The Music Lounge

Ralph McTell Revisited

A recent visit to my local vinyl record shop which has an admirably stocked folk section prompted me to take another look at the music of legendary singer-songwriter Ralph McTell. I have been expanding my collection of British folk music of late and the three McTell albums I bought for less than fifteen quid have proven a very worthwhile addition.

Like most I suppose, I knew McTell from his mega hit ‘Streets of London’ a song he recorded in one take and covered by some two hundred artists since its release on his second album ‘Spiral Staircase’ in 1968 and as a single six years later.

It’s a beautiful song, a homage to McTell’s time spent busking and hitchhiking through France and Europe and an emotional look at society and those who were elderly, destitute and lonely and to me embraces much of what folk often represents, songs for the people, about the people.

Spiral Staircase is a very good album, an eclectic mix of traditional English folk with clear influences of American blues and folk with some beautiful guitar playing and McTell’s unmistakable vocal.

Thinking back, I suppose his foray into television and children’s programmes had a negative influence on me back in the day and I probably didn’t take him as seriously as he deserved to be and his huge success in the 1970s undoubtedly proved. When I look at the prices of vinyl in shops like HMV (The Doors re-release for £39) and then I listen to these albums I realise how essential the old-fashioned record shop truly is and the gems that can be found within them. I am not sure who, these days would take a punt at a record costing £30 plus unless they have Spotify which begs the question of buying vinyl. For me, the beauty of second-hand vinyl is that you can discover new artists and genres at an affordable price. One of the McTell albums contains a three-page lyric booklet in immaculate condition, a first UK pressing which I paid under five pounds for. It was an easy gamble which paid off and then some.

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