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

Cover Story: (14) Galway to Graceland. Richard Thompson or Eleanor Shanley


Here is one more entry to the growing body of work that is Salut! Live's Cover Story series, comparing and inviting comment on different versions of different songs ... I am open to suggestions for, and contributions to, the series

Once the wildfires had abated, Huguette repeated the invitation to her gorgeous rambling villa in Bormes-les-Mimosas for apéritifs. The damage to trees worryingly close to her home was severe; it was no wonder she had spent a sleepless night.

Approaching the house, we were aware of the sound of Elvis. And then more Elvis. Huguette adores him and was playing track after track, from YouTube, on her laptop.

But there is just so much Wooden Heart, Love Me Tender and Suspicion you can take if you do not share her devotion.

My mind wandered to Richard Thompson's achingly beautiful song Galway to Graceland, inventing the story of an Irishwoman who takes similar devotion a stage or three further. She leaves her husband and slopes off in the middle of the night to fly to Memphis.


And silver wings carried her
Over the sea
From the west coast of Ireland
To West Tennessee
To be with her sweetheart,
Oh she left everything
From Galway to Graceland to be with the king

I offer two spellbinding versions, though there have been other fine and not-so-fine interpretations.

Thompson's own, from a live performance, is hard to improve upon (note that he changes Suspicion to Love me Tender as the "song she liked best").

But Eleanor Shanley makes it sound like a song that he intended to be sung by a woman. I am torn, loving them both and - rarely - decline to choose between them.

Plenty of people are aware of the fabulous body of work Richard Thompson has contributed to songwriting, and of his superb guitar playing.

But countless more would say "who?" at mention of his name and it is verging on criminality that his truly magical output, from 1952 Vincent Black Lightning to Beeswing and from Waltzing's for Dreamers to Dimming of the Day, are known to a minority of discerning people.

Over to the Salut! Live jury. And I shall ask Huguette when next we meet what she made of the Galway to Graceland versions I left playing on her laptop ...

Comments

Bill Taylor

For me, this is not one of Richard Thompson's better songs, either the writing or his rendition - and I say that as a huge Thompson fan. But his singing here, always rather mannered (for want of a better word) does the lyrics no favours.
Shanley, on the other hand, has a caressing way with the words that points up their poignancy. She turns the song into a heartbreaker. I can't imagine anyone doing a better version. This one's going on my Spotify.

Colin Randall

... good that she made you revise your view of the song!

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