…I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

Written in 1968, today’s selection was purposely excluded from Ralph McTell’s debut album, “Eight Frames a Second” as he feared that listeners would find it too depressing.  It was recorded in one acoustic take the following year, however, and included on his second album, Spiral Staircase” although (except for in the Netherlands) it met with little acclaim.  It wasn’t until 1974 that McTell’s finest song was re-recorded and finally released as a single.

Born as Ralph May in Farnborough, Kent in 1944 and raised in Croydon, his given name was in honor of English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, for whom the newborn’s soldier-father had been a gardener prior to the war.  But after being demobilized the old gardener abandoned his family, leaving his wife, Winifred, to support her young sons on her own. She once recounted, “I remember Ralph (then aged four) saying to me quite soon after Frank left us, “I’ll look after you Mummy.”

Despite the family’s destitution, Ralph, who discovered his love for music early-on when his grandfather taught him to play harmonica, had (by all accounts) a happy childhood. In his teens he was given a ukulele and (yes) a copy of “The George Formby Method” and soon became captivated by Skiffle and Rock’n’Roll.

Eventually he acquired a guitar and modeled his playing after such Blues greats as Blind Blake, Robert Johnson and (significantly) Blind Willie McTell, from whom he took his professional surname.  That’s Skiffle, Rock’n’Roll and Blues, quite a start for an international folk legend whose peers include: Tom Paxton, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention.

McTell’s finest song, of course, is “The Streets of London” but oddly enough it was actually inspired by his early experiences as a busker in Paris.  The vignettes of the homeless, the lonely and the elderly were written about actual Parisians.  As a matter of fact, the song was originally called “Streets of Paris” but McTell changed the name upon his return to England and despite his initial wariness (today’s) 1974 version reached Number 2 on the UK Singles Chart, at one point selling 90,000 copies a day, and has since been covered by more than 200 recording artists.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Thursday 17 May

The Streets of London

 Have you seen the old man

In the closed-down market

Kicking up the paper

With his worn out shoes?

In his eyes you see no pride

Hand held loosely at his side

Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news

So how can you tell me you’re lonely

And say for you that the sun don’t shine?

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl

Who walks the streets of London

Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?

She’s no time for talking

She just keeps right on walking

Carrying her home in two carrier bags

So how can you tell me you’re lonely

And say for you that the sun don’t shine?

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

In the all night cafe

At a quarter past eleven

Same old man is sitting there on his own

Looking at the world

Over the rim of his tea-cup

Each tea last an hour

Then he wanders home alone

So how can you tell me you’re lonely

And say for you that the sun don’t shine?

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

 And have you seen the old man

Outside the seaman’s mission

Memory fading with

The medal ribbons that he wears

In our winter city

The rain cries a little pity

For one more forgotten hero

And a world that doesn’t care

 So how can you tell me you’re lonely

And say for you that the sun don’t shine?

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

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