Interview: Ralph McTell

As he celebrates more than 40 years on the road, singer, songwriter and storyteller Ralph McTell is once again heading for Norfolk. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

When Ralph McTell performs across the country these days it is a rather different story from his early experiences of touring.

As a young man, he rocked up at all manner of pubs and clubs with his band mates. Today it is perhaps less of an adventure but the singer songwriter, who has been on the folk music scene for more than 40 years now, admits he enjoys playing as much as he ever did.

'I do still get itchy feet and always feel pleased to be out on the road and moving from town to town,' he said. 'And it is brilliant to still be selling venues out.

'In fact, we have now had to add a second date for Norwich, which is great.'

He went on: 'My Norwich and Norfolk connections almost go back further than anything else. One of my first ever gigs with my band The Hickory Nuts was at The Jacquard, in Norwich.

'Paul Simon once played there too so we were in good company!'

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He added: 'We had some fun together touring then, sleeping in the van and getting into all sorts of scrapes. It is very different now but it is something I do still relish.'

Ralph made his debut in 1968 with the album Eight Frames a Second and in 1974 released Streets of London. It earned him an Ivor Novello Award and remains the song he is probably still best known for today.

He went on to release dozens of albums over the following years, and in 2002 was presented with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

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, starring Jacqueline Reddin. Albums were also released from both series.

He also recorded the theme song to Cosgrove Hall's adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, with Keith Hopwood, and this was released as a single in 1984 after the series was aired on ITV.

'On this tour I will be playing some new songs but I realise I am defined by my songs of the 60s and 70s so I try to create a balance,' he said. 'The old songs are the ones people perpetually ask me to play and so I do include them.

'I used to try to steer away from playing Streets of London and then I decided that was churlish. It is not really such a heavy cross to bear!'

He added: 'Really, having one hit record was more than I ever expected so I am happy to play it. I am also just pleased I can still find things to write about these days. It might take a little longer now but I can still do it!'

Indeed, Ralph remains hugely prolific. This tour is a continuation of last year's, Somewhere Down the Road, which saw him release an album of the same name.

He has also recently recorded a six-song, downloadable tribute to Bob Dylan, Don't Think Twice It's Alright, to mark Dylan's 70th birthday.

'I have been a lifelong fan of the man and his art. I am full of admiration for his early songs and the way he changed the direction of music.

'I could not ignore 'His Bobness' on his birthday and thought I would just do a little celebration.'

Ralph has also embarked on a somewhat more prolonged project. Songs for Six Strings will eventually become a box set and could keep him busy for some time to come.

'So far, we have released one CD,' he explained. 'There will eventually be six CDs in total, one for each guitar string. Each one will have six live recordings on it. I will be looking for songs for the second CD from this tour.'

And he added: 'The CDs will only be on sale at my gigs so they will be something people can have as a collector's item.'

The drive to keep playing and recording is unlikely to diminish over the coming years, he said. He finds it hard to imagine a time when he will not go out on the road.

'I want to continue doing good work and making my small contribution as long as I can,' he stressed.

'I would like to go to Ireland next year, and then to Australia - and to tour in the UK in 2012. I do just want to keep on making music.'

t Ralph McTell will be performing at Norwich Playhouse on October 27 and 28, �18.50, 01603 598598,

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