Jon recalls this one as “Sung by James Davidson at the Talking Heads in Southampton. Listening to James sing this with a beautiful, delicate guitar accompaniment on a boozy Sunday afternoon must rank as one of my most profound musical experiences. Icarus is often taken as a metaphor for over ambition, but I think it’s more a metaphor for the human condition.”

Written by Anne Lister, London born, Cardiff raised and French resident at the time the song surfaced into the wider folk world via Maggie Holland. According to her bio, which you can read here, Anne had been a regular on the folk club scene from her teens and was teaching English in France when she wrote this song. It permeated its way back to the UK, where Maggie, Martin Simpson and Nic Jones picked it up. This is another of the very worthy songs not of the tradition that Jon handles particularly well for me, as the drama and sentiments are brought to life. As for the fable element, I think there are various ways of looking at it, but Anne’s take seems infused with noble calling. It’s a lovely piece of writing and in what has been an exceptional month, yet another highlight.


20 Responses to “Icarus”

  1. Maureen Musson says:

    Beautifully sung, Jon.

    I’ve tonight had the pleasure of hearing this sung at the Nic Jones concert St the SBC.

  2. Rosie says:

    This has to be one of the best for me so far. Absoloutely lovely.
    I only know the Maggie Holland version which takes some beating. Will have to check out the other versions mentioned.

  3. John Wigley says:

    Wonderful (I’ve never heard it before).

  4. edith lewis says:


  5. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    Lovely song and rendition……(don’t ask me why) but it reminds me of the Richard Thompson song”Bees wings”

  6. Shelley says:

    First time for me too – beautiful!

  7. John Biggs says:

    What a beautiful song! I have not heard it before, but I wish I had. By coincidence I was at a Norma Waterson benefit concert last weekend at which Anne was singing. She sang several of her own excellent songs, and if I had known this one I would certainly have requested it. Beautifully sung Jon.

  8. Ian Rowe says:

    I first heard this in Southampton too, in the early ’80s, sung by Derek Brimstone. Great song, unforgettable.

  9. Annabell says:

    Yes, what a beautful song!

  10. Nick Passmore says:

    Just catching up with recent AFSAD podcasts: an absolutely stunning version!

  11. SRD says:

    Lovely song, beautifully presented.

  12. John M. Simmons Jr. says:

    One can feel the cosmic turn again – I can’t understand all the words but this seems like an anthem for NASA’s shuttle program or some sci-fi folk opera – I heard Jon on Radio 3 and know he has a taste for other worlds…full body goose flesh listening to this one!

  13. Anne Lister says:

    As a nice little twist, I was playing with “Google Gravity” and just for a lark googled my own name – this was the link that came up. Gravity, early Greek aeronautics and hubris. There you go.
    And I had no idea this version existed before – thank you.

  14. Diana says:

    I have always liked the legend of Icarus, and this song is really lovely bringing to mind the story.

  15. Diana says:

    Reynard should you appear later I have carried on our written conversation on the 25th. 😀

  16. Diana says:

    A great song.

  17. linda says:

    lovely song..

  18. Linda says:

    Will fill in for you Muzza. Just got back from a week in Watchet the home of Yankee Jack proper name John Short who was a sailor and shantyman who provided Cecil Sharp with 50 or more songs. Statue of him is on the quay..

  19. Linda says:

    Beautifully sung….

  20. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    Lovely song and beautifully sung….but for the life f me I can’t work out the story behind it:-
    Is it a friend watching another cocky friend’s downfall (Tortoise & hare)
    Is it a lover that promises much but doesn’t deliver

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