“‘Cello Song” is one of the more distinct cuts on Nick Drake‘s debut album Five Leaves Left. Shockingly, it features a prominent cello part, in addition to congas, augmenting Drake’s guitar and voice. For the rest of the album, Drake is accompanied usually by a string section or a bass instead. It’s one of his more frequently covered songs, perhaps because of its distinctness within his catalogue or perhaps because it’s just very pretty.
Irish rock band Fontaines D.C., who we last saw on Cover Me with a version of U2’s “One,” have decided to mostly omit the cello from their version of “‘Cello Song.” That’s hardly a surprise given their post-punk-influenced sound, but it still makes the title a little funny. (Perhaps Nick Drake should have properly named his song.) They’ve recorded their version as part of the upcoming tribute to Drake, The Endless Coloured Days.
There is some feedback or other ambient noise at the very beginning, before the drums kick in, that vaguely resembles a cello, but it’s there only for a moment. And then the drums kick in and you know this is not your typical Nick Drake cover. The (electric) guitars are angular and vaguely twangy. And the vibe is much more early ’80s than late ’60s.
But then Grian Chatten starts humming the refrain melody, as Drake does in the original, and things calm down considerably. When Chatten starts singing the actual lyrics, around the 1:40 minute, the song actually starts to resemble the original a little bit, with an acoustic guitar roughly approximating Drake’s own guitar part. The drums kick back in for the hummed refrain but otherwise, the feel is more of a rocked up, vaguely hazy version of the original, rather than a complete rethinking. A cello, or perhaps a viola, does eventually come in at the very end.
So the intro actually is a bit of a misdirection, setting us up for a radical revision but then revealing a reasonably faithful version of the song, albeit with more drums and way more electric guitar. Check it out below: