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RALPH McTELL

Ralph_McTell

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS

Full Name: Ralph May

Description: Vocalist , Guitarist, Composer, UK

Known For: Ralph McTell is best known for the song “Streets of London”

Instruments: Guitar, Vocals, Piano

Music Styles: Folk, Country blues

Location: United Kingdom

Date Born: 3rd December 1944
Location Born: Farnborough, United Kingdom

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CONTACT DETAILS
Web Site:  Ralph McTell Official website

Other Links: See below:

YOUTUBE VIDEO

BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Ralph McTell

Ralph McTell (born Ralph May, 3 December 1944) is an English singer-songwriter and acoustic guitar player who has been an influential figure on the UK folk music scene since the 1960s.

McTell is best known for his song “Streets of London”, which has been covered by over two hundred artists around the world, and for his tale of Irish emigration, “From Clare to Here”.

In the 1980s he wrote and played songs for two TV children’s programmes, Alphabet Zoo,[4] which also featured Nerys Hughes, followed by Tickle on the Tum, featuring Jacqueline Reddin. Albums were also released from both series. He also recorded Keith Hopwood’s and Malcolm Rowe’s theme song to Cosgrove Hall’s adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, and this was released as a single in 1984 after the series was aired on ITV.

McTell’s guitar playing has been modelled on the style of the US’s country blues guitar players of the early 20th century, including Blind Blake, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell. These influences led a friend to suggest that he change his professional name to McTell as his career was beginning to take shape.

McTell is also an accomplished performer on piano and harmonica, which he uses on a harness.

McTell’s mother, Winifred (née Moss), was born in Hammersmith, London. During the Second World War she was living in Banbury, Oxfordshire, with her sister Olive when she met Frank May. They married in 1943 while Frank was home on leave from the army. Winifred moved to Croydon, Surrey, and McTell was born on 3 December 1944 in Farnborough, Kent. He was named after Ralph Vaughan Williams – Frank had worked as the composer’s gardener before the war. A second son, Bruce, was born in 1946. Frank was demobilised, but after a year or so at home, he walked out on his family in 1947.

Winifred was left to support herself and bring up the boys unaided. She told McTell’s biographer, “I remember Ralph saying to me quite soon after Frank left us, ‘I’ll look after you, Mummy’. I guess he’d got used to Frank being away all his short life.” But despite their father’s desertion and the consequent poverty, Ralph and Bruce May had a happy and fulfilled childhood in Croydon.

McTell’s love of music surfaced early. He was given a plastic mouth organ and his grandfather, who played the harmonica, taught and encouraged him. The brothers spent many contented summer holidays at Banbury with their uncle and aunt and their grandparents. Banbury and north Oxfordshire would figure throughout McTell’s life. Later, he recalled those childhood summers in his song “Barges”.

Other childhood experiences shaped McTell’s songwriting. A young Irishman and his family were the Mays’ upstairs neighbours. Needing a father figure, McTell greatly valued the young man’s friendship, which later inspired the song “Mr Connaughton”. Similarly, “Mrs Adlam’s Angels” recalls his Sunday school teacher:”I loved the ceremonial and the music,” he says, “you can hear the influence of hymn tunes in my song structures.”

In 1952, two youths attempted to break into a Croydon warehouse: one, Derek Bentley, surrendered to the police but the other, Christopher Craig, shot and killed a police officer. Yet at the trial Bentley was sentenced to death. “My mum knew the Bentleys,” McTell recalls. “I was about eight, but even then I could see the horror and injustice of executing a teenager for a murder he didn’t commit.” Many years later, McTell expressed that sense of injustice in the song “Bentley & Craig”.

After passing his 11-plus school examination, McTell attended the John Ruskin Grammar School. He hated his time there, and despite being a very bright pupil, he did not do well academically. Many of his fellow pupils were from wealthier backgrounds, and though having many school friends, he felt he didn’t fit in.

Musically, his tastes tended towards being an outsider as well. He was captivated by skiffle and American rock’n’roll. Acquiring an old ukulele and a copy of The George Formby Method, he played his first chord. He later recalled, “I was thunderstruck – it was like magic!” Soon, he mastered skiffle classics such as “Don’t You Rock Me, Daddy-O”, and by his second year at school, he formed a skiffle band.

By the age of 15, McTell was very anxious to leave grammar school and the British Army looked like a way out, so in 1959 he enlisted in the Junior Leaders Battalion of The Queen’s Surrey Regiment. Army life proved far worse than school. After six months, he bought himself out and resumed his education at technical college, passing several O level exams and an A level exam in art.

The busker

By now, McTell had begun travelling abroad, busking around Europe with his guitar. He spent time in France and visited Belgium and Germany. Other trips took him to Italy and through Yugoslavia (“I felt a madness there, even then”) to Greece.

