Sail To Me

The This Mortal Coil cover version I posted on Tuesday, a genuine 80s indie classic from Ivo Watts-Russell, Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie, has been re-edited by In The Valley. You might think that the TMC original is so peerless that it should never be tinkered with. In fact, In The Valley says on his/her/their Soundcloud page ‘They told me not to touch the classics, but I did’. And it is worth it, taking the spectral qualities of the Guthrie and Fraser song and marrying it to a Balearic reggae feel. You’ll be playing this several times this morning alone (and there’s a download button too).

Theatre De La Mer

After a few years of holding the annual Convenanza festival inside the castle at Carcasonne this year’s Convenanza moved to the coast and and the port town of Sete. Convenanza is a three day festival organised by Bernie Fabre with a line up of artists chosen by Andrew Weatherall and Bernie- this year’s festival at Sete took place in the outdoor theatre shown above, the Theatre de la Mer where the backdrop is the Mediterranean Sea. I can’t get to the south of France for a weekend during term time but I have online sources who were there and provided a running commentary of pictures, clips, tunes and reports over the weekend. The line up for this year looked like this…
As the weekend wound down one of my social media friends was raving about the impact this song had when played in the theatre outdoors after dark. It’s a lovely Balearic chugger from 2012 by Coyote with a vocal by Gavin Gordon, the sort of song that takes you up and brings you down…
There’s a very good acid tinged remix by Sean Johnston , the half of A Love From Outer Space that isn’t Mr Weatherall. The same roving reporter on the dockside also pointed us towards this one by Norway’s Laars, a mid-paced dj set track that goes a bit loopy in the middle and seems to have set hairs on the back of the neck on end and arms in the air…
The ALFOS dj set, Weatherall and Johnston back to back, on Friday night closed with This Mortal Coil’s spine-tingling cover of Song To The Siren, Liz Fraser’s voice drifting out from the theatre to the sea, ‘Long afloat on shipless oceans, I did all my best to smile’…

Swim To Me, Let Me Enfold You

Beautiful live version of the Starsailor’s death trip song; it keeps vanishing from Youtube so watch while it’s hot. The album version is less folky, more…twinkly and disorientating. But this is superb too- entrancing and with the original line about being as puzzled as the oyster, which he later changed to ‘as a new born child’ after someone laughed at it. I’m not a big fan of the rest of his output but this song is entrancing. Quite appropriate really.

Sail To Me, Let Me Enfold You

Or Song To The Siren Slight Return. A reader, plasticsun, left a comment at the This Mortal Coil post the other day recommending Scottish folkie James Yorkston’s cover version of Tim Buckley’s song. So here it is. It used to be a free download at Yorkston’s website and was also a B-side to a 7″ single. It’s very folkie, with fiddle and a plaintive vocal, and is really quite affecting.

Til Your Singing Eyes And Fingers

But my favourite cover of Song To The Siren is by Half Man Half Biscuit, who treat it like a standard indie guitar song with chords, guitar, drums and bass. Nigel only makes one irreverent suggestion to the lyrics during the ‘was I hare, when you were fox?’ line. Oh, and there’s a fantastic sting in the tail- Vatican Broadside, thirty seconds tacked on the end concerning the Pope and Slipknot, with copious swearing.

I Did All My Best To Smile

The most famous cover version of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren (and there are many) was by This Mortal Coil, a 4AD band. Described on wiki as a ‘gothic dream pop supergroup’ This Mortal Coil were label boss Ivo Watts-Russell and John Fryer, with a rotating cast of 4AD musicians including The Cocteau Twins Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie. Song To the Siren was just Guthrie and Fraser. It was a massive independent hit in 80s Britain and deservedly so. It’s a ghostly, spectral, ‘gothic dream pop’ cover version that surely even people that don’t like The Cocteau Twins must be impressed by.

Long Afloat On Shipless Oceans

This is the first post in a mini-series that will last at least four posts. I can see you’re excited. Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren is one of those legendary songs that in the pre-internet age you could read references to for years before actually hearing. Once heard you might go.. Uh? It’s certainly an acquired taste and there isn’t much else in his back catalogue I can listen to in the same way (feel free to make suggestions). Tim yodels. There’s no other way to put it. But this song is a beauty- sparse, almost non-existent backing but there’s some weird phased, reverb heavy guitar in there too, Tim’s voice and a stunning death trip lyric.

Written in 1967 Tim Buckley struggled to record a version he was happy with, with the consequence that Pat Boone released the first version of it. Buckley performed it on The Monkees tv show in a folk style, before releasing it on his 1970 Starsailor lp. It also underwent lyric changes between recorded versions (‘I’m as puzzled as the oyster’ became ‘I’m as puzzled as the new born child’). In the end, it’s one of those songs which is impossible to describe satisfactorily, which will always be incomprehensible to some people, and which others will never get tired of hearing or get to the bottom of.

A friend of mine once described buying a Tim Buckley cassette years ago and drifting off to sleep with it on, only to be awakened by what he thought was a man swallowing a mewling kitten.