Stranger choices for cover album subjects have been made, although none come to
mind presently. So what is it that brought together famed actor/barfly Richard
Harris, famed singer/barfly Shane MacGowan (ex-Pogues), Van Morrison, World
Party's Karl Wallinger, The Waterboys, The Cranberries and ex-Waterboy Mike
Scott? Would you believe renowned poet William Butler Yeats?
Now and In
Time To Be is the name of a 14-track collection featuring an impressive
roster of Irish musicians putting the words of Yeats, who died in January of
1939, to music.
The idea was hatched when two friends--journalists Frank
Dunne and Michael Tuft--toured the coast of Ireland in 1993, visiting the towns
of Sligo and Galway, where Yeats lived and wrote, while listening to Van
Morrison's Too Long in Exile and the Waterboys' Fisherman's
Blues, both of which feature songs that use portions of Yeats' poetry as
What began as an idea to put together a personal compilation of
Yeats poetry put to music quickly turned into Now, and the pair got an
early boost of support from the Waterboys' Scott, who had long harbored a
desire to compile a similar project, as well as the blessing of Yeats' son and
daughter, Michael and Anne.
The album cover features an Impressionistic painting by
the poet's brother, Jack Yeats and the liner notes contain an essay from the
journalists that asks the question, "Why do they sing Yeats?"
answer: "For one thing, it's relatively easy. The ballad, with it's haunting
refrains, regular rhyme schemes and metrical simplicity, is ready-made for
The collection begins and ends with Richard Harris'
rich reading of "Under Ben Bulben," one of the poet's last great works, and
runs the gamut from a slurred, uptempo performance of "An Irish Airman Forsees
His Death" by ex-Pogues singer Shane MacGowan to Wallinger's typically
pop-inflected acoustic piano and guitar rendition of "Politics," Van Morrison's
jazzy "Before the World Was Made" and The Cranberries' somewhat psychedelic
half-original/half Yeats contribution "Yeat's Grave," with an excerpt from the
poem "No Second Troy."
Also included are: Mike Scott & Sharon Shannon ("A
Song of the Rosy-Cross"), Sinead Lohan ("The Fish"), Tamalin ("Gort na Sailean
[Down by the Salley Gardens]"), World Party ("The Four Ages of Man"), Christy
Moore ("The Song of Wandering Aengus"), Nervous ("He Wishes For the Cloths of
Heaven"), The Waterboys ("The Stolen Child") and Yeats himself reading his most
famous work, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."
For those of you willing to go
that extra mile to celebrate Yates (whose birthday is June 13), the annual
Irish music festival, the Fleadh, will, for the first time, be bringing its
Gaelic sounds to U.S. shores.
On June 14-15, New York's Randall's Island
(site of this year's Tibetan Freedom Concert) will be overrun with all things
Irish as Van Morrison, Sinead O'Connor (in her first U.S. appearance in more
than 3 years), Shane MacGowan, Christy Moore, Sinead Lohan and Mary Black among
others, perform for an expected crowd of over 25,000 each day. In fact, the
organizers tell ATN that they might even try to convince some of the artists on
the Yeats collection to perform a few poems on the Irish Village side stage
during the course of the celebration.