Paris was a city which McTell revisited frequently. Late in 1965 he and a friend from Croydon took a room in a cheap hotel on the Left Bank, earning their rent by busking cinema queues. After braving a bitterly cold Paris winter, McTell met a young American, Gary Petersen, who had studied with the legendary guitarist Reverend Gary Davis. “There was a great anticipation every time I got to play with (Petersen),” McTell recalled. “Each time I learned something new, and through him I learned how to play ragtime properly.”

In the spring of 1966, McTell met another émigré to Paris, a student from Norway named Nanna Stein. The pair soon became inseparable. Back in England, they lived in a caravan in Cornwall. McTell and Wizz Jones were regular performers on the Cornish circuit, especially at The Folk Cottage in Mitchell. It was Jones who suggested the stage name ‘McTell’, “…after Blind Willie McTell, whose ‘Statesboro Blues’ we both loved”.

Cornwall captured McTell’s heart – a place whose “unique spirit got to me” – and the county has always remained a place for him to retreat to. By the end of 1966, Ralph and Nanna were expecting their first child. They married on 30 November in Norway and returned to live in Croydon with Winifred. Ralph and Nanna’s son, Sam, was born on 21 January 1967.

After an unrewarding spell at teacher training college, McTell decided he’d try to make it full-time in music. As well as his vocal and instrumental talents, he was developing as a songwriter and was in demand in folk clubs and festivals.

Record deal

During 1967, McTell landed a deal with Transatlantic Records and by the end of the year was recording his first album. Arranged by Tony Visconti and produced by Gus Dudgeon, the album, Eight Frames a Second, was released early in 1968. It came to the attention of the BBC and was featured on radio programmes including Country Meets Folk in August and John Peel’s Top Gear. The release of the album meant more live work so McTell’s brother Bruce became his manager and booking agent.

His second album Spiral Staircase, recorded for Transatlantic in late 1968, included the first recording of “Streets of London”, which was recorded in one take[26] by McTell on guitar and vocals.

The third album, My Side of Your Window, released in 1969, became Melody Maker magazine’s Folk Album of the Month. In July, McTell had appeared at Cambridge Folk Festival for the first time and at the end of the year headlined at Hornsey Town Hall.

Into the 1970s

By 1970, “I’d got a family,” McTell recalled in an interview, “and found I had a musical career, somehow.” He was getting extensive radio play, and the audiences at his concerts were growing.

By May, he was sufficiently successful to fill the Royal Festival Hall in London. In August, McTell played the huge Isle of Wight Festival alongside Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, and Leonard Cohen.

Bruce May had bowed out and McTell was now being managed by impresario Jo Lustig.[30] In October 1970, McTell sold out the Royal Festival Hall again and the album Revisited was released. This remixed compilation was originally intended to introduce McTell to American record-buyers but was released in the UK.

Ralph and Nanna’s daughter Leah was born on 9 February 1971.

You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here was released on the Famous label in 1971. Among the highlights of this fourth studio album was “The Ferryman”, inspired by the Herman Hesse book Siddhartha. That year also saw McTell’s first tour in the United States.

Initially, Paramount Records had been McTell’s American label but had not been supportive, and he later signed with Warner Bros. Records. While in the US, McTell hung out with the British folk-rock band Fairport Convention, establishing a lifelong professional relationship as well as personal friendships.

Paramount put a new recording of “Streets of London” on the US release of You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, and, in April 1972, issued it as a single in the Netherlands, where it charted, climbing slowly to No. 9 in May.

McTell’s fifth album, Not Till Tomorrow, was produced by Tony Visconti, and released on Reprise in 1972. His UK concert tour played to packed houses and he met one of his guitar heroes, the Rev Gary Davis. By the end of the year, he’d parted company with Jo Lustig and his brother Bruce was again managing his career.

Although living in Putney, south west London, Ralph and Nanna bought a derelict cottage in Cornwall during 1972.

The Royal Albert Hall

During 1973, McTell undertook two major tours. The spring tour culminated in a sell-out concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 5 May, whilst the winter tour was completed in front of a full-house at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 30 January 1974. By the end of the year, McTell was in the studio with Visconti again working on his next album. Released early in 1974, Easy won critical acclaim and became McTell’s first album to do well in the charts. It was promoted by lengthy tours of Britain and Europe with Danny Thompson and Mike Piggott as backing musicians. Despite the civil unrest and violence in Northern Ireland, the tour included concerts in the province – in fact, McTell continued to play there regularly throughout ‘the Troubles’.

McTell was invited to record his own interpretation of a Bob Dylan song for the BBC Radio 2 celebration of Dylan’s 70th birthday in May 2011. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright was also the title of McTell’s own six-song tribute to Dylan, which was released as a downloadable EP.

McTell embarked on a 36-date UK Autumn tour in September 2011, culminating in a concert at London’s Cadogan Hall on 11 December. On the first night of the tour, McTell launched his new Songs For Six Strings boxed set. Eventually there will be six CDs, one for each guitar string, and each with live recordings of six McTell songs. They are available to purchase only at live concerts and from the official McTell website.

In April and May 2012, McTell undertook a short tour of Australia. McTell’s 2012 UK tour, branded “An English Heartbeat”, commenced in October, and saw the release of a CD of guitar instrumentals called Sofa Noodling. In an interview published ahead of his 2013 “One More for the Road” tour, McTell said, “It could be the last time I do a big tour… this is the beginning of slowing things down”.

The spring of 2014 saw McTell touring the Celtic nations of the British Isles, and the release of a CD compilation of Celt-themed songs, Celtic Cousins.[106] A high point of the tour was a performance of McTell’s tribute to Dylan Thomas, The Boy With a Note, in Thomas’s adopted home town of Laugharne in south Wales. Later in the year, McTell marked the centenary of the start of the first world war with a four-song EP, The Unknown Soldier.

McTell celebrated his 70th birthday with a concert at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, on 7 December 2014.

Ralph McTell is best known for the song “Streets of London” which has been covered by over two hundred artists around the world.

In the 1980s he wrote and played songs for two TV children’s programmes, Alphabet Zoo which also featured Nerys Hughes, followed by Tickle On The Tum featuring Jacqueline Reddin.

McTell’s guitar playing has been modelled on the style of the USA’s country blues guitar players of the early 20th century, including Blind Blake, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell.

McTell’s love of music surfaced early. He was given a plastic mouth organ and his grandfather, who played the harmonica, taught and encouraged him.

McTell had begun travelling abroad, busking around Europe with his guitar. He spent time in France and visited Belgium and Germany.

During 1967, McTell landed a deal with Transatlantic Records [25] and by the end of the year was recording his first album. Arranged by Tony Visconti and produced by Gus Dudgeon, the album, Eight Frames A Second.

His second album Spiral Staircase, recorded for Transatlantic in late 1968, included the first recording of “Streets of London”.

McTell re-recorded “Streets of London” with bassist Rod Clements and backing vocalists Prelude. [40] Released as a single late in 1974, it rocketed up the charts to No. 2 over the Christmas period, became a worldwide million-seller, and won McTell the Ivor Novello Award.

Early in 2004, McTell co-headlined on Steeleye Span’s tour of Australia and New Zealand as well as touring in the UK, Ireland and continental Europe.

McTell celebrated his 60th birthday with a concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall in November, 2004.

A solo tour of Australia early in 2007 was followed by ‘The Journey Continues’ tour in the UK. In August, 2007, Sanctuary Records recognised the 40th anniversary of McTell’s first recording contract by re-releasing his three Transatlantic albums as CDs with bonus tracks.

McTell embarked on his most extensive UK tour for many years in October, 2008, visiting thirty venues throughout England.

LINKS:

  1. “Streets of London and Other Story Songs”

    . iTunes. Retrieved 27 September 2014.

  2. Jump up ^ “Ralph McTell @ Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2009”

    on YouTube. Retrieved 30 December 2009.

  3. Jump up ^ BBC. “Ralph McTell and the All Party Parliamentary Folk Music Group”

    . Accessed 30 December 2009.

  4. Jump up ^ Uncut. “US Folk Legend To Get UK Parliamentary Honour”

    . Retrieved 15 October 2014.

  5. Jump up ^ Spiral Earth. “Ralph McTell – Affairs of the Heart 4 CD set”

    . Retrieved 15 October 2014.

  6. Jump up ^ Proper Music Distribution. “Properganda Blog: New Releases Mon 15/02/10”

    . Retrieved 24 February 2010.

  7. Jump up ^ Ralph McTell. “Diary of a CD: Occasional Notes on a New Recording”

    . Retrieved 29 August 2010. (Webpage inactive October 2014.)

  8. Jump up ^ “The Things You Wish Yourself”

    . iTunes. Retrieved 27 September 2014.

  9. Jump up ^ BBC. “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – A Folk Tribute”

    . Accessed 29 May 2011.

  10. Jump up ^ “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”

    . iTunes. Retrieved 27 September 2014.

  11. Jump up ^ Ralph McTell official website. “Songs for Six Strings”

    . Retrieved 16 October 2014.

  12. Jump up ^ Ralph McTell official website “Sofa Noodling”

    . Retrieved 16 October 2014.

  13. Jump up ^ Ralph, Albert & Sydney “One More for the Road”

    . Retrieved 20 December 2013.

  14. Jump up ^ Ralph McTell official website. “Celtic Cousins”

    . Retrieved 16 October 2014.

  15. Jump up ^ Proper Music. “The Unknown Soldier”

    . Retrieved 1 November 2014.