Ralph McTell: ‘I don’t know who Ed Sheeran is’

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Ralph McTell normally has a sharp memory for places he’s played but he can’t quite recall the first time he came to Morecambe.

“It must have been in the ‘70s, I remember seeing it on a tour sheet.

“It was during the one part of my career I can’t remember and it’s worrying.

“I was this young lad in London one minute, a married man with a kid in a council flat.

“Suddenly the north opened up for me and I was playing everywhere, working six or seven nights a week all over the place.”

This heady period was triggered by the release of McTell’s seminal hit, Streets of London.

Originally an album track in 1969, it propelled the folk singer to number two in the Christmas 1974 charts.

When the acoustic guitar maestro performs at the Platform this Saturday night (October 6) he admits his fans won’t be happy unless he plays his signature song.

“There was one year when I came to Morecambe when I didn’t play Streets of London and people started booing,” he says.

“I think the song is popular because it’s a great story. That’s what folk musicians do. We tell stories.

“I see folk music as a fellowship. I’m very proud to be considered part of it.”

McTell is also known for his second career as a 1980s children’s TV presenter of cosy lunchtime programmes Alphabet Zoo and Tickle on the Tum, a sideline he stumbled into by accident.

“I really didn’t want to do children’s TV. Having four kids myself at that time, I was very critical of kids’ TV.

“But a livewire ITV producer told me he just wanted me to write Ralph McTell songs for kids, not be someone in a boiler suit jumping up and down in Kicker shoes.

“So I came up with a song called Kenny the Kangaroo. I remembered the BOING! sound from flicking a nail file at school. Kids love it.

“Now I’m on my third generation of kids who love Alphabet Zoo. We’re thinking about doing a collector’s book. We’ve already done a Tickle on the Tum album which was very successful.”

But the 67-year-old’s first love remains going on tour, standing on a stage alone, playing his guitar and singing.

“It’s something I look forward to tremendously.

“The idea of never going out on tour any more fills me with fear. As long as there are people who want to hear the songs and as long as I can make a creative contribution, I’ll keep doing it.”

There really isn’t a modern-day equivalent of Ralph, unless you count Ed Sheeran.

“I don’t even know who that is!” laughs Ralph.

“I never listen to Radio 1.

“But if he’s writing narrative songs with a message, then he’s a friend of mine.

“Having said that, writing about drugs and prostitution is an area I just won’t go to. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Ralph’s An English Heartbeat show, for over 16s only, starts at 8pm. Tickets cost £19. Call 01524 582803 or visit Morecambe Visitor Information Centre for bookings.