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Cover Story: (20) The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Bob Dylan, Christy Moore or Cage the Elephant

Cover Story: (19) Beeswing - Christy Moore or Richard Thompson

Credit: Dxede5x

Can Salut! Live's Cover Story series stagger back into life? It can. Apologies for the dearth of updates. I have been on holiday in Corsica - massively recommended - and trying to earn a living (not recommended).

Today, I turn to a song that has been haunting me for days.

On the garage shelves where I keep hundreds of CDs, I came across Christy Moore's album, Burning Times. He's made better, but some tracks stand out. I'd nominate Magdalen Laundries, Hattie Carroll and, yes, Beeswing. I've been playing it over and again, ignoring iTunes's insulting attempt to categorise it as country and western.

1 A further look at Beeswing: Maeve Gilchrist and Galway Street Club
2 Roy Bailey - mourn the man, treasure his work. Another fine version of Richard Thompson's Beeswing

Legend has it that Richard Thompson's beautiful lyrics were inspired by the supremely gifted but eccentric folk singer Annie Briggs, described thus at Wikipedia:

Briggs was notoriously wild at this time [end of the 1960s]. There are many stories from this period about her, such as pushing [Johnny] Moynihan and Andy Irvine out of a hay loft and, on another occasion, jumping into the sea at Malin Head, Donegal to chase seals.
In an episode of Folk Britannia (a documentary history of UK folk music aired in 2006) Richard Thompson recalled that he only ever encountered Briggs twice and on both occasions she was drunk and unconscious. It is often speculated that it was Briggs who inspired Thompson's song 'Beeswing'

Whatever the inspiration, there isn't a poor phrase or badly chosen word in Thompson's lyrics, each verse offering a poetic gem. The chorus runs:

She was a rare thing Fine as a beeswing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child She was running wild
She said as long as there's no price on love I'll stay
And you wouldn't want me any other way

But who sings it best? I am loathe to depart from the author. His version, or one of his versions, can be seen in the first of my clips ...

He delivers his own wonderful song in gripping style. I love it.

But Christy!

The way he makes his voice rise and fall, the emphasis, the warm texture, the complete understanding of each character's thoughts ... it might have been written for him. No contest for me.

But chapeau to Richard Thompson, a truly massive British songwriting (and guitar-playing) talent for songs that contains such magical verses as this ...

Oh the last I heard she's sleeping rough back on the Derby beat
A bottle of White Horse in her hip pocket and a wolfhound at her feet
And they say she even married once, a man named Romany Brown
But even a gypsy caravan was too much settling down
And they say her flower is faded now, hard weather and hard booze
But maybe that's just the price you pay for the chains you refuse

**** You can buy the Christy Moore album Burning Times, on which Beeswing appears, at this Salut! Live Amazon line

***** And Richard Thompson's album Acoustic Classics - buy it here - contains not only Beeswing but Galway to Graceland


Bill Taylor

Oh, jeez, I'm gonna disagree with you again (though I fully concur with your horror at iTunes regarding "Beeswing" as C&W). Not that I hate or even dislike Christy Moore's version - it's lovely. But the texture is a little TOO warm for my taste and his inflection is almost theatrical. It all serves to soften a song that is essentially very hard-edged.
Thompson doesn't compromise; he delivers the tension that the song needs. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Colin Randall

Lovely comment. I naturally knew you'd disagree ...


I take Bill's point but if I could only have one version it'd be Christy's... I like the softness and the diction

Colin Randall

Completely different, but I have just discovered and really enjoyed a version, accompanied by her exquisite harp playing, by Maeve Gilchrist, a Scotswoman living in NYC ...


Colin Randall

Very nice version, Doug. One of those songs that cry out for being done differently, Among the many runners up, I am torn between the Galway Street Club, Maeve Gilchrist and your Ruari

David Steadman

I’m afraid I have to disagree with you all and feel that the best version I have heard of this is by Mad Dog Mcrea.

Nicola Hambridge

Check out Grace Petrie's version of Beeswing on her new album...

Pauline Woolley

The late, great Roy Bailey for me:

Jane Russ

Oh definitely Roy Bailey, such colour and warmth in the voice.


I actually really like Paolo Nutini's take on the song.


Keith Murphy does a version with pretty stunning guitar work on his new album Land of Fish and Seals. The whole album is worth a listen, but Beeswing especially.

colin randall

I am now in the Richard Thompson camp.

