13 May 2010
The Clancy Brothers & Robbie O'Connell with Tommy Makem
"When The Ship Comes In"
Original Dylan version found on The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964)
The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration in honor of Bob Dylan's 30 years in the music business was held on 16 October 1992 at New York's Madison Square Garden. Famously dubbed "BobFest" by Neil Young, the star-studded affair featured artists performing exclusively Dylan compositions, including Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and George Harrison.
But amongst the musical firepower, an unassuming - and probably to the majority in the audience, unknown - group of middle-aged men almost stole the show.
The Irish folk singers Liam Clancy (tenor) and Tommy Makem (baritone) had been admired by Dylan since his early days in Greenwich Village. On this occasion, the two singers trade initial verses on "When The Ship Comes In," and then are joined in harmony by Liam's brothers Bobby and Paddy as well as nephew Robbie O'Connell. The choice is apt, as both the melody and lyrics fit the classic mold of an Irish rebel song.
After the lights were dimmed at the Garden, the after-party was held at Tommy Makem's Irish Pavilion on West 57th. Makem was coaxed onto the stage near the bar and sang songs he had recorded with The Clancy Brothers that were favorites of Dylan's.
All the Clancy Brothers have since passed away. Tommy Makem, too. Their cover of "When The Ship Comes In" is an important and historical recording, enhanced because it was captured on video as well.
The appreciation of this anthem was late in coming for me. "When The Ship Comes In" is not a song to be found on any of the Dylan Greatest Hits or Biograph. I had seen snippets of newsreel footage from The March On Washington taken in August 1963 with Dylan singing at the podium with Joan Baez. Later I found out that this was the song they were performing; the tune had supposedly been written a few weeks earlier. According to both Baez and once girlfriend Suze Rotolo, Dylan had written the song inspired by a hotel incident and then fit the words to a melody influenced by Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "When The Ship Comes In"