Album review by Patrick Harrington

Maddy Prior - Lionhearts


Lionhearts is a fascinating new album from Maddy Prior. It is written from the point of view of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor was wife to Henry II and mother to Richard and John. Dysfunctional families are nothing new as a look at this one shows. Eleanor favoured Richard while Henry favoured John. The track Maman says of Richard:

"You are proud and young, you are kind and strong
You're the goal of all my schemes
You will bear my torch in future times
Yes, you're my precious dreams".

Contrast this with the treatment of John in the excellent track of the same name:

"Lacklustre  Lackland
You treacherous cur
How can you be a Son of mine?
You've connived and survived
Engineered and profiteered
Cringed, and whinged and whined."

John is one of the most effective songs on the album. A harsh lyric and beat in passages like the one above followed by a wistful "where is the lad I knew" expressing the bitter disappointment felt by Eleanor as a mother.

We should remember however that Richard had little interest in England, didn't speak the language and spent only fifteen months here. Maddy describes him as " kind of like a football hero, a football star" in a woman's hour interview
How popular he actually was in England is I think a moot point.

In addition to rival favouritism from parents Henry also set the Sons against one another. The motive for this is expressed well in the track Old Lion:

"Did you think you'd live forever
Immortal, fated to die never
You kept all the power to the bitter end
To wind up with no son for a friend."

It called to my mind the film The Lion in Winter. Visions of Henry II of England played by Peter O'Toole and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine  by Katharine Hepburn!

There are two instrumentals on the album. I wasn't keen on Salah Ed-Din. I would have preferred a lyrical treatment of this fascinating figure (read the book by Tariq Ali!). I loved the interpretation of the Andante Maestoso section of Gustav Holst's suite The Planets, however. Naturally, and especially in the context of this album, I associated  it with the Hymn 'I Vow to Thee My Country'.

There are also some versions of traditional songs. I really liked 'Yellow Handkerchief'. I couldn't help thinking that a fuller treatment of the main theme would have been a better use of the time. A song exploring Richard's relationship with Philip of France would have been interesting, if controversial. There is just so much to say of this quarrelsome, passionate, cruel and talented family and I just wanted to hear more about them!

Track Listings
1. John
2. Maman
3. The Old Lion
4. Thomas
5. War Games
6. The Yellow Handkerchief
7. The Ship In Distress
8. Salisbury Plain

Patrick Harrington