Streets of London is surely the most famous folk song ever in the UK. It is the one folk song that almost everyone has heard and can name-check. As he reaches his 75th birthday, its composer, Ralph McTell discusses his life and career and chooses the songs he’d most like to be remembered for writing.
Presented by author and journalist Mark Hodkinson, the programme features a brand new, arresting interview with McTell, who talks in depth about his childhood, his absent father, the songwriting process, his influences, successes (and regrets) and his legacy. It was recorded on a summer afternoon at his home in Cornwall.
Ralph is also asked to choose the three songs from the hundreds he has written that he would most like to be remembered for, including Lost Boys, a song that laments the hypocrisy of how society views its young men. ‘I want people to see the angrier side of me too. Every now and then, someone that is quiet needs to show real anger. Otherwise it becomes too comfortable’.
Although it wasn’t a chart hit until 1974, McTell’s signature song, Streets of London, first appeared on his second album 50 years ago in 1969. It remains by far his best-known work. But does he consider it to be one of his finest songs and will he choose as one of his legacy pieces?
We will also hear other songs from McTell’s vast and rich catalogue of work, including Kenny The Kangaroo from the TV programme Alphabet Zoo, an instrumental tribute to his hero Blind Blake, and Nanna’s Song, written early in his relationship with Nanna Stein, who he met busking on the streets of Paris and to whom he has been married for over 50 years.
‘I do want to bring people along with me’, he reflects, ‘I don’t seek to revolutionise or change things. I want to share and remind people that if I’ve acquired some skill at expressing an emotion in a poetic and musical way that they have felt, but not written a song about it, then we have some kinship as humans.’
Ralph McTell’s brand new album Hill of Beans sees him reunited with legendary producer Tony Visconti - known for working with David Bowie - who was there at the beginning of Ralph’s recording career. The latter day reconnection came about after a chance meeting on the streets of London. London’s Marylebone Road, to be specific.
Ralph will round off this landmark year with a special 75th birthday concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 12thDecember 2019.
Ralph McTell discusses his life and career with author and journalist Mark Hodkinson.