First saw Ralph Mctell back in the early seventies (probably I'd guess about 1974), and then for some reason I didn't go and see him again for another forty years! No idea really why it took me so long. Going to University, getting married, getting a mortgage and basically just life got in the way.
Finally saw him again quite by accident in 2014 when BBC Radio Wales linked up with Twickfolk to commemerate the Wales v England Rugby match being played at Twickenham. A couple of friends of mine were scheduled to play and so I'd gone along to support them. Out of the blue Ralph turned up and played a few songs in front of a small but very appreciative audience. The attached video was filmed there, not from the Union Chapel.
Later that year Ralph celebrated his seventieth birthday with a large concert at Drury Lane, but celebrated his actual birthday with another pub gig in Putney. I'd enjoyed him so much at Twickfolk I'd bought tickets for the Putney gig but again life got in the way and I'd had to miss it, so jumped at the chance of seeing again when I saw that he was playing at the Union Chapel.
Because he had so recently played in London, he tried to play as many different songs as possible from his previous concert, as he was sure that many of his audience would have attended both.
The Union Chapel is a non denominational church, that has become one of London's most popular venues. The acoustics are fabulous, the lighting is spectactular, and, if you are a member you can borrow a cushion to make the seats more comfortable. (Not that the pews are that uncomfortable). You can get tea, coffee, food, ice cream and even alcohol there.
To stage left there is a stained glass window depicting a couple of Biblical characters called Ruth and Naomi. As Ralph's album "Right Side Up" is my favourite and features a track called "Naomi", I had high hopes that he would have seen the window and decide to play that, and I was sure that he would play "Clare", also on that album as it is one of his most popular, but sadly he didn't play either. He played for just under two hours without an interval, but when you realise that he has been making music now for around fifty years, (he first joined a band called the Hickory Nuts in the mid 1960s), that only equates to around two minutes performance time per year, so it isn't surprising that he didn't get a chance to play everything, particularly as he was trying to avoid repetition from his birthday concert.
Having said that, whether by design or accident, he did play songs from every decade:
From the sixties, of course, he played "The Streets Of London", originally from his second album "Spiral Staircase". (Apparently, the lyric is "And held loosely at his side yesterday's paper." Any of us who have been singing "Hand held loosely at his side . . . " have been singing it wrong all of these years).
From the seventies he played "Barges" and "First Song" both from the album "Not Till Tomorrow"; "Summer Lighning", the B-side to the single "Streets Of London" and also "First And Last Man" from "You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here". The album title "Not Till Tomorrow" apparently arose because the record company phoned up asking for the album title 24 hours before the deadline.
From the eighties, from his album "Blue Skies Black Heroes", he played "Arthur Blake", dedicated to one of Ralph's musical influences, "Blind" Arthur Blake.
Two tracks from the nineties: his single "After Rain" and a song inspired partly by the war in Bosnia and partly by a bag of fertilliser: "Peppers and Tomatoes" from the album "Sand In Your Shoes".
He played two tracks from his 2000 album "Red Sky", the title track, "Red Sky At Night" and "Fin".
But in case you thought he was just wallowing in past glories, a third of his material was from the current decade. In 2014, to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the first world war he released an EP called the "Unknown Soldier", and he played a track from that called "Canopus", about a Cornish narrow gauge steam train originally used to transport clay, that was moved, along with the entire length of the tracks, to Belgium to support the troops.
He also played three tracks from his 2010 album "Somewhere Down The Road": "The London Apprentice", (he was in London after all); a haunting song inspired by a line from the film Citizen Kane called "The Girl On The Jersey Ferry", and my favourite of all of the songs he played, another tribute to one of his guitar heroes, an excellent blues song, "The Ghost Of Robrt Johnson". For the encore he played a track not yet released on record, but he's planning on it being the title track on his next album: "West 4th Street And Jones".
Ralph read out a dedication to someone in the audience who had confessed that (like me) he had seen McTell forty years ago and hadn't seen him since. Ralph joked "don't leave it so long next time". I won't!
West 4th Street And Jones
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