Folk meets academia

Tom Walton and friends performing at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida

Way, way back - well, all the way to 2000 - I was able to visit Newcastle University to write about its folk music course. The key contact was Richard Middleton, listed to this day as emeritus professor of music. Work and family obligations make this a difficult time to update the site but, in recognition of the hugely appreciated upsurge of interest in its output, I offer this further blast from the past ...

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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.

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


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?


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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