Dylan neat or Dylan beat: Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
Dylan neat or Dylan beat: covers from Emmylou Harris, Miley Cyrus and Olivia Newton John

Dylan neat or Dylan beat: Percy's Song, Bob, Sandy and a battle of musical giants

As my interest began to flag a little while watching the good-in-parts but excessively long Hemingway and Gellhorn, a thought occurred to me. In later stages of the film, some of the antics of the two heroes (played by Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman) as they boozed and (in Papa's case) brawled, passionately war reported and tirelessly shagged across the globe occurred in the year Bob Dylan was born.

Dylan's 80th birthday is on May 24. He has used six of those decades to make his own mark on the world. In this mini-series, Dylan at 80, I am looking at covers of some of his great songs.

Here, I offer another choice of my own, Fairport Convention's version of Percy's Song, a damning indictment of the USA's incarceration fetish in which a man blamed for a car crash killing four people is jailed for 99 years.

Percy's inhuman treatment makes some of the more dispiriting demands for blood in the tragic case of Harry Dunn, killed by an American woman who left a military base on the wrong side of the road, seem almost benevolent by comparison.

Sandy denny - 1

I declare an unsurprising interest, my unstinting admiration for the singing of the late Sandy Denny. Until I started to research this item, I honestly believed a mighty song had made mightier still when she sang it with Fairport .

It is a divine interpretation and appeared on the 1969 Unhalfbricking album.

But - and I did not start out expecting to write this - Dylan's 1963 original is better still. I love the sparse acoustic accompaniment, guitar and harmonica and the mixture of melancholy, anger and resignation in the vocals. I'll still listen again and again to Sandy and Fairport, with other band members (including, I believe, Iain Matthews though he left to work on a Matthews Southern Comfort album after recording the track) chipping in with hypnotic harmonies and elegant musicianship.

Over at the Salut! Live Facebook, the series has prompted some lively debate on the subject it raises. I shall bring together some pearls of wisdom from Malcolm Dawson for the next instalment.


Bill Taylor

I haven't heard Dylan sing this in a long time. It really is superb, especially considering how early this was in his career. He already well knew the value of minimalism.
I'm better acquainted with Fairport Convention's rendition - I've even heard them do it live - and I've always very much liked it. That hasn't changed. But listening to the two versions back-to-back, I'm wondering now if Fairmont don't almost make it too... pretty, for want of a better word. They take a little of the edge out of it and this is a song that is all edge.
So, yes, Dylan. Hands down.

Robin Glanville

Via Facebook

I really like Dylan's version. But I think I prefer Fairport's if I had to only listen to one in an empty prison cell. The song is fascinating. Paul Clayton via the traditional Twa Sisters. A true making of a Folk Song?

Stan Wilson

Often I differ with you in these posts . I often go for the originator over an interpreter that you often go for . This one is tougher. I love the no frills matter of fact delivery of the song by Dylan . He serves the song , letting the song simply state the story . A young Arlo Guthrie gave a similar read to the song on his album "Washington County " . Another quite admirable take on the song .
I also like the way Sandy and Fairport take the song to flight. All in all , I think if you came to me and asked me which was best ...this week (and most weeks ) I would say Bob . Some weeks I would say Fairport Convention. Two beautiful choices to have though .

Colin Randall

Stan: that’s precisely my defence when accused of chopping and changing on preferences ..

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