Sunday 4 November 2012

Not Counting Roberta Flack

I was thinking of significant versions of Ewan MacColl songs not by Ewan MacColl, and came up with the following:

'The Ballad of Accounting' by The Exiles
'Jesus Was a Carpenter' by The Johnstons
'Space Girl' by Shirley Collins
'The Thirty-foot Trailer' by The Watersons
'Sweet Thames Flow Softly' by Planxty
'Schooldays End' by John Faulkner and Sandra Kerr

This is only a provisional list, if anyone has any more.


  1. Across the the bridge into Salford: "Dirty Old Town": popularly The Dubliners or The Pogues, but if you can unearth a copy of a "Father Ted" episode called "Hell", you might hear a Graham Norton version as the very annoying Father Noel Furlong that would give "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" a run for its money; pain could be seen as significant.

  2. Fair-isle versions of D.O.T. were by Clancy Brothers, of course; and there's a John Tams "reconstruction" of the Manchester Rambler, the Dubliners have the conventional M.R. as part of their live repertoire; and you'd rather imagine in the spirit of the Association, a Mike Harding recording should be available in some format.

  3. ....but otherwise, Dick Gaughan and Tony Capstick might be worth a sample, didn't they make an album of Ewan MacColl songs?

  4. Anonymous, you're the best. Funnily enough, I've been re-watching Father Ted, but only series one, so far, so I haven't gotten to Graham Norton's version of 'Dirty Old Town'. And yes, I recall now the Dick Gaughan album devoted to MacColl (Tony Capstick too, was it?), but haven't tracked it down. And 'Manchester Rambler' is very significant, as much historical as musical. I'm grateful to you. The fact is, I feel ambivalent about Ewan MacColl, and, for the time being, I think I would rather hear other people sing his songs than himself. Didn't Steeleye Span do a MacColl song called 'Fisherman's Wife' on their first LP, which is ironic, given MacColl's feelings about Steeleye Span.

  5. The versions of Dirty Old Town are plenty, but wikipedia lists one limited edition by Townes van Zandt which might be the most intriguing. I think I remember the Father Ted one to be of a single line, mercifully. "Freeborn Man of the Travelling People" is another one that those named above would have performed at some time, probably Christy Moore's is the one in the recesses my mind.

  6. 'Dirty Old Town' by Townes Van Zandt! That is significant and what's more I've got it on 7" (forgot all about it). There's a cover of the Michael Weston King song, 'Riding the Range', on the other side. 'Freeborn Man', yes, that's a good one. Phil Ochs did 'Ballad of a Carpenter' on I Ain't Marching Any More. The Unthanks - Rachel Unthank and the Winterset back then - did 'On A Monday Morning' on their debut, Cruel Sister. The best song in the MacColl workingman idiom, but not actually by MacColl himself, might be 'The Apprentice's Song' by Ian Campbell. Series 2 of Father Ted arrived yesterday, courtesy of Lovefilm, so I may well be diverted by the Graham Norton version of DOT very soon.

  7. Shock! Horror! 'On a Monday Morning' is not by Ewan MacColl at all but by Cyril Tawney. I unearthed the original on that fine but undervalued LP A Cold Wind Blows, an early Joe Boyd production (1966, Elektra EUK 253), with Tawney, Alasdair Clayre, Matt McGinn and Johnny Handle singing songs of hard times. Definitely in the School of MacColl, though, if that isn't an insult to Tawney, a great songwriter as well as a beautiful singer. This is the man who gave us 'Sally Free and Easy', 'The Grey Funnel Line', 'Chicken on a Raft' and the matchless 'The Oggy Man'.


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