Bloody Men is the 20th studio album by the British electric folk band Steeleye Span.
This album represents a continuation of the band's recent surge of activity. In 2002, the band was in a state of near collapse, since three members of its line-up at the time, Tim Harries, Gay Woods, and Bob Johnson, had all departed, leaving long-time member Peter Knight and recently-returned member Rick Kemp as the only remaining members. That same year, Knight persuaded former members Maddy Prior and Liam Genockey to return and coaxed Johnson out of retirement to record the album Present--The Very Best of Steeleye Span. Ken Nicol came on board to replace Johnson, and the band has been relatively active since then, releasing two albums, They Called Her Babylon and Winter in 2004, and 'Bloody Men' late in 2006, as well as touring extensively.
During its heyday in the 1970s, Steeleye almost exclusively recorded their arrangements of traditional songs, with occasional forays into versions of 20th century songs by other artists such as Buddy Holly and Bertold Brecht. But starting in the early 1980s, the band's albums have increasingly focused on a mixture of traditional songs and their own compositions, and 'Bloody Men' continues that trend, albeit with a new twist. The album consists of 2 CDs, the first a mixture of traditional and original pieces. The second CD is the 5-song "Ned Ludd" cycle, written mostly by Kemp, about the 19th century Luddite movement. The band has never attempted a multi-song cycle like this before.
The album opens with the bawdy "Bonny Black Hare", on which Prior sings in a gravelly voice and Knight plays his violin rather like an electric guitar, a successful experiment that goes unrepeated on the album. Other highlights include a hard-rock cover of "Cold Haily Rainy Night", which the band first offered on Please to See the King, the brisk "The 3 Sisters" and the cheerful "Lord Elgin". The notes for "Lord Elgin" say that "this song is not what it seems on the face of it," indicating that it is a riddle-song. A probable solution is at the bottom of the page. The song "Whummil Bore" is about a servant looking through a whummil bore (a hole bored with a gimlet-like tool) and watching a lady getting dressed. The instrumental "First House in Connaught" is a cover of a track from Tempted and Tried, the first time the band has ever covered one of its own instrumental pieces.
The Ned Ludd cycle begins with a song about the enclosure movement in Early Modern England, effectively a pastoral ode to preindustrial England, and then moves on to the plight of the workers who have been displaced by industrialization. The third song is an appeal to the mythical Ned Ludd to destroy the machines and lead the workers in a rebellion. The fourth and fifth songs deal with the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which the British cavalry charged into a peaceful crowd of protesters supporting a repeal of the Corn Laws. Neither the Enclosure Movement nor the Corn Laws were directly related to the Luddite Movement, but in the cycle these serve to explore the wider problems of common workers.
01. The Bonny Black Hare (4.39)
02. The Story of the Scullion King (4.41)
03. The Dreamer and the Widow (4.47)
04. Lord Elgin (4.06)
05. The Three Sisters (4.16)
06. The First House in Connaught / The Lady of the House (3.39)
07. Cold Haily Windy Night (4.40)
08. Whummil Bore (4.12)
09. Demon of the Well (5.57)
10. Lord Gregory (5.41)
11. Ned Ludd Part 1 (Inclosure) (2.48)
12. Ned Ludd Part 2 (Rural Retreat) (4.09)
13. Ned Ludd Part 3 (Ned Ludd) (3.18)
14. Ned Ludd Part 4 (Prelude to Peterloo) (2.56)
15. Ned Ludd Part 5 (Peterloo the Day) (2.52)
Maddy Prior: vocals
Peter Knight: violin, “Octave” violin, viola, mandolin, backing vocals
Ken Nicol: vocals, acoustic and electric guitars
Rick Kemp: bass, vocals
Liam Genockey: drums and percussion