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

Jan 31 2021 update 

Today, for the first time to my knowledge since this site was launched 14 years ago, the number of visitors from the US exceeded that from the UK. Add Canadians and the margin, though narrow - 45 per cent against 38 - was probably enough to offset the annoying number of arrivals here via Google bots, whatever they are.

There are several reasons to explain rising or constant interest from North America. One is that my articles in Richard Thompson always attract a large transatlantic readership whether I‘m discussing purely his own performances or comparing versions of his songs which invariably, of course, include his own.


Image:      Dxede5x

The three pieces that draw most « hits » are items concerning Beeswing, Dimming of the Day .... and the subject of today’s excuse to revive a past discussion, Galway to Graceland. I hope you enjoy it whether as a newcomer or returning visitor ... 

My mind often wanders 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, is known to a minority of discerning people.

Over to the Salut! Live jury.



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!

George Stott

Via Facebook

Didn't know the Shanley version but that explains why my Irish pal always gets the last note wrong, and yes, it's wrong. Much better to resolve to the root.

Wolfgang Hanika

Via Facebook
I love the 1993 Version (Intimite Wash) by Ian Mathhews the best. Maybe that's why I first heard this version

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