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

Voices Part III: ‘The Death of Queen Jane”

To conclude my discussion of the way in which rock, folk and country music deal with the topic of the deaths of close relatives/friends, have included a few more songs here which deal with the topic. Most of these come from the latter two genres, which, it seems to me, are far more comfortable with discussing death than are rock and pop music with their emphasis on youth.

Will begin with The Bothy Band’s fine live version of ‘The Death of Queen Jane’:

Next up is Joe Heaney’s ‘Song of the Drowned’ or ‘Curachaí na Trá Báine:

This can be heard here at

Will follow this with two songs by Paul Clayton, who had a special talent for covering melancholic songs:

The first is ‘The Seaman’s Grave’:

A sample can be heard here at http://www.pandora.com/paul-clayton/bay-state-ballads

and the second is ‘The Dying Stockman”;

A sample can be found here at http://www.pandora.com/paul-clayton/folk-ballads-of-english-speaking-world/dying-stockman.

Will finish up with two country songs. The first one is Roseanne Cash’s superb ‘Black Cadillac’

The second is ‘Peace in the Valley” from Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s excellent cd of covers of classic country songs, recorded as a tribute to his father:

A sample can be heard here at http://www.pandora.com/jimmie-dale-gilmore/come-on-back/peace-in-valley

Voices Part II – Today’s The day

Carrying on from my previous post, here are some other rock songs which deal with the issue of the deaths of close friends/contemporaries and the passing way of close family members.

Will begin with two songs from recent albums by Kevin Hewick, which included fine tributes to close associates of his like Tony Wilson of Factory fame and that much under-rated songwriter, Jackie Leven.

The first is ‘Fac501’:

A sample can be heard here at https://pro.beatport.com/track/fac-501-original-mix/3488421

Next up is ‘A Young Man’s Dream of Revolution’ from his excellent Heat of Molten Diamonds cd:

That album also features the excellent song, ‘Elegy For Jackie Leven’, but there doesn’t seem to be even a sample of it available on the net.

To conclude this post, here are some of my favourite songs dealing directly with the death of a parent.

Will begin with Lucy Kaplansky’s beautiful song about her dad:

and follow it with Guy Clark’s beautifully crafted song about his father, ‘The Randal Knife – another song which proves his mastery of the ‘story’ song;

Will conclude for today with Johnny Duhan’s superb, ‘The River Returning”;

A sample can be heard here at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004GOAPI8/ref=dm_ws_sp_ps_dp


Ideal voices we have greatly loved,
of those that death has taken, or of those
that are, for us, lost, even as are the dead.

At times we hear them talking in our dreams;
at times in thought they echo through the brain.

And, with the sound of them, awhile recur
sounds from the first poetry of our lives, —
like music, on still nights, far off, that wanes.


Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!

Thomas Hardy

Losing a close family member recently (a parent, in fact) led me to think about how rock music in general has dealt with such subjects and with the complex web of grief, regrets, childhood memories and associations that goes with it. For much of my life, music has been a crucial therapeutic tool in crises situations and this has especially true in relation to the cluster of deaths which have occurred within my family circle in the past decade.

My personal view is that (unlike as is the case with classical, country or folk music) rock music – which began as a genre for young people – has tended to shy away from this area. There are some honourable exceptions to this rule which I will get to below. – most of which deal with the deaths of close contemporaries/friends rather than directly with the passing away of a close relative.

The first of these is Lou Reed’s classic cd, Magic and Loss, which I have played repeatedly in the immediate aftermath of the deaths of four family members in recent years. For me, the album is another indication of the acute insight, honesty and bravery, which were the hallmark of Reed’s musical career. A full concert performance of this masterpiece can be found here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c28TXKnCANw).

Like this particular song so much, I want it played at my own funeral:

The next honourable exception I would point to is Robert Forster’s fine album, The Evangelist. Written not long after the sudden and unexpected death of his songwriting partner, Grant McLennan, on it Forster writes in a far more personal and revealing way than he had done during his time with the great Australian band, The Go-Betweens. For me, the most moving song on the record, however, is this one:

More to follow…

“I Followed the River and I Got to the Sea”: 11 Songs with Either Word in their Title

A brief return to the ‘theme time’ format.

Will begin with Creedence

1. ‘Green River’:

2. Woody Guthrie ‘Red River Valley’:

3. Eric Andersen, ‘Blue River’:

4. Johnny Cash, ‘Sea of Heartbreak”

5. ‘Joni Mitchell, ‘River”

6. The Pogues, ‘The Broad Majestic Shannon”;

7. Paul Robeson, ‘Shenandoah’:

8. Paul Clayton, ‘Saturday night at Sea’:

9. Al Green, ‘Take Me To the River”:

10. Screaming Trees, “Ocean of Confusion”:

11. Mark Lanegan, ‘The River Rise’:

Bob Dylan’s One-Sided Folk Process

In his rather unpleasant Rolling Stone interview in advance of the release of the musically mediocre and lyrically shoddy Tempest, Bob Dylan claimed that ‘in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. It’s true for everybody, but me. I mean, everyone else can do it but not me. There are different rules for me.’
Given his expression of that opinion, one would expect that he would be relaxed and forgiving in relation to other artists who quoted from his own work. Indeed, a one-sided ‘folk process’ would be an obvious contradiction in terms.
Yet, in reality, this seems to be the way in which Dylan operates- for example, this is what happened when Hootie and the Blowfish quoted from ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ (in this case after making it clear that the lines were ‘borrowed’):

Discovered this fact from this quite judicious article:


The details of the settlement between the two parties can be found here (Bob’s signature appears prominently on it, so he cannot put all of the responsibility on his lawyers):
There are also some rumours around that Bob threatened Rod Stewart with a plagiarism suit over the latter’s song, ‘Forever Young’:


Apparently, he was eventually given a songwriter credit on that rather abysmal song…

How Bob’s quotes from the Rolling Stone article fit in with his actions in both of these cases, I leave the readers of this piece to judge

Ten Books That Have Stayed with Me

Drew up this list in response to a post on the excellent The Bookshelf of Emily J. blog.

