Hard Times/Complainte pour Ste-Catherine: a Kate and Anna McGarrigle feast
Breaking cover. Cover Story (39) looks back at Birmingham Sunday: Rhiannon Giddens, Farina or Baez

Songs you cannot get out of your head: from Linda Thompson and Sandy Denny to Dolores O'Riordan, Nic Jones and Kate Rusby

Author: Colin Randall Linda thompson - 1
Time for another of those lists. We all have them, songs or tunes we just cannot get out of our heads.

A friend who is fairly contemptuous of Ed Sheeran - I am not, incidentally, and like him if selectively - was furious about not being able to shake off one of his hits (I have forgotten which). Naturally, our personal choices for such lists are liable to change, on a whim or after coming across new or newly remembered sounds. I am restricting my own, current selection to music that is on my mind because I like it ...

In no special order, my dozen: Richard and Linda Thompson: Dimming of the Day I have always adored Linda's singing and her ex-husband's supreme writing and guitar-playing skills.

This combines their gifts. I remember an after-hours session in a Belfast hotel bar when, requests among the small crowd invited, I suggested Mary Black might sing this song.

She did so/does so beautifully; Linda, as even a musician closely associated with Mary once confided to me, gets one pace ahead. But it's not a contest, just a case of two wonderful artists doing it their way. See Linda's work at https://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005BCFC/salusund-21 


Sandy Denny with Fairport Convention: Fotheringay I could have chosen from countless songs Sandy Denny sang that frequently occupy my thoughts. Just thinking of her moistens the eyes. This is as good as any ...

Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Complainte pour Ste-Catherine

The song, dating from 1974, that really got me hooked on the Irish-Quebecoises sisters McGarrigle. Catch this recent Salut! Live item which includes a lovely interview with Kate, conducted a few months before she began her long and ultimately losing battle with cancer. And check Anna's flirtatious half-smile at 0:50 in the clip.


Steve Earle with Sharon Shannon and friends: Galway Girl - not the Sheeran song of the same name. Has everything for me: strong vocals, good song, great accompaniment. Galway Street Club: Bee's Wing, often written as Beeswing Logically follows on from Steve Earle. This is not the best version of the Richard Thompson classic - it misses out key lyrics, as does even an extended version of theirs to which they referred me - but the exuberance of the large Galway Street Club ensemble and the rough power of James Dillon's vocals are fixed in my mind.


Bellowhead: Broomfield Hill At Twitter I fell out, quite mildly, with the (now defunct) band's John Spiers, over Jeremy Corbyn. I'm leftish but even when I overlook the authoritarian, censorious and sometimes anti-Semitic nature of the way Labour has drifted, cannot see merit in anything it does as long as it acquiesces in Brexit. John sees bigger battles of social issues and Corbyn as the man to win them (though I'd say Brexit will cripple the UK to such an extent as to make that impossible). But I love Bellowhead and this interpretation of a gripping ballad.



Paul Brady and Andy Irvine: Arthur McBride No press gang/recruiting party song is better and no version of Arthur McBride is better than this. I have sidelined the 1970s version, Brady's 70s haircut and all, for this more recent clip.


The Unthanks: Here's The Tender Coming Not far behind Brady and Irvine, another forced recruitment song, this time from North-eastern England. Rachel and Becky get the wonderment and the despair so well.

Cranberries: Salvation When a favoured artist dies, especially when the death is as unexpected as Dolores O'Riordan's at 46, it is natural that something from his or her work should instantly invade the consciousness and stay there. Dolores deserves to be remembered, and will be, for towering contributions to Irish music (genre unimportant). I chose Salvation - not their best song - because I have had the main riff fixed in my mind since watching a small French girl belting it out in a Mediterranean seafront bar many years ago.

Kate Rusby: Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Choosing Fotheringay above made it easier to select my Kate Rusby entry in this list. My friends and fellow Sunderland supporters Bill Taylor and "Jake" prefer Rusby to the Sandy Denny original(s). That's a bold choice, but this is a mighty interpretation and when the song floods into my mind, it is her version of it that does so.

Nic Jones: Little Pot Stove Most of us know of the tragedy of Nic Jones, struck down by a terrible car crash when at the peak of his performing powers. That he has survived so well, and rebuilt his life, is wholly admirable. But some of his earlier work won't let go ...

Cara Dillon: Spencer the Rover We've exhausted our mischievous talk of Cara, from near Derry City, finding Rotherham a difficult place name to pronounce (she does it as Rother Ham). This remains a wonderful reworking, with husband Sam Lakeman applying subtle accompaniment, of a great traditional song.

