What sort of qualities must a song have for both Nick Cave and Boney M to cover it? What those two acts have in common is a fascination with piety, and a fondness for playing up a track’s seriousness so that it totters into kitsch*. “The Carnival Is Over” ticks the first box with its stately pace and hymnal arrangement, and by the time Tom Springfield’s lyric reaches Pierrot and Columbine the kitsch potential is obvious too. Potential sadly unrealised in this original: I want to like it because it’s such an oddity, a restrained folk-pop tune that rejects the models for family-friendly balladry and strikes out for more austere shores. But it never quite connects with me. The smooth nobility of Judith Durham’s singing is attractive; the song as a whole though feels like a starchy exercise in writing a ‘folk ballad’, archaisms and all.
But perhaps I don’t like it just because the title is so good, so immediately evocative of things – horseboxes and caravans that vanish in the night, empty fields full of bootmarks and lolly sticks – that the song was never meant to deliver.
*(This is not all Boney M are good for, of course.)