So, I thought I’d do something special for this edition of Cover Me for Burns Night. Poetry is strongly linked to music, but it seems that all too often when musicians turn their hand to setting poetry to music you end up with something that is less than the sum of its parts. Since I came across three songs recently that defied that norm, I thought I’d chuck them in here for your enjoyment.
Beth Orton – ‘Poison Tree’ (by William Blake)
Taken from Beth Orton’s fantastic Sugaring Season, this track perfectly captures the eery atmosphere of William Blake’s cautionary tale. Blake is one of my favourite poets and I can think of no other voice (apart from maybe Mark Lanegan’s rumbling growl) better suited to articulate his poetry than Beth’s stirring vocals. Amongst stripped back guitar, piano and scraping violin which err on the side of unresolved tension, Beth delivers Blake’s lyrics in a way that is simultaneously beautiful and undeniably sinister.
The Waterboys – ‘The Stolen Child’ (by W. B. Yeats)
W. B. Yeats is another one of my favourite poets, and Mike Scott and co. recently made an entire album, An Appointment With Mr. Yeats, recently that set his poetry to music (see my review on Hercules Moments over here). However, this track comes from the 1988 album Fisherman’s Blues and is their first attempt to set Yeats’s words to music. Oddly enough this early poem, about a child being taken by fairies, seems a lot more eery on paper, but The Waterboys manage to create an ethereal yet optimistic song that feels like an elegy for those that have gone. Alongside the rumbling piano and flutter of pipes, the spoken word sections by Tomás Mac Eoin are a nice touch. Yeats’s words are given a nice sense of authentic tradition in his sean-nós burr, while The Waterboys give Yeats a more contemporary twist.
Rachel Sermanni – ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ (by Robert Burns)
And to finish off, a song a little closer to home. Released today in support of Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy, Aberdonian Rachel Sermanni’s rendition of Robert Burns’s ‘Ae Fond Kiss‘ is just impeccable. Burns is a poet that is understandably often much-maligned because he is ubiquitous in Scotland and quoted to the point of nausea. Same goes for Shakespeare, they’re unavoidable and this can lead to their work being neglected. So since Burns Night is upon us, it’s nice to come across a song by a local artist that recaptures the poignancy of Burns’s heartfelt farewell and reminds you why he is revered as Scotland’s national poet in the first place. Please check out her wonderful album Under Mountains, you will not be disappointed.
Happy Burns Night all!