Ten Maidens Fair: Caedmon / Caedmon
Here’s a recording from our Farewell concert 1978 of Ten Maidens Fair, the first track on the original eponymous Caedmon album. The recordings have never been released because of the mains hum which spoils the recording. See what you think.
By the principles of 2020 hit-making, the record producer would keep the intro to a minimum time window, in order to engage the Spotify listener and keep the flighty screen swiper at bay for as long as it takes to register the engagement as a ‘listen’.
Certainly, launching into the refrain in full harmony grabs the attention…….. I have no memory of the process we went through in choosing the order of tracks.
I wrote the piece, how do I feel about the track now?
It wasn’t meant as a pastiche, but the sung chorus does seem to reflect a Steeleye Span vibe, a quote of their multi-voiced harmonies. Lindisfarne had the same sounds and I’m a Geordie (and I later got to know Rod Clements and Ray Laidlaw). The verses with Crumar Compac Piano harpsichord stabbing chords, with a sustained 4th sneaking in, seem a quote from the 1600’s, a touch of Domenico Scarlatti? And the instrumental riffing, a dream where JS Bach meets Emerson Lake and Palmer. The descending bassline is both Bach and classic Caedmon, we’ve used the technique a number of times.
We went to see ‘Yes’ at Usher Hall in Edinburgh for the ‘Relayer’ tour in 1974. And the support was Gryphon ….. I enjoyed them immensely, so perhaps their ‘prog medieval’ approach was a direct influence. They did a cadenza to one piece with a recorder player playing in harmony with a Watkins Copy Cat* echo, which looped a delayed signal panned to the other side of the stage to where the musician was standing ……..very impressive. Ed Sheeran eat your heart out. (* a loop of magnetic tape cycling past a few recording and play back heads).
The notion of using a parable followed the tradition of folk ballad writing: stories put to music. ‘Ten Maidens Fair, with your long yellow hair’, seems bit literal and Anglo-centric now. Perhaps pre-Raphaelite quoting of the imagery in my young head at the time. I had books of Burne-Jones, also Art Nouveau Paris cafe posters which I was obsessed with at the time. The sentiment behind the parable always felt a bit unforgiving and mysoginist: the women who didn’t prepare themselves for ‘their lord’s arrival’ got the elbow when they didn’t bother to trim their candles. But it was a story on a plate from the good book with a twist at the end.
The thing that we regretted, once the recordings were swiftly signed off, was the clear speeding of the tempo in the instrumental sections….. we got over excited. Indeed the whole album seems to be infused with a spirit of ‘speed at all costs’ which could have been moderated if there had been a producer present.
Simon, who eventually got to play the drum kit he always wanted to play (a budding new incarnation of Dave Mattacks) did try to add a drum kit to this very track as an experiment, sometime later, but found the erratic tempo changing too much to deal with.
Anyway, Ten Maidens Fair, with Angela’s fine vocal, Simon’s mandolin, Jim’s overdriven guitar and Sam’s nimble bass, is still very popular (in our own small niche listening number count) and as the fourth song I every wrote, not bad.
Ken Patterson 2023