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July 2017

The Chieftains: when you can call on friends like Van Morrison

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Bill Taylor's latest contribution is a break from our Cover Story series, charting instead the astonishing range of collaborations between the Chieftains and singers and musicians from most genres. Bill mentions Irish Heartbeat, an outstanding album made with Van Morrison - I saw them perform together and separately at the time of its release in a memorable Royal Albert Hall concert compered by John Peel.

Bill's list of artists who have worked with the Chieftains is, as he says, incomplete. Eleven years after Irish Heartbeat, I wrote about another album, Tears of Stone, on which some notable female performers sang. I interviewed one of the artists, Joan Osborne, in a transatlantic call from a Belfast payphone. The occasion sticks in the memory for another reason; when I belatedly joined friends for dinner and ordered a bottle of wine, the bottom of the bottle broke away at the moment the waitress pulled the cork, leaving my notebook drenched in Algerian red (a fuller account of this appears here).

There have been many exceptional versions of On Raglan Road and Osborne's, for that album (which also featured Joni Mitchell and Diana Krall), ranks among them. Now let Bill delve into his own memory ...


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Cover Story: (13) The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Baez or The Band

Mick Goulding responded quickly to an invitation to contribute to the series. Mick, like me (and another contributor, Bill Taylor), happens to support Sunderland AFC and writes occasionally for Salut! Sunderland. He classes himself as less of a folkie than either of us but enjoys much from the genre and was encouraged to write by Bill's comparison of his own favourite Bruce Springsteen's Racing in the Street and the way Serena Ryder later interpreted it. Here, he discusses in fascinating detail the respective merits of The Band's original version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Joan Baez's controversial but highly successful cover ...

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Cover Story: (12) Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town. Dubliners, Pogues or the Ian Campbell Folk Group?

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It is hard to believe that 68 years have passed since Ewan MacColl wrote perhaps his second best known song, Dirty Old Town. MacColl composed compellingly on many subjects, from the challenges of modern society to travelling people and the anti-social ways of landowners to the everyday lives of trawlermen, tunnel labourers and apprentice fitters.

He was a demanding character; our folk club in Bishop Auckland had to drop plans to book him at sight of his list of conditions about nature and composition of the makeshift stage and audience discipline. Which of many versions of Dirty Old Town would have won his approval? Some readers may know the answer. Bill Taylor (that's him above) offers his own preferences for the Cover Story series, Bill's appearances on these pages illustrating that they are open to guest contributors ...

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Cover Story: (11) Christy Moore or Mary Coughlan. Ride On and horses for courses



First, a spot of housekeeping
for the Cover Story series.

As sharp observers will already have noticed, "or" replaces "vs" in the headline. I shall get round to changing the previous 10 posts in the series since the purpose of the exercise is much more to draw attention to different versions of songs than to play artists off against one another.


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Folk free: Herman's Hermits, Tom Courtenay and an ode to Mrs Brown's Daughter

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Does the fact that Sunderland supporters adapted the first big Herman's Hermit hit,  I'm Into Something Good, make it - and the band - part of the folk tradition? You're right, it does not.
Bill Taylor - I must be quick to shift the blame and that's him above - admitted this was an 'audacious/outrageous new submission'. It didn't stop him submitting it ... but stand by for a more interesting read than you thought possible on the subject of another of their hits, Mrs Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter, and its origins. And to illustrate why I am no good at pub quizzes, if asked who had the hit, I'd have got it completely wrong and replied Joe Brown and the Bruvvers. Well, there could be innocent explanations for him singing such praises of a girl also called Brown ...

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Newport and Cambridge folk festivals: a marriage made in heaven?

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Not the Joan Baez we usually see - but this was from the 1965 Newport FF

From my old friend Claire Horton, a steadfast folk and roots publicist, comes news of an exercise in town twinning that may well outstrip the link forged by Bishop Auckland and the Parisian suburban town of Ivry-sur-Seine (my parents couldn't afford to send me on the school trips, but I did play badminton there much later while living in Paris). Two of the world's greatest folk festivals - Cambridge (UK university city, not Massachusetts) and Newport (Rhode Island, not IoW) - are coming together in what Claire calls a "historic twinning" that will herald a "unique new transatlantic artistic relationship".

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