Small Voice Calling > The Voice > The ‘Lost’ Album
“It takes a glass of tequila to raise up my spirits when I get down.”
Chris Hockenhull calls it ‘The Hit Hangover’.
In ‘Streets of London: The Official Biography of Ralph McTell’ (Northdown, 1997), Chris recounts how Ralph McTell’s 1975 tour to promote his ‘Streets…‘ album had gone terribly wrong, and – to quote one of the songs from that LP – left him feeling “I want to get out now”.
So he did, to Los Angeles, to mull things over. He returned to the UK with new enthusiasm, and, early in 1976, Ralph recorded an album with legendary producer Shel Talmy, who had worked with The Who, The Kinks, Pentangle and Bert Jansch.
But Ralph was dissatisfied with the results: “Shel worked very, very hard and put together a very commercial, middle of the road album. That’s what it was, MOR, and when I heard it I was very upset.”
Shel had mixed some new McTell songs with country-flavoured covers, and Wizz Jones thought the results “…were good. I felt that it could have opened doors for Ralph in the country music scene and in America, but he wasn’t having any of that.” So the project was abandoned and the album left in the vault.
Six of the fourteen tracks were subsequently released piecemeal, and Ralph re-recorded another four. But the bulk of Shel Talmy’s McTell album remained lost until 2022, when it was released as ‘Tequila Sunset’.
Ralph McTell: Tequila Sunset
MP3 digital download
Released on 1 February 2022
Shel Talmy Productions
All tracks remastered from the original tapes.
Don’t Make Promises
He’ll Have to Go
I Fall to Pieces
I Recall a Gypsy Woman
Ladies Love Outlaws
Sweet Girl on My Mind
Released on ‘Streets…‘ CD, 1995.
Previously unreleased [Note 1].
Previously unreleased [Note 2].
Released as a single, 1982.
Released on ‘The Journey‘, 2006.
Released on ‘The Journey‘, 2006.
Released on a single, 1978 [Note 3].
Released on ‘The Journey‘, 2006 [Note 4].
Previously unreleased [Note 5].
Previously unreleased [Note 6].
1. Recorded live on ‘Ralph, Albert & Sydney’, 1977;
Re-recorded on ‘As Far As I Can Tell’, 2007.
3. The B-side of ‘Heroes and Villains’ single, 1978.
4. Re-recorded on ‘Right Side Up‘, 1976.
5. Re-recorded on ‘Slide Away the Screen‘, 1979.
6. Recorded live on ‘Ralph, Albert & Sydney‘, 1977.
Extract from an interview Shel Talmy gave in 2006:
[Interviewer] Can you name some records you did you thought should have been hits and never made it?
[Shel Talmy] …one I did with Ralph McTell called “Tequila Sunrise” I think would have been a hit, but it never came out.
From Shel Talmy’s Facebook feed, 8 November 2021. Used with permission.
THE BLUEPRINT OF THE RECORDINGS I DID WITH RALPH MCTELL
Over a period of time, I’ve put aside attempts, including a few false starts, of my writing about this subject, knowing how difficult it would be to accurately describe what happened after I completed producing a finished LP of brilliant singing and songs by Ralph McTell which would never see the light of day.
With continual urging, I acquiesced to finally get this done, and have arrived at the following!
I, like many thousands of others, had been impressed with Ralph’s composition ‘Streets of London’, which was first included on his second album in 1969.
Five years later, he had decided to re-record the song. This version was released as a single and became a major hit, reaching number 2 in the UK, and charting high worldwide.
Bruce May, Ralph’s brother, was managing him, and after a period of time when none of the succeeding releases had achieved sales anything like ‘Streets’, we come to early 1976.
I went to see Bruce to talk about doing an album with Ralph. I felt I could produce a LP that would put him back in the upper reaches of the charts, where he belonged.
Bruce thought this was a terrif idea and subsequently spoke to Ralph, who agreed to do the project.
So I got together with Ralph and started picking material for the LP, which consisted of several songs Ralph had written, along with songs from other writers with which I thought he would do a great interpretation and give them the unique “McTell” stamp that would make them memorable.
The idea I had for the album from the outset was to add tasteful additions to Ralph’s excellent singing voice and guitar playing and hopefully achieve the level of “masterwork”!
I booked Tom Parker, with whom I’d worked with on several sessions, as the arranger, and I worked out the arrangements to include a string section, other orchestral instrumental parts and backing vocals, and I was very pleased with the results.
We recorded at IBC Studios with several sessions in February and March of 1976, using London’s top session men.
Warners-Reprise headed by Mo Ostin was Ralph’s label at the time, and they were delighted and LOL, I think I could truly add “ecstatic”, about the tracks!
And then with just a few things left to do to finish the album—Ralph disappeared!
To say the least, I was totally bemused… I eventually heard that he’d run off to Cornwall, accompanied by a story that is possibly, and most likely probably, apocryphal, where he had developed an overwhelming concern that he was about to become so famous that his mates down at the pub that he frequented would turn against him for acting superior and lording it over them.
But more likely the reason for his sudden disappearance was what Ralph himself wrote years later, about how stress and panic attacks were his constant companions. The following is an excerpt of his words:
“My stage nerves were already legendary amongst those who had seen me prior to going on stage, and my insecurity as to how long this success would last was a constant worry to me. I experienced deep anxiety at this time and one day I read in a medical article that prior to a race, athletes produced a chemical that could induce feelings of panic in someone prone to that condition. Therefore going on stage was like preparing to compete, the difference being that you had to be measured and controlled as a performer and there was nowhere to run. My heart was pounding.”
All that you’ve read so far is of course pure speculation, with no confirmation on my part, as Warner-Reprise decided not to release the LP and I never spoke to Ralph again.
And I still think that either of the two tracks… ‘Tequila Sunset’ and ‘The Boxer’, would have been hits… oh well!