Sing whatever is well made

Jasper Rees on a new album of Yeats poetry

The Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society lists over 500 recordings of songs with lyrics attributed to a WB Yeats. Roughly 200 of those are versions of "Down by the Salley Gardens" - Yeats's "Yesterday". A new setting for the poem, translated into Gaelic and performed by the Ulster band Tamarin, appears on Now And In Time To Be, an imaginative compilation of Yeats poems set to music.

The improbable project was the brainwave of Michael Tuft and Franke Dunne, journalists from Holiday Which magazine. While researching an article on the west coast of Ireland they played one of those time-killing car games, in which they tried to list every Yeats poem set to music: Christy Moore's "The Song of Wandering Aengus", Van Morrison's "Before the World was Made", The Waterboys' "The Stolen Child". (The likes of Peter Warlock's The Curlew and Sir Michael Tippett's Byzantium clearly fall beyond their ken.) The conversation led them all the way to Grapevine Records, and Yeats's son Michael and daughter Anne, who gave the idea of a compilation their blessing. Something of a surprise, perhaps, given their father's notorious hostility to having his poetry set to music - an aversion, Peter Warlock once alleged, "born of his horror at being invited by a certain composer to hear a setting of his `Lake Isle of Innisfree' - a poem which voices a solitary man's desire for greater solitude - sung by a choir of 1000 boy scouts".

For the album, existing tracks have been shuffled in among fresh recordings. The Cranberries chipped in with "Yeats's Grave" (from No Second Troy), Shane MacGowan with "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death", as did the various permutations of the Waterboys and World Party, and Grapevine cannily took the chance to showcase a bunch of their own acts. The album is topped and tailed by Richard Harris's mesmeric reading of "Under Ben Bulben", and Yeats himself chips in, like a ghost at his own wake, with a crackly recording of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree". The album is dedicated to Michael Tuft's son Cameron, who died, aged one, of meningitis. The Waterboys' version of "The Stolen Child" was played at his funeral.

It isn't quite the album it wanted to be. While Moore and Morrison, the godfathers of Irish music, were generous with their material, others artists were costive. Joni Mitchell for some reason would not release "Slouching Towards Bethlehem", taken from The Second Coming. WEA refused to licence out Elvis Costello's "A Drunken Man's Praise of Sobriety". Bono's almost mythical version of "Mad as the Mist and Snow", recorded at a Yeats festival in 1989 (the 50th anniversary of the poet's death) but since heard only by a chosen few, proved beyond reach. Morrison's little heard "Crazy Jane on God", recorded for A Sense of Wonder before the 50-year copyright had expired, is also knocking around. There's definitely enough material for Now That's What I Call Yeats 2. Some of the album's contributors explain how they got involved...

Mike Scott, who recorded "A Song of the Rosy-Cross" with Sharon Shannon and remixed the Waterboys' "The Stolen Child"

"Yeats's words lend themselves to musical arrangement. I'm sure many of them were written with music in mind: there's a series in one of his poetry books called "Words For Music Perhaps", written in verse / chorus structure. I'm sure he hoped that some young warriors would come along and put them to tunes one day. It was always an ambition of mine to compile an album like this: to get Van's song and Karl Wallinger's ["Politics"] and Bono's one and my own and put them together. But I never found the time."

Justin Travis, lead singer with Nervous, on recording "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven"

"I wasn't a Yeats reader of any great stature. It all came about when I was sitting in our record company and the guys who were putting the compilation together said, "Do you fancy putting a track on the album?" I looked at a couple of poems, we put down a guitar track and a vocal and, from beginning to end, the track was written and recorded in 27 minutes. It was done by three members of the band, which fluctuates between five and nine members. I'm not actually sure that the whole band has heard it yet. I just liked the idea of the title. I took the words and muddled them up as we went along, and that's what came out. The words were very easy to jumble around."

Tina McSherry, lead singer of Tamalin, on recording a Gaelic version of "Down by the Salley Gardens"

"Every Irish person at some stage in their life becomes aware of Yeats. I did him as part of my degree at Queen's [in Belfast]. I was just very happy to be involved in the project. They wanted to put a version of "Down by the Salley Gardens" on it by Clannad, and Grapevine said it didn't really fit in and asked if we would do one. There are not too many ways that you could do a song like that, so we thought it would be a bit different to do it in Gaelic. The words in the translation are beautiful. I prefer the Gaelic version."

Michael Tuft on recording "Under Ben Bulben" with Richard Harris

"Once we had many of the musicians, we thought we'd have quotes from "Under Ben Bulben" to open and close it, because the opening verse is Yeats giving advice to generations of Irish artists. We needed someone with great presence and stature in Irish cultural life to do it, so we wrote off to Richard Harris's manager, who phoned up and said, `He'll do it.' His saying that Richard Harris would do it and Richard Harris actually doing it - there's a lot of legwork between those two things. Eventually we said, `You tell us where Richard is and we'll go to wherever he is in the world with a tape recorder and do it there.' We assumed Grapevine were going to get all these sound engineers to go along, but they gave us a DAT machine and said, `Here you are boys, go off and do it.' On the Saturday we went to see him at the Savoy he said, `I can't do it today. I'm too tired. Come along tomorrow and have another go.' He was really jokey and full of stories, but on the Sunday morning he'd read a lot of the poems the night before, he was really focused and very professional. It was like a workshop. He just kept on doing it again and again and again. We spent a long time discussing the poems and eking out the meaning. We also got him to record a Yeats poem called `Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad', which we thought was a very good one for him to do. It was a privilege. The best thing about the whole project was that morning with Richard Harris."

Sinead Lohan on recording "The Fish"

"I was a bit apprehensive about doing this because I usually just write songs myself. I looked at a few poems and it didn't really work out for me so I left it alone. Then I found a poem just when I wasn't looking for one, and I thought I was too late. What I liked about it was that I hadn't come across it before. I have all his works in a book and I studied him at school, but `The Fish' is not a very obvious one of his. I just liked the sentiment in it: when you're gone you will be valued. People will remember you for what you did and forget all the things they say about you now"

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor