Ralph never tires of the road
By David Hennessy
Everybody is familiar with Streets of London as well as the other music of Ralph McTell. The Croydon singer-songwriter has been influential on the UK folk scene since the 1960s is releasing a new album and has already begun an extensive UK tour. Entitled Sofa Noodling, the new album is a collection of instrumentals and the man who brought us From Clare to Here explained to The Irish World that this is the kind of playing that gives him the most pleasure: “I’ve always loved the guitar. The guitar is my first love.
“There is a communion between the musician and his instrument when he doesn’t have an audience. When you play guitar for an audience, you can’t hear it the way they do because you’re behind it so the dynamic is better when you’re sitting down and the guitar is leaning up and facing you. You’re hearing what the audience hear when you play like that.
“I actually tried sitting on a chair to record the album. I thought this isn’t working. This isn’t working because you play the guitar in this fashion sitting on a sofa so we brought a sofa into the studio and I adopted the position.
“When I’m sitting on the sofa at home watching TV, there’s always a guitar next to me and I noodle away on the guitar. Some of them are just the accompaniments to tunes that I’ve recorded and they stand up on their own in some cases. I hope that people that play guitar will enjoy it and even if you don’t play it I hope you enjoy listening to the tunes played in this way.”
Folk music has enjoyed a revolution in England over the last few years. What does Ralph think of these new acts like Mumford & Sons and Kate Rusby who have breathed new life into the whole scene? “I would go so far as to say that English traditional music has never been played better than it is at the moment. The youngsters have got so many sources from which to draw inspiration from and Kate is a product of that revival. With Mumford and Sons, I hear brio and enthusiasm in spades and they have definitely got some tremendous communicative skills, they’re huge. I think it’s fresh and original and I think the music is actually brilliant at the moment.”
Ralph is glad to see English folk music rejuvenated and feels it is more than a little inspired by the Irish scene: “I always felt that the tradition was alive and kicking in Ireland like nowhere else. Ireland is a place I dearly love and go on many occasions and I have lots of friends there and all the rest of it. I was just a little bit sad that the English side of things wasn’t being picked up by young musicians, but now there’s an enthusiasm for the music that was sadly lacking for a long time.”
He wrote the song often mistaken as an Irish traditional number, From Clare to Here. Does Ralph have any Irish blood? “I hope so. I would love to find some. I have a very elderly great aunt who tells me that her grandfather was always talking about Ireland. I’m hopeful that there might be a connection there.
“Growing up after the war in really poor circumstances, there was a massive wave of Irish immigration to England and London so I was very familiar with Irish people and Irish accents from a very early age and I always associated them with warmth and the craic and I see no reason to change that.”
For the full interview, please pick up this week’s Irish World