' I've lost the power I had to distinguish between what to ignite and what to extinguish' – Rowland S. Howard

Month: August, 2012

Joe Heaney Bob Dylan Eileen Aroon

Over the last few years, have listened  a great deal to the recordings of the great Irish sean-nos singer, Joe Heaney. Heaney was a close friend of Liam Clancy’s and a source for some of the Clancy Brother’s material. Through Liam Clancy, Heaney was also on the fringes of the Greenwich Village set (he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in the mid-1960s) and was one of the singers who performed at the Singers Club in December 1962, when Dylan also performed two songs there.This is Heaney’s version of Eileen Aroon, which Dylan performed in concert on a number of occasions (most notably perhaps in Dublin in 1989):


After that concert, according to Sean Wilentz, Bob spoke with Liam Clancy about his sadness at the fact that ‘his audiences, even in Dublin, no longer knew the wonderful old songs’.

Funnily enough, however, the version that Dylan sang is not actually the original one but, in fact, is  derived from a poem by Gerard Griffin, the Nineteenth century Irish novelist and author of The Collegians. While Griffin’s poem is based on the original song, it alters the original words quite a bit and adapts them to Nineteenth Century ‘Romantic’ conventions.To complete the picture, here is Heaney singing the Irish version of the song:


Heaney also recorded the Irish version of ‘Eileen Aroon’ on his Gael-Linn , album (issued under the Irish version of his name, Seosamh O’hEanai) O Mo Dhuchas (From My Tradition).
There is discussion of both the Irish & English versions of “Eileen Aroon” & their place in Heaney’s repertoire in Sean Williams and Lillis O’Laoire’s excellent book on Heaney  Bright Star of the West, 120-27.

Perhaps a coinc…

Perhaps a coincidence, but thought I would point out that two of my favourite ballads ever written have backing vocals by Shawn Colvin.

They are ‘Listen to the Rain’ by Eric Andersen from his excellent cd. ‘Ghosts:upon the Road’, the beginning of a career revival that has led to a series of excellent albums:

and Paul Westerberg’s ‘Born for Me’ on his much under-rated album, Suicaine Gratification:

Bob Dylan’s Yellow Hair

Another aim of this Blog is to draw together some of the various posts I have placed on other sites (particularly Michael Gray’s Bob Dylan site and his new Outtakes site) over the last few years.

These included posts on subjects like Dylan’s reference to ‘Yellow Hair’ in ‘Angelina’ and to ‘Golden Locks’ in ‘Changing of the Guards’ on Street Legal. This post arose from Michael”s discussion of Kenneth Patchen’s influence on Dylan in the Encyclopedia, in which he suggested that the latter may have drawn the lines about ‘yellow hair’ from Patchen’s work.

It seemed to me, however, that it was more likely that this line came rom the folk tradition, through lines like ‘and he took some strands of her long yellow hair’ from the song, ‘Bows of London’, which Martin Carthy has recorded.

Or from lines such as:

Oh ragged are your stockings love
And stubbly is your cheek and chin
And tousled is that yellow hair
That I saw late yestre’en

from “Jack Orion’ recorded by Bert Jansch.

There are also the lines:

“he took him by his long yellow hair,
And also by his feet.”

from “Love Henry’ which Bob recorded himself.

I think these sources also inspired the lines about ‘long golden locks’ in the same song, although it is possible that this line owes a debt this poem by the English poet, George Peele:

His golden locks time hath to silver turned;
O time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!
His youth ‘gainst time and age hath ever spurned,
But spurned in vain; youth waneth by increasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,
And, lovers’ sonnets turned to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are age his alms:
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in hmely cell,
He’ll teach his swains this carol for a song–
“Blessed be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Cursed be the souls that think her any wrong.”
Goddess, allow this aged man his right,
To be your beadsman now that was your knight.’

