Small Voice Calling > The Voice > The Boy with a Note and Other Tales
“Eternity lies waiting where imagination and reality collide.”
Ralph McTell wrote in the CD insert for ‘The Boy with a Note’, “During a “fallow” period in my own writing I borrowed the Constantine Fitzgibbon biography of Dylan Thomas from a friend and became totally absorbed. I was intrigued to find that not only did Dylan worry about his lack of creativity at times but that in certain respects other doubts he had or appeared to have about his work and worth I too had experienced… Ironically, reading about his writer’s block cleared my own…”
‘The Boy with a Note’ was commissioned by the BBC and broadcast on Radio 2 on 3 March 1992. The project, comprising ten McTell songs and substantial narration, was re-recorded for release on CD later the same year.
By 1995 Ralph had written fourteen new songs to record as ‘Sand in Your Shoes’, which was released by Castle Communications under its Transatlantic marque in the UK, and by Red House Records in the USA three years later.
For much of the next few years Ralph was busy writing his autobiography, but he did not neglect his studio work. ‘Red Sky’ was released in 2000 with nineteen songs, all but one written by Ralph.
A further ten years would elapse before the release of ‘Somewhere Down the Road’, with a set of fourteen McTell songs that included tributes to many of his early influences – Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, Jesse Fuller, Rev Gary Davis, Robert Johnson. One line in ‘The Ghost of Robert Johnson’ expresses their persistent influence and Ralph’s approach to writing songs about them: “Eternity lies waiting where imagination and reality collide”.
Another theme that had recurred in Ralph’s songwriting was the First World War, and, to mark the centenary of its start in 1914 – but already anticipating its end four years later – he wrote ‘The Unknown Soldier’. The eponymous four-song EP included new recordings of three related songs. Ralph says in the CD booklet, “These songs written over the fifty years of my career, are an attempt to evoke the final loss of innocence we experienced as a nation”. Ralph issued a ‘centenary edition’ of the title track in 2020, one hundred years after the internment of the unknown soldier at Westminster Abbey.
For his 2019 album ‘Hill of Beans’, Ralph renewed his collaboration with arranger and producer Tony Visconti, who had worked on Ralph’s earliest recordings. Ralph had recorded five of the eleven songs for previous projects – in one case forty years previously – but under Visconti’s direction they were all wrought anew.
The Boy with a Note
An Evocation of the Life of Dylan Thomas in Words and Music.
Sand in Your Shoes
“May the road rise with you and the wind be at your back.”
“Extracting something beautiful out of hopelessness.”
Somewhere Down the Road
“Somewhere down the road the water tastes like wine.”
CD – Released 2010 – Leola TPGCD31.
The Unknown Soldier
“Tommy Atkins rests with kings.”
Digital download – Released 2020 – Leola TPGCD111120
Hill of Beans
“Its literal intent was never quite fully disclosed”.
CD – Released 2019 – Leola TPGCD50.