Ralph McTell Dolans Warehouse Limerick Saturday September 14th 2002
The title of Ralph McTells latest album National Treasure alludes to his love of acoustic blues and the sound of the National guitar. The same title could also be used to describe his vast body of work. Over the last four decades, he has turned out a run of consistently good material from the heady days of his 1968 debut album Eight Frames a Second, his classic Spiral Staircase and later albums like Not Till Tomorrow and Easy which has recently had its debut CD release and more recent material on Red Skies. There have been the seminal songs too like Streets of London and Clare To Here two songs, which anyone who has never even heard the bulk of Ralph McTells recorded catalogue is bound to be familiar with.
Ralph McTell has had a huge connection with Ireland going back to his early years when fatherless his nearest equivalent to a father figure was an Irish lodger a Mr. Connaughton from Cork. Since coming here for the first time in the 1970s he has been a semi-regular visitor to these shores. His songs have been covered here by artists including The Johnstons, Furey Brothers and Davey Arthur and Jim McCann. Playing an Irish tour that took him from Cork to Newtonards and Roscommon in between he stopped off at Dolans Warehouse from his first Limerick appearance since opening for Mary Black at UCH some years ago. This show was momentous for other reasons, with a 21st birthday party and a traditional session in the bar also in progress. I cant believe the amount of live music that exists in Ireland he told me earlier its one of the great places for supporting live music.
Playing to an appreciative audience, with his huge repertoire and his troubadour like persona, -it is in a live setting, where the 6ft 2ins singer songwriter really comes into his own. Creating an immediate intimacy armed with just two acoustic guitars its plain to see why Ralph McTell's popularity has gone through decades and still exists. Ralph balanced his set with newer tracks form his current album National Treasure and liberally dipping into the past. Streets of London and Clare To Here were aired, as was another blast from the past -the brilliant Michael in the Garden from 1969,Nettle Wine from Not Till Tomorrow and Bob Dylans Girl from the North Country. Of his latter compositions, the gorgeous Girl from The Hiring Fair and the poignant Mr. Connaughton stood out. The former in traditional-type narrative tells of amorous feelings returned and the latter remembers the man to whom Ralph refers as the nearest he had to a father figure growing up in London. Strapping on a National Guitar he revisited his blues roots, in Weeping Willow Blues by Blind Boy Fuller and Mississippi John Hurts Im Satisfied strident guitar work combining with laconic vocals. McTells blues guitar and vocal prowess is sometimes forgotten but National Treasure returns him to the roots of his musical endeavor indeed he borrowed the McTell surname from Blind Willie McTell author of such classics as Statesboro Blues recorded by Taj Mahal and The Allman Brothers Band. My original motivation for wanting to play the guitar was the sound of the American steel strung acoustic dreadnought. My musical journey introduced me to a wonderful assortment of artists; from Woody Guthrie to Big Bill Broonzy, from the Carter Family to Mance Lipscome, Ramblin' Jack Eliot to Reverend Gary Davis. My guitar teachers, long dead before I discovered them, included Robert Johnson Blind Lemon Jefferson and the incredible Blind Arthur Blake. These men all played wooden bodied guitars. Blind Boy Fuller played a National resonator and from the moment I heard his fabulous playing I fell in love with the sound he and this extraordinary guitar made McTell states in his introduction to National Treasure. The more recent Sand in Your Shoes album featured the intense epic closer Peppers and Tomatoes. Peppers and Tomatoes, begins, as an ode to the earth soon becomes a tirade against ethnic cleansing, a powerfully passionate song proving his anger still evident. Ralph McTell is still one of the great storytellers and troubadours of this century- a real National Treasure.
c.John ORegan September 2002 for print media use only-electronic media use by authors permission only.
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