Two great names from Irish music, drawing on the lyrical and musical eloquence of Bob Dylan, combine in this latest edition of the Treasures rediscovered series ...
Bob Dylan gave me some of my earliest of musical pleasures. I liked him less as he veered further and further from folk, though not especially because he went electric, incurring the wrath of some fairly sad pseudo-purists. If I had not bartered away Blonde on Blonde to pay off a debt (ten bob in old money, worth a bit more than today's conversion of 50p), it would be one of my most prized pieces of vinyl.
But I have often preferred Dylan by others. Joan Baez's purity of voice is not to everyone's taste but her versions of Don't Think Twice, It's All Right and A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall tick all the boxes for me.
And so to Boots of Spanish Leather. The wonderfully gravel-voiced Ronnie Drew, who sang with The Dubliners during a period spanning nearly half a century (though Enid Bühler, my favourite expert on the group, reminds me he was absent for five years in the 1970s and technically left it in 1995, rejoining in 2002 for their 40th anniversary tour), and Eleanor Shanley, whom I first encountered as one of the succession of outstanding female lead singers in De Dannan, make this gripping ballad of a fickle seafaring lover's offer to bring something home from his travels.
Drew died in 2008. In my tribute at Salut! Live, I wrote this:
... with his rough-edged voice and the twinkling, staring eyes surrounded by that explosion of hair, Ronnie epitomised the name and Joycean inspiration of the band.
Do not get the idea that Ronnie was a ramshackle chancer who drifted through his career, fitting a spot of work here and there in the gaps between bouts of serious drinking. I am sure he sank gallons in his time, but he was also a true professional.
My abiding memory of him is of seeing him arrive at Brentford early in the evening for a solo gig, smart in a suit and clutching a little case in which he kept the accoutrements of the travelling performer. It was almost like witnessing a conscientious door-to-door salesman preparing for another day's slog around the estates.
More than 116,000 hits have been recorded for the YouTube clip where I rediscovered this particular treasure. One visitor, identified as mark70920, correctly apportioned credit when he left this comment four years ago: "Fantastic version, made for these two to sing. When you hear the song sung this way you realise what an absolute genius Dylan is."
* Boots for Spanish Leather appears on a 2000 CD by Ronnie Drew and Eleanor Shanley, A Couple More Years, and can be purchased at the Salut! Live Amazon link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000059R2H/salusund-21
** Eleanor Shanley's website is at https://www.eleanorshanley.com/*** The Dubliners continued as a band until 2012, when the last of the founding members, Barney McKenna, died. The rest of the final line-up, with the exception of John Sheahan, decided to tour as The Dublin Legends (comprising Sean Cannon, Eamonn Campbell and Patsy Watchorn - with the addition of Gerry O'Connor). Watchorn has now retired, to be replaced by his brother Paul. News of the band can be found at The Dubliners' site and their own.