Mary Black: Annachie Gordon Choosing Mary means leaving out others, but they shall return and dominate the next instalment of this series, if it becomes one. This is a gorgeous Scottish ballad - the familiar theme of daughter forced to marry someone other than her own choice - and Mary sings it exquisitely.





Bill Taylor

I'm no lover of lists but you I'll make an exception. Lists are traditionally "top 10" so, as you've given us 11 songs, I'll confine myself to nine...
Stan Rogers: Witch of the Westmoreland
A superb live performance of the Archie Fisher song. I never ever tire of this
Andy Roberts: Raven on the Roof
A lovely, quirky, thought-provoking song that I first came across on a compilation album in the early 1970s. It's lost nothing over the years
Christy Moore: Reel in the Flickering Light
What would a list be without Christy Moore? This song is often ascribed to him but it was actually written by Colm Gallagher. It's beautiful but also quite chilling. Listen to the words...
Richard Thompson and Nanci Griffith: Vincent Black Lighting 1952
Thompson at his best, both as performer and songwriter, back up with stunning ethereal harmonies from Griffith. And apposite today with the news that a Black Lighting, in original condition, just sold at auction in Las Vegas for a record-shattering $929,000 U.S.
The Grateful Dead: Me and My Uncle
Not exactly folk music... or is it? It's a nice evocation of the West when it was Wild and totally amoral. It's also one of the very few songs I've been known to get up and sing in public.
The Band: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Another one that's border-line folk. It was written by Robbie Robertson in 1969 but it speaks well to the U.S. Civil War and what it meant to many people. This is from The Band's "Last Waltz" concert album. The addition of brass turns the song into something epic
Jack Elliott: Rap Her to Bank
The other half of my public repertoire. I actually (and probably heretically) prefer the Ian Campbell Folk Group's version but, any way you look at it, this one is seminal
Kate Bush: Wuthering Heights
Okay, some I'm moving farther and farther off the folk track but this song... words fail. It's amazing (the video's a bit weird, though)
Alan Price: Trimdon Grange Explosion
I've heard Alan Price do a terrific acapella version but this recording, with full-out orchestration, is weird enough to have stayed with me

Colin Randall

It was meant to be 12, Bill, and is now with the inclusion of the Unthanks. Not the Testament of Patience Kershaw that so gripped you when I played it to you in France but another chilling song from North-eastern social history that I hear in my head every time I think of them.

Colin Randall

.. and without lists, this site might disappear

Bill Taylor

You've prompted me to look for Patience Kershaw on Spotify. And I found it!

Mick Goulding

I've just read your list Bill Taylor, so don't know if you'll see this response, but anyway....I wanted to comment on Raven on the Roof. Bizarrely, I was just singing this to myself yesterday, and seeing it listed here is amazing - because I've never heard it, or heard a single person mention it in 47 years! So I want to say....Wow!

In 1970 my elder brother worked in the IT dept (before the term IT was invented) at the RCA record factory in Washington (Tyne & Wear). They didn't record anything there, just pressed the vinyl. They gave all of their employees a compilation disk containing sample tracks from the contemporary RCA roster of artists. Their biggest was Elvis and the upcoming David Bowie, but I can't remember whether they were on it - and it was full of...well, fillers. But this one stuck with me and I used to play it often.

It's by The Liverpool Scene (from the album Bread On The Night), who mixed street poetry with music and had some relative (but very small) success for a while in 69-70. Adrian Henri was the main man, and a published poet (alongside Roger McGough in Liverpool), and he's the one I already knew about.

I tend to remember lyrics and have often sung The Raven to myself ever since, despite not hearing it since my brother's album was discarded 40-odd years ago. Your man Andy Roberts was the musician in The Liverpool Scene, but I was disappointed to hear this clip from Youtube, because of the way he deconstructed the song in performance. It never had much melody to start with (the poetry was always more important), but what melody it did have he stripped away. It prompted me to search for the original, and this link gives the whole album - The Raven on the Roof is Track 2.


Bill Taylor

Thank you, Mick! Not only for the reminder of The Liverpool Scene - I had that album, too, a million years ago - but also the youtube link. I'd forgotten how much better the original is than the live version Andy Roberts did in 2014. I still do like that one, stripped down as it is, but the original... wow! I now have it on my Spotify account. They were good days when the Scaffold were performing and let us never forget that Mike McGear was Paul McCartney's brother.

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