Commoners Crown is an album by the electric folk band Steeleye Span, its seventh release overall and the second album with the band's most commercially successful line-up. It reached number 21 in the UK album charts.
The album's title refers to a sculpture produced by Shirtsleeves Studio. The sculpture is composed of hundreds of tiny human figures assembled to form a crown. The tiny figures also decorate the liner notes.
By this point, the band had evolved into a full-fledged rock sound, comparable to Jethro Tull during its folk rock phase. Several of the tracks feature strong rock drumming and heavy guitar riffs, but the material remains almost entirely traditional folk music, with the exception of 'Bach Goes to Limerick', a surprising attempt to interweave a classical Bach violin piece with a traditional Irish fiddle piece.
The lead track, 'Little Sir Hugh' is based on a medieval song about the English saint Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, a 13th-century boy supposedly murdered by Jews. The original song's lyrics are sharply anti-Semitic, but the band deleted the anti-Semitic elements.
In addition to 'Little Sir Hugh', the album's highlights include 'Long Lankin', the band's longest song to date and something of a fan favourite, and 'Demon Lover'.
The band continued the whimsical streak demonstrated on Now We Are Six by inviting comedian and actor Peter Sellers to play the ukulele on the closing track, 'New York Girls'. The band decided that it wanted a ukulele on the song, but no one in the band knew anyone who played the instrument. Finally someone remarked that Sellers was known to play it, and they decided to ask him, even though none of them knew him at all. To their surprise, he agreed, and the song became one of only two recordings he made with a rock band. The other was 'After the Fox', recorded with The Hollies in 1966 for the film of the same name.
Sellers also contributed some vocals spoken in character as Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister (originally portrayed by Sellers and Spike Milligan in the BBC radio comedy programme, The Goon Show). Many fans of the band found this distracting. On the original vinyl release, the song ended with Sellers saying "I say, are you a matelot? Careful what you say, sir – we're on board ship here." Subsequent CD releases omitted the quip, until 2009 when the 3-disc EMI box set A Parcel of Steeleye Span reinstated it.
The song is also unusual in that all the male band members (except Nigel Pegrum) take lead vocals on two verses each (Rick Kemp singing verses 1 and 5, Tim Hart 2 and 6, Peter Knight 3 and 7 and Bob Johnson 4 and 8). Maddy Prior sings the chorus. Despite this odd note, 'Commoner's Crown' is often cited as one of the band's best efforts.
Steeleye Span are an English folk rock band formed in 1969. Still active today, along with Fairport Convention, they are amongst the best known acts of the British folk revival, and were among the most commercially successful, thanks to their hit singles "Gaudete" and "All Around My Hat". They had three Top 40 albums; they achieved a certified gold record with sales of "All Around My Hat".
Throughout their history, Steeleye Span have seen many personnel changes but have maintained a strong continuity of tradition. Their typical album is a collection of mostly traditional songs with one or two instrumental tracks of jigs and/or reels added; the traditional songs often include some of the Child ballads. In their later albums there has been an increased tendency to include music written by the band members, but they have never gotten completely away from traditional music, which draws upon pan-British traditions.