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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Farewell to the Gold

The TTRH research staff seems to have plucked Mr. D.'s commentary on Paul Metsers' Farewell to the Gold, sung in Money: Part 1 by Nic Jones, direct from the New Zealand Folk song site. The page is well worth the read, with the somewhat prickly author - he chastises both Dylan and Nic Jones himself for "mangling the song's lyrics" - supplying a wealth of information. The site quotes a letter from Metsers' which reads in full:

"I'm afraid there is no mystery source for the song, no distant broadside or doggerel from which it gained its inspiration. It's all out of my head as it happens.

Even back then, when I wrote it in 1969, I think it was, I had been writing songs for at least 5 years. It's what we do, we songwriters - put ourselves into the subject and imagine we're in the story

I was teaching the Form 2 Music Class at Hutt Intermediate school at the time and had taken them all on a trip down the West Coast of the South Island. We'd been over Arthurs Pass and Cardrona and down to the Shotover River and visited some old gold workings down that way. The kids had panned some gold and the whole thing had fired everyone's imagination.

I went home to my folk's place in Gisborne for the Xmas holidays with this really strong melodic idea and the basis of a chorus buzzing round in my head.

Then, I don't know where from, I got hold of a pictorial history of gold mining, a small but fascinating book called "The Goldfields of Central Otago", I think. When I read of the tragic flash flood of July in 1863, I knew I had the basis of a story.

So I invented a young man who teams up with an equally imaginary experienced old prospector whom I called Jimmy Williams with dreams of riches to come. Jimmy is lost to the sudden waters while the younster survives to tell the tale. That's it!

As far as cover versions go, Nic Jones' version on his "Penguin Eggs" album is by far the best known and the only one to have earned me anything. I've never received any royalties from Mary Black.

Well, I hope that's answered all your queries - I'd be interested in your reaction to it all. All the best, Paul Metsers."
The book Metsers (and Mr. D.) refer to may be, Relics of the goldfields: Central Otago by a Tom Field, which fits Metsers description of a "small, pictorial history," but the 1976 publication date is almost a decade too late if Metser wrote the song in 1969. One of life's little mysteries.

Interestingly, Dylan once covered Farewell to the Gold in a 1992 live performance, the audio of which you can find on YouTube.  And, in the obsessive world of Dylanology, there is another Nic Jones/Bob Dylan connection, with a small group of critics claiming that Dylan "stole" Jones' arrangement of the traditional Canadee-i-o for his own version on Good As I Been To You.

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