Friday, 31 May 2013

How Steeleye Span courted the Great Old Ones and almost started a folkocalypse

All around my hat I shall wear the green willow
All around my hat for a 12 month and a day
And if anyone should ask me the reason why I'm wearing it
It's for Shub-Niggurath - the black goat of the woods with a thousand young
The All-Mother and wife of the Not-to-Be-Named-One
The great mother worshipped by the hereditary cult of Exham Priory!
Iä! Shub-Niggurath!”

When BBC weather man and former Cambridge poetry graduate - Garrington Wilbury-Fosh - first laid eyes upon the original lyrics to the Steeleye Span song 'All Around My Hat,' he couldn't help but notice that they didn't really scan.

A second reading revealed a hither-to overlooked dimension to the song: This was less a subtext and more a blatant incitement, directing the Great Old Ones of the Lovecraftian mythos (ancient tentacled gods, the sight of whom was enough to drive a man to insanity) to slither from their parallel dimensions and usher in a new era of darkness. Here humankind would learn that their true role in the universe was neither as conqueror, nor as as subjugate, but as something of complete irrelevance.

“I urged the band to rethink and condense these final lines as I felt that they were somewhat unwieldy, and deviated too far from the song's original premise...” said Fosh.

“...Furthermore, I was greatly concerned that their utterance might somehow result in the extinction of all human life.

“A second draft, which did away with the ending altogether, was a reversion to a traditional four line stanza. I felt the ambiguity of the new final line: (“It's all for my true love, who is far, far away”) was a great improvement. It's remains entirely possible that the band's true love is Shub-Niggurath, however by obscuring their identity, the song is left accessible to those listeners whose true love might be another human being, a pet, or an inanimate object – such as a Welsh dresser.

“You have to remember that all this occurred during the mid-1970s. You could not open the papers without reading a story about the Great Old Ones: Yog-Sothoth was allegedly dating Marianne Faithfull. Meanwhile his drinking buddy, Nyarlathotep, was facing a stiff prison sentence for head-butting a policeman on The Strand (he was eventually sentenced to 4 years).

“There was also talk of raising the sunken city of R'lyeh in the South Pacific – the resting place of the hideous octopus god, Cthulhu, whose awakening, many believe, will herald the end of the world.

“I remember, around this time, talking to a Conservative MP who informed me, with a knowing roll of his eyes, that, contrary to popular belief, Cthulhu would occasionally rise from his slumber to chase boatloads of sailors.”

In the end it was the House of Lords who voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the city of R'lyeh undisturbed, amidst concerns that, during his rampage, Cthulhu might trample Winchester Cathedral.

“There were other worries too...” recalls Fosh.

“...In particular how the Great Old Ones' love of non-euclidean geometry might impact upon town planning. We already had Stevenage blighting the south-east corner of England. We certainly didn't want anything else like that.”

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