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Beth Orton and Skinny Pelembe Credit Siam Coy

Beth Orton and Skinny Pelembe cover Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire"

14 September 2023, 13:00 | Written by Tyler Damara Kelly

Partisan Records label mates Beth Orton and Skinny Pelembe share a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire", the 1974 track which features on the album, New Skin for the Old Ceremony.

Despite being on the same label, the pair happened to meet by chance at Glastonbury earlier this summer, when Orton introduced herself to Skinny Pelembe following his West Holts Stage performance, just ahead of her own set on the same stage.

“I have always felt connected to the work of Leonard Cohen. I toured “I’m Your Man” with an amazing cast of people, and every night I was intrigued by the mystery of “Who By Fire”. I was never totally satisfied that I understood the song," Orton explains.

"When Doya sent me his version I was immediately taken by the Serge Gainsbourg quality of the drums and the overall feel, and I loved the cheek and punk-like spirit of this version, and seeing as I was in a studio in Paris, I didn’t give a second thought to throwing myself into Doya’s re-interpretation. Climbing inside the words this way brought the meaning of the song into new focus, the passion and heart-breaking inevitability of human nature that Leonard Cohen writes of like no other came alive to me finally.”

“I’ve covered a tune by one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Leonard Cohen. Sung it with Beth Orton, who has one of the best voices of all time! One of the best drummers of all time, Malcolm Catto, is keeping the time! And I sound fucking fantastic at this point in time!," Skinny Pelembe adds.

“When I signed to Partisan, I remember having a conversation with Tim who founded the label as to whether Partisan was named after the Leonard Cohen song, The Partisan. He told me it was. I’d just recently been in the studio with The Heliocentrics’ Malcolm Catto, and had a few great breaks left over from the album that I'd not used. So I had Leonard on the mind and Malcolm's beat swimming round my subconscious. It all came together this summer when I asked Beth if she’d be up for singing on it too. She sent me a tonne of amazing vocal takes, all of them brilliant, so I kept them all. She’s got such a distinctive, raw, timeless voice. It’s almost weirdly medieval, I love it.”

Beth Orton and Skinny Pelembe's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire" is out now.

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