By Tony Attwood
Important note: Larry has just told me that some or all of the videos in this article are not available in North America – if you are looking at this article and find that is so, can you do a search and see if anything relating to Tom Jones “Not Dark Yet” is available – and if so send a link and note to Tony@schools.co.uk and I will add that link to the article. Sorry everyone if you are affected by this.
I’ve never actually been to a Tom Jones concert, but I did once go to a BBQ in a friend’s house which backed onto the Northampton County Cricket Club ground, while Sir Tom was playing a concert – and since the garden of my friend’s house backed onto the field we heard the whole thing.
Not exactly my type of music, but some interesting background to an afternoon out. And that is where my level of interest has stayed until Jochen sent me a note asking if I had yet listened to Sir Tom (as he technically is, having been knighted by Her Majesty in 2006) doing Not Dark Yet.
Now if you want the whole story of his making the song (well, no not really but a bit of chit chat) there is an interview with Sir Tom available…
The talk about Not Dark Yet starts at 3 minutes 45 seconds.
But if it is the music you are looking for…
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but my interest was raised at once because this immediately meets my personal criteria – that the cover version does something new, adds an extra dimension or gives a new insight while retaining a musical understanding of what the composer intended.
And of course, this version does that exactly because it turns the song upside down in terms of rhythm and energy – but does keep the essence of the song in place, and so rather amazingly it works, which I never imagined it could (especially as Sir Tom doesn’t quite get what the song is actually called).
Two things really help here: one is that even his advanced age Sir Tom still has an extraordinary voice, and the other is that the energetic accompaniment never once gets carried away. All the instrumentalists are kept under control – and for those of us who know the original there are elements of the Dylan original in the background that are kept in the orchestration – a lovely touch.
That’s exactly right because the change of the tempo is so dramatic that to add any further changes would take us so far away from the song as to lose all contact with it.
And then what happens on the video is that it continues with Rufus Wainwright version – which is a good choice because he too has a brilliant voice. Of course it may not be that you want to listen to Not Dark Yet twice in these new formats, but if you do have the time, do try. Running the Wainwright after the Jones version is a challenge (the normal approach would be to start with the slow and build up to the fast), but I think it is worth it.
The way the piano part develops while still keeping the piece under control, and restraining the vocalists desires to extemporise really does work for me – especially with the piano playing variations on the accompaniment we are so familiar with, coming from the original.
It continues to build with slight additions, but I won’t spoil it for you – please, if you have the time, do let this run all the way through.
There’s more on the video if you want an accompaniment to your day, but I’ll leave you to discover that.
However, to return to Tom Jones, his approach to “One more cup of coffee” is interesting too – I must find out who writes these instrumental arrangements – they really are quite intriguing. It doesn’t lift me as much as the Not Dark Yet version, but is worthy of a listen, in my view.