Apparently this has been going around Facebook and the idea is to ‘list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard—they don’t have to be the ‘right’ or ‘great’ works, just the ones that have touched you.’

Anyway, for what its worth, here is my list:

1. Bleak House – Dickens
2. Middlemarch – Eliot
3. Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
4. Dubliners – Joyce
5. Lord Kilgobbin – Charles Lever
6. Where I’m Calling From – Raymond Carver
7. Collected Stories – John Cheever
8. The Complete short Stories – Ernest Hemingway
9. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
10. Collected Poems – Michael Hartnett

If I was including my favourite books as a child, these would include Edward Lear’s Complete Nonsense, Alan Garner’s, The Moon of Gomrath and The Owl Service, and, as a teenager, George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.

Professionally it would have to be books like E.P. Thompson’s, The Making of the English Working Class, Hobsbawm’s Labouring Men and Worlds of Labour, Carlo Ginzburg’s, The Cheese and the Worms, Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, Michael Foot’s life of Nye Bevan, and Robert Blake’s books on Disraeli and the UK Conservative Party.

7 Drunken Nights Gave Me The Blues

Had a strange experience yesterday – was listening to a Sonny Boy Williamson compilation cd I bought recently and heard a song which sounded remarkably familiar. It was one of those instances where you spend some time trying to remember exactly where you had heard that song (or one very similar to it) before – and then it hit me. The song I was thinking of was The Dubliners ‘Seven Drunken Nights’.

But to retrace our steps. Here is the Sonny Boy Williamson song, ‘Wake Up Baby’:

and here is The Dubliners:

The Dubliners’ song itself is based on an earlier Irish language song called ‘Peigín agus Peadar’, which they learned from the great Irish singer, Joe Heaney. Heaney’s version of it can be heard here:


The song probably made the journey from Connemara to the USA with the Irish emigrants who travelled there. How it ended up in Sonny Boy Williamson’s repertoire I can only guess, although Leadbelly’s version of ‘Stewball’ was also based on an Irish original:

Here is a great version of that original, ‘The Plains of Kildare’ by Andy Irvine and Paul Brady:

Dylan-Joni Mitchell feud – Revisited

A quick update to my previous post in which I referred to Joni Mitchell’s claim that she had had a conversation with Bob where he had said that many of his more recent songs had been written by “the box”. She then said to him “What do you mean ‘the box’?” and he replied “I write down things from movies and things I’ve heard people say and I throw them in the box.”

Did not know at the time that Larry Charles, who collaborated with Dylan on Masked and Anonymous, had actually seen ‘the box”. Here is his description of it:

“The first thing he did, and this gives an illustration of how his mind works, he had this box on the table. He opened it and dumped out the box. It was all these little scraps of paper, stationery from all around the world. And on each scrap of paper was an aphorism or a line or a name of somebody. He dumped it out and said, ‘I don’t know what to do with all this.’

“I started looking and I said, ‘This can be a line of dialog. And this could be the person’s name who says the dialog.’ He was like, ‘You can do that?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And I realized that’s how he writes songs. He has all these fragments and he weaves the fragments until they become poetry. It’s kind of automatic writing or the cut-up technique William Burroughs used. That’s how we started to write that script actually. It was a very organic, very stream of consciousness process.

The full interview from which this quote comes can be found here:

Paul Clayton Newport 1963

Good picture of Clayton performing at the Newport Festival in July 1963. He might even be singing the version of ‘The Two Sisters’ that Bob Dylan based ‘Percy’s song’ on:

New and Recent Albums

In the last month or two , have been playing a small number of albums in rotation – a few of these are by a select group of excellent contemporary songwriters (Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson and Mary Gauthier), while the others are by more established artists like Randy Travis and John Anderson.

To start with, Jason Isbell’s Southeastern stands out as one of the very finest albums of recent times. At its best (on songs like ‘Travelling Alone” and ‘Elephants’, it has an emotional candour and raw honesty, which bears comparison with Mary Gauthier’s finest work. Here is one of the other fine songs from that album:

Have only recently discovered Jamey Johnson’s work, but it already seems clear to me that he is one of the best ‘real’ country songwriters in a long, long time. The best of his work combines the emotional candour which was/is central to the work of great country songwriters like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard with a contemporary edge – ‘the smell of tofu’, ‘depression pills’ and ‘cocaine’ in this fine song, for example:

While Mary Gauthier’s new album, Trouble and Love may not be up to the standards of her very best work, there are, nonetheless, some fine songs on it. This one stands out for me:

In recent times, have also been listening a lot to two fine compilations. The first,’ Three Wooden Crosses, showcases Randy Travis skills as a country gospel singer. The title track which could have been merely mawkish in other hands is magnificently performed here:

To finish up here is that superb country vocal stylist John Anderson’s great environmental song, Seminole Wind – one of the very few great songs in that vein which this avowedly ‘conservative’ form of music has produced. Go figure, as they say…