Cover Story: (17) As Brexit again threatens Northern Ireland peace, another look at Reconciliation. Ron Kavana, Dick Gaughan, the Cottars or Voice Squad
Cover Story: (70) Your favourite Dylan covers. Eric Alper asks, Salut! Live answers

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



May 2022 update: on Saturday May 21, I was among 46,000 Sunderland supporters who witnessed a rather important win at Wembley (there were also 26,000 people there who did not support Sunderland and even that left lots of empty seats we could easily have filled had tickets been availabe). It was important because it ended four years of turgid hell in what the football authorities laughingly call League One (it's actually the third division).

At full tim, we all belted out the single verse that was played of our unofficial anthem, Elvis's Can't Help Falling in Love With You, and I have added a clip of that. But for now, I shall keep my musical celebration to the wholly irrelevant tale of double murder and double execution that happens to be my favourite piece of music by one of my very favourite bands, Steeleye Span ...  



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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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*** And now for my moment of self-indulgence. The sound of 46,000 ecstatic fans at the final whistle...


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.

Bill Taylor

The Wainwright Sisters for my money with Steeleye Span a close second and Alasdair Roberts a long way third.

Sharyn Dimmick

I find the Steeleye Span track utterly unlistenable: I suffered through three minutes and thirty-one seconds of it before hitting the pause button. It is everything I don't like: mushy instruments covering up the words of the vocal enough to make them indecipherable. It creates a mysterious atmosphere -- that I will grant you -- a mood, if you will -- but at the expense of clarity and of the story of the ballad. The Wainwrights' version begins with more promise: they begin simply and I prefer the tune they use for this ballad to the one chosen by Steeleye Span, but what's needed here is a commitment to simplicity so that the full horror of the ballad steps forward. If I run across a version I admire I'll add it.

Robert Liddington

Editor’s note: this comment reproduced from Facebook refers to my acknowledgment that Sunderland winning at Wembley and me loving Steeleye amounted to a tenuous reason for linking the two things …

I think this is a beautiful place for it, just considering your connection to steeleye span and the true amazingness of steeleye span I can’t remember how much of their music I have in all possible forms.

Michael Goulding

Not familiar with this song but, having listened to all 3 versions, I would also place Steeleye Span's version first. Classic folk-rock (as it used to be called in my day). The Wainrights’ version is the one for actually understanding the words in a more conventional folk style. Absolutely hated Alasdair Roberts version. Awful voice and (as Bill Taylor said) the percussion was all wrong.

Colin Randall

For anyone confused by Bill’s self-contradictory comments above, this exchange at Facebook should clarify:

Me: ´ Bill Taylor is , of course, perfectly entitled to this change of mind. I did have a brief moment of preferring the Wainwrights before reverting to Steeleyé

Bill: ‘That's what minds are for...´

Me: ´the Wainwrights’ version is stunning and they add superb detail to the story. As i said somewhere else, could be three different songs. I also place Alasdair Roberts third by a distance, without disliking it at all’

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