Cover story

Cover Story: (33) Streets of London. Ralph McTell, or McTell with Annie Lennox for Crisis (homeless charity)


For two special editions of Cover Story, Salut! Live's series on different versions of the same songs, I am in the hands of a good friend Frank Gallagher, an exceptional musician and musical producer I first met through his work with Mary Black.

Frank does not know, unless he read the relevant piece, how I massacred Streets of London in my first taste of public performance in decades in the south of France earlier this year.

But now he tells me he is the producer of one exceptional new version, with the song's composer Ralph McTell joined by the redoubtable Annie Lennox with massive help from the choir of the charity Crisis, which works to combat homelessness and help its victims.

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Cover Story (32): Fairytale of New York. The Pogues or O'Hooley and Tidow

Roll up for the 32nd instalment in my series Cover Story , which looks at different versions of the same songs ...

Why am I even bothering with Fairytale of New York? As good a Christmas song as you'll encounter, a stirring melody and chorus plus Shane MacGowan's eloquent portrayal of being down and out in NYC, executed with punch and panache by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

Nothing, on the face if it, to dislike. But it has been done to death by excessive airplay and as many people now cringe as cry for joy when it comes on yet again. But there is a good reason for my interest to perk up, a new interpretation that deserves serious attention.

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Cover Story (31): The Little Drummer Boy. Sorry Bing, it's got to be Joan Jett or The Rural Alberta Advantage

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"The defendant shall stand. You have been convicted of serious offences and it is my duty to pass a sentence that serves as a deterrent. You shall be taken to a lawful place of punishment and made to listen non-stop for hours to Christmas songs by Slade, Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, Cliff Richard, Connie Francis, George Michael and an impossibly long list of other solo performers and groups, all of whom ought to have known better but fancied a whopping seasonal payday." Fairytale of New York would strike many as a rare exception to the dross, a good song well delivered by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, but how many hearts sink when it's played for the umpteenth time (52m visits to the two main clips of it at YouTube; 145,000 likes, 6,000 dislikes)? Today's judge is my friend, Bill Taylor. Let him take up the Bah Humbug story without mention of Fairytale (I reserve the right to return to it because of an interesting new version by an English duo of Irish backgrounds, O’Hooley and Tidow). And don't worry, he eventually gets almost sentimental about a song that some adore and others feel might have been best left unwritten ...

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Cover Story: (30) Beeswing flies again. Galway Street Club, Maeve Gilchrist and crying for help

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I am proud of much that appears at Salut! Live, hoping my efforts and those of occasional contributors may help to spread word and sound about what is so good about folk, roots and associated musical genres. It can be rushed, even sloppy at times, a function of available time. But it is a labour, essentially, of love.

When someone bothers to post a comment, be it a friend, relative or stranger, I am chuffed to bits. If the stranger happens to be an artist I have mentioned (see recent comments from Jon Boden and Tim Van Eyken), so much the better. It is encouraging if people buy using my Amazon links, knowing that it will help - albeit only a little - towards paying for the site's upkeep.

All the same, it is hard to argue against readership figures that, even after a recent slight upsurge, refuse to climb to any significant extent. If I cannot measure the readership in hundreds, it begins to feel like wasted effort.

I recently highlighted - and supported, to the tune of £50 - the fRoots crowdfunding appeal. It's a great magazine that absolutely deserves to survive whereas Salut! Live seeks little more than a reason to exist with a meaningfully sized audience.

You are here. So if you feel like helping, please do so. If you like what you see and hear at the site, spread the word however you can - by sharing with like-minded friends, linking to Salut! Live on social media, mentions on other relevant sites. If you have ideas on what I should be doing or should not be doing to make the site more attractive, share them. Appeal over ...

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Salut1 Live's Cover Story series has been running for some time. If you are new to it, the idea is to compare different versions of the same songs. It is not a competition though I express my preferences and so do readers who reply. I believe it is a useful project but hope visitors drawn by it to this site will also find much else to read.

Back to Beeswing, discussed earlier in the series. I have always loved the song. Recently it has become an obsession. I want to learn to play and sing it, however badly, and I love coming across unfamiliar versions. Many give the title as Bee's Wing, which is correct but not what Richard Thompson called his song.

In that earlier instalment of Cover Story, I confessed to a slight preference for the Christy Moore version rather than Thompson's original. Then I delved deeper.

The two Beeswing interpretations I offer now could hardly be more different.

Maeve Gilchrist, Edinburgh-born but living in Brooklyn, NYC, is an accomplished player of the harp, has a beguiling, expressive voice and a serene stage presence. The simplicity of the arrangement, captured live in Massachusetts, perfectly complements Gilchrist's warm, confident delivery.

Galway Street Club are a raucous bunch of Irish west coast blow-ins plus maybe a couple of locals, a band of varying size and nationalities - buskers, students and adventurers who came together by accident and somehow make a great noise.

Their live version suffers from a curious decision to shorten the song, losing key sections [but see Comments below for an explanation]. We are left with a song stripped of some of its soul and a performance consequently to be judged chiefly as a sound. And what a sound it is, James Dillon's rough and ready vocals spot-on and the throbbing accompaniment more viable ensemble than anarchic cacophony.

True comparison of these two versions, or between either of them and the Richard Thompson original or Christy Moore cover, is difficult if not impossible. It is simply a matter of personal taste.

If I opted for the technical superiority of Gilchrist, I would still look out for an occasional fix of the street club's boisterous charm. And I shall be looking up other examples of their work as well as Gilchrist's.

* Check out Maeve Gilchrist's recorded work at the Salut! Live Amazon link:

** The Galway Street Club Facebook page is here; Maeve Gilchrist's site is here

Cover Story: (29) Libertango/I've Seen That Face Before. Grace Jones, Kirsty MacColl or Ástor Piazzolla

The more I listen to Libertango, also known as I've Seen That Face Before, the more I wonder whether it is possible to make a bad recording of it.

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Cover Story: (28) The Croppy Boy. Anne Byrne or the Dubliners

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Walking home
with my granddaughter from her primary school, we chanced upon a sight that fascinated her, appalled me.

Someone had just detached the nameplate of my favourite Indian (Nepalese if we are to be pedantic) restaurant in Ealing, west London and was at that moment dropping it unceremoniously into the back of a truck.

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