Today’s music video is ‘I See His Blood Upon The Rose’ from the electric folk rock band called Steeleye Span, from England.
This video was posted to You Tube by tkdrbs113
Sometimes, the music comes to you when you least expect it to, and that’s the case with this song. I first heard this in early 2001.
On the weekends, I would sleep in until around 10AM. I would set the alarm for around a minute to ten, and listen the news at the top of the hour, and then read for an hour before getting up and going to have a late breakfast, as we always did on weekends. The station I listened to would have regular 5 minute bulletins, but at 8, 10, and Midday, they would broadcast ten minute bulletins. So, on that Saturday morning the alarm went off and the news came on. However, at five past, the bulletin abruptly ceased and this song started to play. I would have turned it off immediately, as I didn’t wish to wake my good lady wife, but with the news having stopped in mid sentence, I thought it was a glitch at the station and they would immediately break back in with the rest of the news bulletin. They didn’t, and after about a minute of listening I was really struck by this piece of music. My wife woke up, something rare as she usually slept through for another fifteen or so minutes. She asked what this song was, and only hearing it for the first time, I didn’t know of it, or even of the band, although there was a nagging suspicion that the style was somehow familiar.
We both listened intently, and my wife commented on what a beautiful song it was. As was the case with this station, they scheduled four in a row following the (now interrupted) news bulletin, so we had to wait almost 20 minutes for the announcer to come back on air. It’s probably something that announcers do at times, schedule four in a row, so they can step out and get a coffee or something similar.
When he did come back on air, there was no hint as to the titles of any of the previous 4 songs, so we were both at a loss as to the title, so the obscure song, heard for the first time, remained just that, obscure and without a title we could chase, either for the song or the band. Oddly my wife was just as haunted as I was by the song, which was rare in a way, because our tastes in music do not line up very often.
There it was. An obscure, yet haunting song, heard once, and not to be easily traced.
Then, three days later, and I was up as usual at 6Am to head off to work. Same routine in a way. Get up at 5 to 6, have a wash and start my breakfast while the news bulletin was on. Immediately following the news, the announcer introduced the song, and you know how sometimes you miss the intro, not actually listening for it. This same song started to play, and now, racking my brain as to what might have registered subconsciously, I remembered Steeleye Span, mainly because of the odd name remembered from a long time ago, and having heard some of the ‘stuff’ from their earlier years. The song was just as haunting second time around. I couldn’t remember the title but now I had a reference point at least.
Hoping that it was from a recent album, the next time we were out shopping, I dropped into the local music store and browsed the racks looking for a clue. They had four of the band’s CD’s but nothing looked even remotely familiar. A hunch told me the radio station was playing it because it may have been new music from the band, so I asked the young lady behind the counter if she had anything new by Steeleye Span, and after looking for a while she produced a CD titled ‘Bedlam Born’. Then I did something I have never done before. I asked if I might listen to the CD looking to see if I could hear if the song was on the CD. She gave me a set of ear buddies, and put the CD on the player, and I plugged the buddies into the wall socket. Right from the start I liked the music, and as I scrolled through the tracks after listening to each for around a minute, there it was, Track number 4.
I stopped right there and mentioned to the girl that I was going to take the CD.
When I got to play the CD in full at home, I found that I liked nearly every track, but especially this one featured today.
Steeleye Span have been around for a long time, since 1969 in fact. They were popular amongst the folky type of people for their folk oriented music, both newly composed, and also arrangements of existing old folk songs, so that’s where I remember them from in those early days in the early 70’s when I heard their music first. Along with Fairport Convention, they are considered to be the best known and most popular of the British folk rock era.
The album that today’s featured song is from is titled ‘Bedlam Born’. People automatically associate the word bedlam with one of the first hospitals on Earth to start treating mental illnesses, that being Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, and the word was often mispronounced as Bedlam, and in fact that word now in current use for a variety of occasions actually derives originally from this hospital.
However, in the case of this Steeleye Span album, the title refers to Bethlehem, again a shortening of the word, in fact, mentioned in another of the songs from this album, ‘Stephen’ where the lyrics mention, “There is a child in Bedlam born”, and referring to birth of Christ at Bethlehem.
This album, ‘Bedlam Born’ is in fact the band’s 16th Studio album. The album itself drew comments from many quarters, proving again that you can’t please all the people all the time.
The album immediately prior to this was ‘Horkstow Grange’. This was the first album the band made following the departure of long time lead vocalist Maddy Prior. ‘Horkstow Grange’ received a moderate reception for being too light on rock and too heavy on the folk music. This new album ‘Bedlam Born’ also received a moderate reception as being too heavy on the rock, and too light on the folk music. It was also criticised for having songs with a religious theme to them, and diehard followers thought that the band should stick to more secular music, something a little odd, as throughout the band’s long time of making music, they have in fact performed many songs with religious themes, as quite a lot of those early folk songs were in fact based upon religion.
Diehard fans also were disgruntled with band’s supposedly new singer Gay Woods, who they thought was brought in to replace the somehow irreplaceable Maddy Prior, who had retired before ‘Horkstow Grange’ for health reasons. However, what those fans did not realise was that Gay Woods was in fact one of the five original foundation members of the band, and, following the retirement of Maddy Prior, the band asked Gay if she would like to rejoin the band to fill the female vocal role.
With respect to this song featured today, some may think of it as a mournful dirge even, because of the repetitive nature of the music on the song. However, those beautiful vocals from Gay Woods are just so haunting, and she has such a wonderful tone to her voice, especially in that high range. What also stands out is the specific piece in the middle where the violin has prominence. All in all, it’s just a wonderful piece of music from a band long known for its folk music orientation.
While the song has the sound of a traditional piece, it too has some background behind it.
Band members Tim Harries and Gay Woods arranged the music around the lyrics. Those lyrics are from a poem written by Joseph Plunkett, an Irish poet and Nationalist, who was one of the leaders of the failed Easter Uprising in Ireland in 1916, and executed for his part in this uprising. This poem. ‘I See His Blood Upon The Rose’ was his most famous of a number of poems.
Tim Harries and Gay Woods have created a beautiful song from this poem from almost 100 years ago now.
Incidentally, the name of the band Steeleye Span also has some history as well. It actually comes from a traditional folk song titled ‘Horkstow Grange’. While the band name was decided before the release of their first album, they didn’t get around to recording that actual song until they did it on the album of the same name, 28 years from the formation of the band.
The traditional folk song concerns an argument between a landowner John “Steeleye” Span and one of his tenant servants.
Prior to the band assuming the name, in a democratic act, the band had a choice of three names to use, and the five band members voted secretly, writing their favoured name on a piece of paper, on which name they would like to use for the band. When the votes were counted, Steeleye Span was the winner, but there was in fact 6 votes, and it was nine years before Tim Hart revealed that it was he who had voted twice.
In all, Steeleye Span have released 21 Studio albums, a number of live albums and compilation albums also.
‘Bedlam Born’ was the 16th studio album, and was released in late 2000. There are 14 songs on the album, and 7 of them are traditional existing folk songs arranged by the band.
This brand of folk music is old by its very nature and this band is one of the best around that do this style so well, and this beautiful song today is just one of those.