Ralph-McTellRalph McTell


Ralph McTell, like the late Jake Thackeray will, in the fullness of time, be seen as one of England’s great, national bards. He has given us songs like The Streets of London, Clare To Here, Mrs Adlam’s Angels, Peppers and Tomatoes, The Girl from The Hiring Fair, The Streets of London, Zig Zag Line and Bentley and Craig – hundreds of great songs, many of which have been absorbed into the folk canon and have become part of so many singer’s repertoire.


He has made thousands of appearances across the world. One of his live albums is called Ralph, Albert And Sydney, celebrating his appearances at the Albert Hall, London and the Sydney Opera House (the Scrum of Nuns as some fondly call it) and I lost count of the number of his albums round about the fifty mark.


Though he covers a range of subjects from the First World War to learning that mountains (and many other things in life) can best be conquered by taking the Zig Zag Line, what shines through Ralph’s work, always, is wisdom, compassion, humanity, understanding, generosity and humour.
His songs are never introspective or self serving – they are, at heart, the songs of the Common Man and Woman: take just two examples; Barges is the story of a long-gone childhood -perhaps all long-gone childhoods, while Peppers and Tomatoes is an amazing song, inspired by the ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia, but it’s also about anywhere where neighbours turn against each other in the name of religion or politics.


None of the above would be enough,however, without the fact that Ralph is also a great tunesmith and wordsmith; his songs, like the best balladry, are poems and his tunes are never too simple nor too complex but always memorable. In Clare To Here, for example, instead of writing his song round an easy “come all ye” tune structure, Ralph chooses a more complex tune which resolves itself with the four line refrain at the end of each verse that makes the song unforgettable.


It’s a long long way from Clare to here
It’s a long long way from Clare to here
It’s a long long way and it gets further day by day
It’s a long long way from Clare to here.


And then, of course, there is The Streets of London. I know Ralph has written dozens of other great songs – and they alone would have brought him into the Folk Music Hall of Fame, but, from the very first, Streets touched a chord in the hearts and minds of millions- and still does. In this age of austerity we are firmly back in a world of food banks and homelessness (a world that never really went away) and his classic song touches a common chord yet again.










Angel Laughter: Autobiography Volume One

Summer Lightning Autobiography Volume Two

As Far as I Can Tell