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Canberra Today 15°/20° | Friday, February 23, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Folk legend McTell can still fill a big stage

Ralph McTell

Music / Streets of Oz, Ralph McTell. At The Street Theatre, February 10. Reviewed by CASSIDY RICHENS.

He’s nearly 80 but seemingly ageless as he walked on stage.

It was a big stage, but he filled it, picking up his acoustic guitar and opening with I Don’t’ Think About You from his 1995 album Sand in Your Shoes – an outstanding start to an unforgettable evening with folk legend Ralph McTell.

It’s 12 years since the English singer-songwriter played in Canberra but  Streets of Oz is his 14th Australian tour.

It’d been a long career, he conceded. His ear-to-ear grin said it all, he was excited, not nervous.

Favourites from his first set: First Song from his 1972 album Not Till Tomorrow and Around the Wild Cape Horn, from his 2010 album Somewhere Down the Road.

Modelled on early American country blues stylings, McTell’s intricate guitar playing was rhythmic, expressive, dynamic. His beautifully melodic songs and mature richly toned voice were pure joy.

His storytelling is unparalleled, a solid-gold experience, his sensitivity and ­­­­­warmth especially present in his performance of After Rain, from his 1989 Affairs of the Heart album.

After the break, more stories, and many laughs, returning to songs from his 2010 album Somewhere Down the Road.

McTell showcased his flair for the harmonic in Walking into Morning – a tale of time on the road travelling and performing in Europe; and again, later with Reverend Thunder, a tribute to guitar hero, Gary Davis.

I was disappointed he didn’t share more from his latest album Hill of Beans, his third collaboration with American producer Tony Visconti and his first studio release in nine years.

But listening to Mr Connaughton, a story about dreams of a better life and the struggles of the working-class, from his 1987 album Bridge of Sighs, I found myself wondering how he does approach composing a set list.

From the album, McTell performed Gammel Dansk, a tale about drinking hard liquor near the docks in Denmark and one of the only songs he sang in a minor key. Its smooth delta blues sound led perfectly into his recently penned song Avalon, a tribute to one of his musical heroes, Mississippi John, and Close Shave, a darkly comic tale of a barber, also from the 2019 album.

Much to the delight of the person on my right, McTell performed The Girl from the Hiring Fair, a story about profound connection and fulfilment.

Hiring Fair was a wonderful segue to his final song, the song that brought McTell his greatest commercial success, Streets of London. His well-mannered audience remained silent until invited to sing, joining in from the second chorus, we beckoned him back for an encore.


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