Cover Story: (3) Our Town - Iris DeMent or Kate Rusby
Now we're five: Cover Story so far - Dylan, Baez, McTell, Steeleye, Nanci Griffith, Kate Rusby

Cover Story: (4) Long Lankin - Steeleye Span or Wainwright Sisters

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What a joy to come once again across Loudon Wainwright III's daughters Martha - her mum was the excellent but, sadly, departed Kate McGarrigle - and Lucy, whose mother is Suzzy Roche, one of the Irish-American Roche sisters whose music gave me such pleasure decades ago.

I may have seen one or both of them as kids playing in a park in Hounslow 30+ years ago when dad was appearing at a small festival beneath an oppressive stream of one-every-13-seconds planes landing at Heathrow.

The joy was all to do with the discovery of their version of Long Lankin, a darkly enchanting ballad of murder and retribution I have always associated with Steeleye Span.

It is the subject of the fourth article in the new Salut! Live series, Cover Story, a brief look at differing versions of same songs.

The Wainwright women add the verses that provide important detail (well important to me, since I covered crime and court cases a lot as a reporter) to the story of absent head of household, vulnerable wife and baby, false and complicit nurse and vile killer.

And those harmonies! In a context other than gruesome murder, I might have to say they are to die for.

Steeleye Span, meanwhile, captured the sheer blood-curdling drama of the song in their own, English folk-rock way, Maddy Prior's soaring vocals and the band at their best with driving, dynamic instrumentation and arrangement.

Among many admiring comments at YouTube, I have never forgotten this, from one Anna Nunn:

This song is one of the most beautiful I have heard in a while, her voice is so different and eerie. I orginally came here thanks to a book i recently read based on the song - Long Lankin ~ Lindsey Barraclough - i probably wouldn't of heard the song otherwise (I'm 15!) Now i just can't stop visiting the song, its always in my head.

Click on this caption to buy this Steeleye Span compilation containing Long Lankin from Salut! Live's Amazon record shelf


The Wainwrights challenged my belief that no one other than Maddy and the lads could ever do the song the justice it deserves. I even wondered briefly whether their version might just have the edge.

But excellent as the sisters'  treatment of Long Lankin is, I need only to watch the clip again to see this as Steeleye at their finest ...

And Long Lankin appears on this Wainwright Sisters album, Songs in the Dark, which can be bought at Salut! Live's Amazon link by clicking on this caption.


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Bill Taylor

No winners, no losers this time - just two versions so different they could almost be different songs. But both superb. My personal choice would be Steeleye Span. I love the combination of Maddy Prior's voice and, as you put it, the "driving, dynamic instrumentation." But the Wainwright sisters also make the song their own. Their rendition is flawless. And it adds context! Who could ask for more?

Colin Randall

Back in 2017, I wrote that maybe, just maybe the Wainwrights had edged it and you wrote (clearly not here ) that they hadn’t. You were right and are also right that both versions are superb in their own ways

Paul Harris

Via Facebook

I've said a few times that Long Lankin is Steeleye at their finest. For me, it's their signature song that sums up what the band are all about.

Marlene McCall

Excellent. I don't find this a hard choice (although I generally try not to approach song comparisons as contests). For me, the version by the Wainwright Sisters is the better. Its sparse a cappella presentation, and the particular eerie harmonies they've chosen, so fit the story. And I haven't heard that recording before, so thanks for that.

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