Here is my own about-turn, a comment at YouTube (

'Great set of comments here. I discussed the merits of Richard vs Christy at my little site .. and came down on Christy's side ('the emphasis, warm texture, complete understanding of each character's thoughts) but honestly now accept that Richard's version, live, of his own magnificent song is unbeatable. Others will, and may, disagree ... as Dave Swarbrick once said, 'you can do anything you like with music. It won't mind.'

Ken Sharp

Why do so many of the cover versions miss out the Romany Brown verse? To me it is the emotional heart ... with the power and the emphasis given there (especially in the Mad Dog Mcrea version - my favourite) that emphasises the longing/yearning/sadness of the singer for a taste of life that he never got.

Colin Randall

Good debate about a wonderful piece of songwriting and all the versions it’s has inspired. I quite like Mad Dog Mcrea’s shot at it but if I am right, the singer also takes the occasional liberty with this or that word/phrase


All great versions, a young lad from Dungannon has a version that is top notch - Conleth McGeary 👌👌worth checking out

Bernd Feldmann

Well, just as Swarb put it: 'It won't mind.' The song is so outstandingly good & valid that it brings out the quality of each and every good singer! I agree that the Romany Brown verse is essential and - this said - let me remind you of the Futureheads' version on their CD 'Rant' (2012) - a rock group from Sunderland also grasping the soul of the song...

Bill Taylor

I just came back to this and, rereading the comments, I'm given pause by Ken Sharp's opinion that the sometimes-omitted Romany Brown verse is the emotional heart of the song. I take his point and don't entirely disagree with it (it's Colin I always seem to disagree with!) but the verse never rung entirely true. The woman has a long-time relationship with the narrator of the story but is adamant that she won't be tied down by any man. And then she ups and marries Romany Brown. It's hard to believe and, in a way, perhaps even weakens the song a little.

Bill Taylor

RANG entirely true! Or perhaps HAS never rung entirely true! I do speak the language... honestly.

Colin Randall

You have entirely acceptable use of English, Bill, for an adopted Canadian.

Sandy Yeats

I prefer the Whistlin Donkeys version meself.

Colin Randall

The singer has a great voice, Sandy, but why on earth does he sing the changed closing chorus after the first verse? It’s as if he doesn’t respect the way Richard Thompson’s lyrics develop.

Michael Curran

Have to agree with you Sandy I love the Whistlin Donkeys version of Beeswing


Flair Music version adds a modern twist to it and gives this song a new life to bring it back to life for the the new generation. They recorded it for st . Patrisks day 2021 can be viewed on their page on facebook.

Damian Egan

Mad dog Mcrea does it perfectly !

John whitehead

I like both versions… but they are Apples and pears really. Moore re-harmonizes
the verses playing simpler major chords
as opposed to Thompson’s contrapuntal,
slightly modal finger style arrangement.
I think it’s the latter that gives Thompson’s version it’s haunting quality.
Moore’s version is “prettier,” more Irish
as opposed to the flintier original.


What about Broken Bandits version?


I don't think this beautiful song can be done wrong, however, Poor Man's Gambit grips me 'more than any other way'.

Philippe Giron

Firmly in the Richard Thompson camp here too, an amazing song, sung with passion, but Mike Wray's version is also excellent with a more than a hint of Jake Thackery in his vocals. 2000 or so views....

Joh The Tub

Love Richards version but like how Christy rearranged the verses. To me that flows better. The Whistlin' Donkeys version is also excellent, perhaps my favourite though I've seen a version where they change the endings evolved chorus and puts in in the first chorus. As it's a live version I think it's probably a mistake as the recorded version is true to Richard Thompsons.

Sharyn Dimmick

Thompson, Thompson, Thompson! I listened to every version of this where commenters provided links. I had not heard any of these versions before except Thompson's. Because I cannot fault either Thompson's lyrics, or his graceful melody or his ornamentation, I tend to be displeased when others alter the lyrics (Christy Moore and everyone here who follows his version), the melody (Christy Moore et al and Roy Bailey). The marriage to Romany Brown is an integral part of the story -- the woman is so free that she will do anything she wants and then change her mind when it doesn't work out: what she won't do is be told what to do (the "babies on the rug" suggestion). All that said, the linked version that I liked best after Thompson's was Grace Petrie's -- she does leave out the Romany Brown verse due to gender-switching, but her vocal is honest, her guitar-playing lovely and the fiddle a worthy addition. And, by the way, Colin, I agree with you that trying to earn a living is "not recommended."

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