CD REVIEW – Mandy Morton & The Spriguns – After the storm: Complete Recordings


Compiled and coordinated by Mandy herself, ‘After The Storm’ is an ambitious 6CD and DVD box set which offers the entire recorded output of Spriguns and Mandy Morton in their various musical guises, from their lo-fi cassette-only album ‘Rowdy Dowdy Day’ from 1972 to the final Mandy Morton Band LP ‘Valley Of Light’ from 1983. Many of the above have been remastered for the first time directly from original master tapes. And in addition, Mandy discovered several previously unreleased tracks which appear as bonuses. The package is enhanced by illustrations and sleevenotes by Mandy herself.

In short, Spriguns Of Tolgus (later shortened to just Spriguns) were a British folk-rock group formed in 1972, long admired by connoisseurs of that era but who seem to have been eclipsed by the likes of Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Fairport et al. After two self-funded albums, they attracted a deal with Decca for two further LPs, but then Mandy decided to form her own label and rebranded as Mandy Morton and Spriguns to record the Magic Lady album. This led to a solo licensing deal with Polydor Norway and two more albums followed. Mandy Morton and her band toured Scandinavia extensively before disbanding in 1885.

Here’s the longer version…..

Mike and Mandy Morton formed Spriguns of Tolgus as an acoustic duo at their own folk club in Cambridge, England, in 1972. The name “Spriguns” is apparently a malignant Cornish pixie and Tolgus a tin mine in Cornwall. I suppose you had to be there….. The first album in this collections proudly shows they are solidly rooted in traditional folk songs in a traditional, warm folk style.

The Mortons, with Mandy on vocals and Mike on bass, were joined by Rick Thomas (fiddle) and Chris Russon (electric guitar), producing a form of electric folk on their self-financed tape recording, ‘Rowdy, Dowdy Day’ (1974) which caught the eye of Steeleye Span’s Tim Hart, who produced their first vinyl album, ‘Jack with a Feather’ (1975). The album, despite a very short run of pressings, together with Hart’s involvement, helped increase the band’s profile sufficiently to gain attention from Decca. Fans of Steeleye Span will clearly hear similarities as they forged ahead, their own distinctiveness still to come. This first disc displays a solidarity and strength, those strong roots and quality instrumental experience standing them in good stead.

In 1976 they signed to Decca, shortened their name to Spriguns and instigated band changes, with Dick Powell (keyboards), Tom Ling (fiddle), and Chris Woodcock (drums), like the aforementioned Span turning to a fuller sound, occasionally electric but definitely more mainstream and band-led sound. The first album ‘Revel, Weird & Wild’ (1976) featured legend B. J. Cole on pedal steel and was again produced by Tim Hart. The burgeoning style of Mandy Morton was coming out here, with band material self-penned but drawing on reworkings of traditional material, albeit still reminiscent of Steeleye Span (check out the jolly, infectiously folky “Lally Worm”).

Another album, another set of band changes. On ‘Time Will Pass’ (1977) only Powell and Ling were kept on, and Wayne Morrison (guitar) and Dennis Dunstan (drums) were recruited. It is clear that this was another push towards the mainstream. Robert Kirby (Nick Drake, Strawbs) provides orchestral arrangements and production was by Sandy Roberton (early Steeleye Span). Songs were now primarily written by Mandy Morton, and it does come across as a far more conventional rock outfit with folkish overtones. Catchy, rocky opener “Dead Man’s Eyes”, for example is quite Strawbs-ish albeit Mandy’s vocals still elicit those Steeleye Span comparisons.

And so to 1977 when the Mortons left Decca and established their own label, Banshee Records, in 1978. And yes, yet another new band was formed, retaining Tom Ling but adding Byron Giles (guitar) and Alex Cooper (drums). Mandy Morton had by now become the group’s focus and Magic Lady (1978) was credited to ‘Mandy Morton and Spriguns’. The album’s title was a tribute to Sandy Denny, with content reflective of Denny’s solo work, epitomised by the ethereal and evocative title track. The album benefits from guest appearances such as Tim Hart on dulcimer and backing vocals and guitar from Gryphon instrumentalist Graeme Taylor. And here is where I concur with general opinion. Albeit Denny-influenced, the band are free from Span influence albeit perhaps slightly reminiscent of Strawbs, and this is a gorgeous piece of work overall, with catchy rockers such as ‘Music Prince’ the soft orchestral ‘Silence do the Rest’ and ‘The Lady’, haunting folk power ballads like ‘According to Matthew’ or ‘Gypsy Glass’, historical jaunts like ‘Little Inbetween’, and intriguing folk-rock numbers like ‘Goodbye the Day’, ‘White Ship’ and ‘Witchfinder’. Possibly my favourite disc of the collection.

In 1979, Mandy Morton signed for Polydor Scandinavia, moving away from most residual folk roots and, in the 1980s, toured with a conventional rock band. She produced the album Sea Of Storms (1979) before Mike returned to Cambridge, sadly dying unexpectedly in his forties. Opener ‘Maybe One Day’ may have a slight hint of Kate Bush about it, but the songwriting hasn’t really strengthened, and the production and some sounds of the time haven’t fared too well. That said, some tracks do stand out: ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’, the Strawb-like ‘Twisted Sage’, the return to roots of ‘Wake up the Morning’ and there’s some nice pedal guitar on the well-crafted ‘The Sculptor’.

