: The Complete Steeleye Span, 1978


Im Vergleich zu früher ist die augenblickliche Folk-Rock-Szene Englands auf wenige Bands zusammengeschrumpft, die an einer Revitalisierung konsequent arbeiten. Steeleye Span, die einen eigenständigen Stil entwickelt haben, der die traditionelle Folkmusic gesellschafts- und konkurrenzfähig gemacht hat, gehören dazu. Immer wieder warten sie mit frischen und neuen Tönen auf. Rocket Cottage erklärt in Titel und Cover sehr bildhaft die selten vereinbarte Kombination aus Tradition und Fortschritt: ein idyllisches Landhaus rast auf einer Rakete dem Weltall entgegen. Bon Voyage!

Die LP enthält kein einziges mittelmäßiges Stück, und das ist wohl mehr, als man von einer LP verlangen kann. Die schon auf All Around My Hat anklingenden “Fremdelemente”, Geigen- und Flötenarrangements und elektronische Verfremdungen, tauchen auch hier so sparsam und unauffällig auf, dass man sich nur wünschen kann, andere Gruppen besäßen ähnliche Selbstdisziplin. Und Mike Batts transparente Produktion ist eine wahre Freude fürs Ohr. Ganz besonders liebevoll aufgenommen die Gesangsparts, ob mehrstimmig oder kanon-artig, wie z.B. in Orfeo / Nathan’s Reel, eine wahre Meisterleistung von Maddy Priors Vielseitigkeit, und die Percussionarbeit von Nigel Pegrum bei Fighting for Strangers. Da werden, wie auch an manch anderen Stellen, Westcoast-Zeiten wach, obwohl die Kompositionen allesamt englische Traditionals sind.

Meine Lieblingsstücke: das melodische und rhythmische The Twelve Witches, eine Variation des "Zehn kleine Negerlein"-Spiels mit Hexen und Camptown Races.

Nowadays [i.e. 1976 -rz] the English folk rock movement seems to have shrunk to only a few bands that are purposefully working on revitalizing it. Steeleye Span, having developed their own style which made traditional folk music socially acceptable and competitive, are one of them. They offer fresh and new sounds ever and ever again. Both by title and by cover picture, Rocket Cottage clearly illustrates the rarely working combination of tradition and progress: an idyllic cottage racing on a rocket towards space. Bon Voyage!

The record has not a single mediocre track, and that is rather more than you usually expect. Styles hitherto unusual for folk music already appeared on All Around My Hat, e.g. violin or recorder arrangements and special effects; here again they are used so economical and discreet that we just wish other bands had a similar self-discipline. And Mike Batt’s transparent production is a true joy to hear. Noteworthy is the loving care in recording the voice parts, be it harmonies or canons as in Orfeo / Nathan’s Reel, a brilliant showcase of Maddy Prior’s versatility, and the percussion playing of Nigel Pegrum on Fighting for Strangers. There, as in some other places, one is reminded of Westcoast times, although all compositions are English traditionals.

My favourite songs: the melodic and rhythmic The Twelve Witches—a variation of the children game “Ten little Indians” using witches just for a change—and Camptown Races.

Ingeborg Schober, Sounds, 1976, English translation by Reinhard Zierke

To: prior-engagements@chersonese.com
From: Kevin Scott <kevinscott@shaw.ca>
Date: Tue, 06 Oct 1998 02:08:41 -0500
Subject: [prior] Rocket Cottage

So I was just perusing a bunch of Steeleye Span reviews on one of the online music stores, and read this review (by Steve Winick) about Rocket Cottage:

Rocket Cottage is less crucial (than Commoners Crown) for many reasons. The liner notes on the CD release suggest that its failure to do well in the charts was due largely to the punk explosion. Although there is no question that Anarchy in the UK may have had some effect, it is easy to explain Rocket Cottage’s failure on artistic and financial levels without blaming the punks: there is not a single song on it as good as Long Lankin or as accessible as All Around My Hat, period.”

This is as good a time as any to leap to the defense of one of my favourite Steeleye records. Time and again I see Rocket Cottage get maligned, and I don’t understand it at all. Not as accessible as All Around My Hat? I think it absolutely BURIES All Around My Hat! Songs like London, The Twelve Witches, Fighting for Strangers and Sir James the Rose are among Steeleye’s finest achievements in my opinion. The one time I met Maddy Prior I told her as much (and brought the CD for her to sign) and she seemed delighted that I thought so, as the band like the album very much as well. The one valid complaint about it is the bit of chat that precedes The Drunkard, but I for one find it interesting to be privy to what goes on in the studio duing one of their recording sessions. Really, there are no bad tracks on the album.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide went one step further and described the album as “clumsy”—but needless to say didn’t offer any examples.

Why does it get slammed so much? The playing is expert, the arrangements great and the songs of the highest standard. Actually, All Around My Hat let me down a bit after the excellent Commoners Crown, but I really do think they rose to the occasion with Rocket Cottage.

What does everyone else think? I’m curious.

Kevin Scott <kevinscott@shaw.ca>, October 1998