Incidentally, this poem was set to music by the great Elizabethan English composer, John Dowland  & a version of this can be heard here:


A Defence of Phil Ochs

There has long been a consensus among Dylan biographers that Bob’s shift away from ‘Protest’ songs was a natural one and one that was firmly based on artistic principles. In this view, the writing of such songs was stifling to Bob’s creativity and it was essential for his artistic growth that he moved away from the absurdly restrictive rules that applied to the genre. Allied with this goes the contention that so-called ‘topical’ songs were ephemeral and were quickly forgotten once the occasion that inspired them was forgotten…

My problem with this contention is, that while it contains a large grain of truth, it is, in many respects, almost as absurdly restrictive as is the view of those folk purists it was designed to combat. Saying that someone should NOT write about politics is as absurd as saying that they should write ONLY about it…

Here, I would also argue that historical specificity does not necessarily consign a song to oblivion once the moment which led to its composition is gone. Indeed, the best of Phil Ochs’ work, for example, is actually strengthened by the fact that it is anchored in a particular historical reality. This is particularly the case at the moment when so many of the issues that Ochs’ addressed remain unresolved. So listening to, say, Ochs’ live album from Carnegie Hall, I was struck by the continuing relevance of so many of the songs.

It also seems to that the later Phil Ochs albums like ‘Rehearsals for Retirement’ and ‘Tape From California’ have never really received the acclaim they deserved.
As a portayal of the fractures in American society at the time that they were released,  it also arguable that they are superior to anything that Dylan produced in the same period…








In Chronicles, …

In Chronicles, Dylan describes Paul Clayton as ‘forlorn and melancholic’ and it was, perhaps, these qualities in his character that makes his treatment of  such sombre folk songs as  ‘The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry’, ‘Going to Georgia’ (which he may have written himself), ‘Sad and Lonely’ and ‘The Dying Stockman’ so effective.

My favourite of these melancholy songs, however, is ”The Seaman’s Grave’ from Clayton’s album, Bay State Ballads. The simple elegance of this performance compares well, I think, with Benjamin Britten’s equally simple and affecting arrangement of ‘Tom Bowlin’, another story of a sailor lost at sea:

You can hear part of the Clayton track here:


The Britten piece can be heard in full at (the original poem it is based on is by Charles Dibdin:

Paul Clayton Bob Dylan

In my last post, I mentioned the fact that recently I have been listening to several of Bob Dylan’s contemporaries from Greenwich Village – started with people like Paul Clayton, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton and have moved outwards to some of the more recent excellent albums made by Eric Andersen.


In part, this was driven by a wish to see Bob from another perspective. Having been a Dylan fan for over 30 years, I was beginning to feel overloaded by all of the critical commentary, new books, etc. surrounding him. I thought that, by listening to Dylan’s contemporaries I might be able to begin to isolate what distinguished him from them and those qualities which made him a great artist.


This process began with a chance purchase of Paul Clayton’s great album of sea shanties. Soon afterwards, I bought what I think is his equally fine album of dulcimer songs and instrumentals. It struck that these albums of folk  music (sifted as it were by time) stand up far better than do many of the singer-songwriter albums of the 1960s. Then went on to explore other Clayton albums and realised these constitute a huge untapped source of great songs. At times, perhaps, some of Clayton’s performances of them sound rather dated and inconsequential but the best material on them (like Clayton’s brilliant version of ‘The Two Sisters’ (link below) are truly superb.



New Blog

This blog is intended to reflect some of my major interests – these include the music of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, John Martyn Nick Drake John Prine, John Hatt, Lyle Lovett, John Renbourn, Steve Earle, Dave Alvin, Paul Clayton, Joe Heaney, George Jones, Merle Haggard and a host of others. My interests also include English and Irish History and good literature (in particular, the literature of the Victorian period. As a result, posts might cover topics like the songs of Bob Dylan, the art of Joe Heaney or the novels of Charles Lever…

In recent times I have been listening a lot to the music of Bob Dylan’s Greenwich Village contemporaries and part of the aim of this blog is to draw attention to what I think is the neglected talents of people like Paul Clayton and Phil Ochs, for example. It seems to me that Dylan has (through no fault of his own) had a distorting effect on thee manner in which we view his contemporaries.


This effect can be seen in the case of Paul Clayton who nowadays seems to be principally regarded as a Dylan sidekick rather than an important artist in his own right. Indeed, Clayton’s achievements as a singer, a collector of folk songs and a fine songwriter in his own right have not received their fair due…