And so to 1983 and Valley of Light. A full on rocker opener ‘I Need your Love’ is tightly played and written, but Mandy’s singing style is arguably misplaced. But it is a good start to a generally positive upbeat pop/rock album. Again, some tracks sound of their time and the classic Jefferson’s ‘Somebody to Love’ has a slight makeover in a restrained form. Occasional gems such as the epic ‘Chosen Few’ sound ironically misplaced but provide pleasant interlude.

So where does that leave us? It is abundantly clear that Mandy Morton’s song writing and fey laid-back singing was central to the sound. Initially a kind of clone of Steeleye Span, greater experimentation, production values and confidence led to greater diversity. But in short, this album is, in every respect, the ultimate tribute to the music of Spriguns and Mandy Morton. Perhaps a secret previously kept by folk rock collectors, this is a deserved release – a deluxe box set that pays proper homage to their musical legacy. It might not change the musical world, but it is good to have it out in the open now.

Tracklisting:

Disc One: Spriguns Of Tolgus – Jack With A Feather

  1. Lambton Worm
  2. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme
  3. Derby Ram
  4. Jigs Medley: Rakes Of Malo/St. Patrick’s Day
    /The Ten Penny Bit
  5. Flodden Field
  6. The Trooper’s Nag
  7. Curragh Of Kildare
  8. Keys Of/To Canterbury
  9. The Twa Magicians
  10. Seamus The Showman
  11. Barren Banks Of Aden
    Spriguns Of Tolgus – Rowdy Dowdy Day
  12. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme
  13. The Jolly Tinker
  14. The Lally Worm And The Mackerel
  15. Spanish Ladies
  16. Matty Groves
  17. The Trees They Do Grow High
  18. Three Drunken Maidens
  19. Scotia Reel
  20. Keys Of Canterbury
  21. Sir Brian Botany
  22. Trooper’s Nag
  23. Cuckoo’s Nest

Disc Two: Spriguns – Revel Weird And Wild

  1. Trysting Tree
  2. Outlandish Knight
  3. Sir Colvin
  4. Piscie Song
  5. Nothing Else To Do
  6. Hasberry Howard
  7. Lord Lovell
  8. Laily Worm
  9. When Spring Comes In

Disc Three: Spriguns – Time Will Pass

  1. Dead Man’s Eyes
  2. All Before
  3. For You
  4. Time Will Pass
  5. White Witch
  6. Blackwaterside
  7. You’re Not There
  8. Devil’s Night
  9. Letter To A Lady Bonus Tracks
  10. White Witch (By Mandy Morton) *
  11. Blackwaterside (Alternative Version) (By
    Spriguns) *
  12. Letter To A Lady (By Mandy Morton) *
  13. Time Will Pass (Acoustic)
    (By Mandy Morton And Wayne Morrison) *

*Previously Unreleased

Disc Four: Mandy Morton And Spriguns – Magic Lady

  1. Magic Lady
  2. Music Prince
  3. According To Matthew
  4. Little Inbetween
  5. Goodbye The Day
  6. Silence Do The Rest
  7. The Lady
  8. White Ship
  9. Witchfinder
  10. Gypsy Glass
  11. Ghost Of A Song
  12. Magic Lady (Reprise) Bonus Track
  13. Winter Storms (By Mandy Morton & Chris Mills)

Disc Five: Mandy Morton – Sea Of Storms

  1. Maybe One Day
  2. After The Storm
  3. Black Nights
  4. Compline Anthem
  5. Victoria By The Window
  6. Ghost Of Christmas Past
  7. Twisted Sage
  8. Wake Up The Morning
  9. Silas The Silent
  10. Land Of The Dead
  11. Warriors’ Grave
  12. The Sculptor
    Bonus Track
  13. Ghost Of Christmas Past (Single Mix)

Mandy Morton Band – Valley Of Light

  1. I Need Your Love
  2. Valley Of Light
  3. Time Machine
  4. No Reason
  5. Somebody To Love
  6. Ice Queen
  7. Not For Sale
  8. Chosen Few
  9. Natural Born Bonus Tracks
  10. Skeleton Rock (By Spriguns) *
  11. Flying High (By Mandy Morton)
  • Previously Unreleased

Disc Seven (DVD): – Mandy Morton Band Live In Cambridge 1979 *

  1. Black Nights
  2. Twisted Sage
  3. Skeleton Rock
  4. Marmeel Rant
  5. Somebody To Love

*All Tracks Previously Unreleased

Band Members

  • Mandy Morton (vocals, 12 string guitar, dulcimer, bongos)
  • Mike Morton (bass guitar, vocals)
  • Chris Russon (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, 12 string guitar)
  • Rick Thomas (vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, dulcimer)

Later Members

  • Thom Ling (electric and acoustic violins, harpsichord)
  • Dick Powell (electric guitar, keyboards, vocals)
  • Chris Woodcock (drums)
  • B. J. Cole (pedal steel)
  • Dennis Dunstan (drums)
  • Wayne Morrison (lead guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin and vocals)
  • Alex Cooper (drums and percussion)
  • Byron Giles (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals)
  • Lea Nicholson (concertina)
  • Dominic Green (drums)
  • Mark Boettcher (electric guitar, vocals)

https://www.ianaanderson.com/

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