Cover story

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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Cover Story: (10) Bert Jansch or Neil Young. Needle of Death


Who said folk music has to be cheerful? Some of the best songs from the tradition, and also from the pens of contemporary writers, tackle bleak subjects. Has a better song been written on premature death from drug addiction than Bert Jansch's Needle of Death?

Diehard Neil Young fans - and I would include my elder daughter, Christelle, who is a publicist and has worked with him - would probably offer The Needle and the Damage Done as a contender. Like Jansch's song, it was inspired (at least in part) by the death of a good friend from the same cause, in Young's case Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten.

Clips I have viewed of that song show Young in considerably clearer voice than we find on his much later version of Needle of Death. It is perhaps unfair to choose, by way of comparison, an obviously younger Jansch singing his own song. But Young fans positively queue up to acclaim his shakier delivery; "that quavering voice will go with me to the grave one day," one said in a YouTube comment.

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Cover Story: (9) Leonard Cohen or the Drifters. One last dance

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Cover Story - see all items in the series here - goes from strength to strength. My second guest contributor, Sue Nicholson, is - like Bill Taylor - someone I worked with decades ago in the little district offices of the Northern Echo, Evening Despatch and Auckland Chronicle above Bell's insurance company in Bishop Auckland. They were lively days, affectionately remembered (didn't Mr Bell raise a polite but firm protest when we mistook our office for a football pitch and a less polite but firmer one when a window was accidentally smashed?).

Sue volunteered this fascinating comparison of the Drifters' classic, Save the Last Dance For Me, pointing out that it was, for Leonard Cohen, the song he chose to close concerts on his final tour (what you see was recorded in Auckland in December 2013 - yes, that's the other Auckland) while the Drifters are captured in live performance in 1974 ...



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Cover Story: (8) Bruce Springsteen (as folk singer), Serena Ryder and street racing

This is the first guest instalment of the Salut! Live series Cover Story, which looks at different versions of the same songs. Bill Taylor, who has graced the pages of three other sites* within the Salut! group, bases his contribution on the premise that there is nothing outlandish about the notion of Bruce Springsteen as folk singer. Having stretched Salut! Live's customary reach to embrace Lesley Gore, I can hardly raise too strong a protest. Here, Bill compares two versions of Racing in the Street, The Boss's own and a cover by Serena Ryder, a native of Bill's adopted city, Toronto ...

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Cover Story: (7) how Lesley Gore's party became Barbara Gaskin/Dave Stewart's


It's my site and I'll write what I want to.
You would do too if it happened to be yours.

Almost no fellow-folkie of my acquaintance would reject other forms of music. Most like rock or jazz or classical and, as Bill Taylor asked in Comments the other day, what constitutes a folk song anyway? Please don't mention Louis Armstrong if you reply.

So once again, no apology - this time for comparing versions of a song that has haunted me since I first heard it in 1963 (cue to younger readers to depart) - for my latest Cover Story choice.

We all, or most of us, experienced teenage betrayal. We thought we'd found someone special, were sure we loved them to bits and assumed they felt the same if only because they said so. And then they went off with someone else.

It's My Party is as good an example of the agony of broken young romance as you'll find. The writing credits went to John Gluck, Wally Gold and Herb Weiner though the lyrics had been provided by one Seymour Gottlieb, inspired by his daughter's tearful tantrum on learning her grandparents would be attending her 16th birthday party.

But who does the song best?

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