Sunday, 23 April 2017

"All Things Change: The Transatlantic Anthology 1967-1970" by RALPH McTELL (April 2017 Cherry Tree 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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Featuring the 1970 UK album "Ralph McTell Revisited" on Transatlantic Records

I can't help thinking that fans of Farnborough Folky Ralph May have been waiting the guts of their hero's 50-year career for this wonderful reissue.

Taking his stage surname from a Blind Willie McTell song - Ralph McTell signed to Nat Joseph's Folk-Progressive Transatlantic Records in the late 60ts and promptly popped out three albums of largely original studio recordings - "Eight Frames A Second" (February 1968), "Spiral Staircase" (January 1969) and "My Side Of Your Window" (December 1969). A fourth eleven-track record called "Ralph McTell Revisited" turned up in November 1970 which featured remixed and re-recorded tracks from his second and third LPs (six from "Spiral Staircase" and five from "My Side Of Your Window"). It was supposed to become a US-market lead-in compilation that ultimately never got released there. Throw in a rare non-album 7" single A-side on Big T Records (one of Transatlantic's subsidiary labels) and two session outtakes recorded October 1967 for the first LP (the second of which is a superb Previously Unreleased stripped down version of "Eight Frames A Second") - and that's where this wee 2CD peach comes bounding in.

Fans of Folk Rock and Acid Folk will also love the eclectic range of guest-players on albums number two and three especially – Clive Palmer and Michael Bennett who were ex Incredible String Band and would form the ultra-collectable COB (Clive’s Original Band), Pedal Steel guitar player Gordon Huntley from Matthews Southern Comfort, Bruce Barthol, Gary Peterson and Phil Greenberg of Formerly Fat Harry (Barthol was ex Country Joe & The Fish), Double-Bass player Brian Brocklehurst of The Yetties, Pete Berryman of The Famous Jug Band, Fusion Drummer John Marshall of Centipede and the obscure but utterly brilliant harmonising of English Tapestry (McTell claims they were amongst the best backing singers in the whole of UK Folk). 

As you can imagine with four LPs progressing as they go while Producers Tony Visconti and Gus Dudgeon oversee things and Mike Vickers arranges complimentary string sections - you’re on a voyage of discovery that takes in straight-up lonesome Acoustic Folk that soon touches on Folk-Rock, Acid Folk, Jug Band Blues and shades of Americana similar to The Band circa 1968, 1969 and 1970. 

There is a ton of info to get through so here are the Folktastic details...

UK released Friday, 21 April 2017 (28 April 2017 in the USA) - "All Things Change: The Transatlantic Anthology 1967-1970" by RALPH McTELL on Cherry Tree CDTREE019D (Barcode 5013929691926) offers four studio albums, one single and two outakes on 2 Remastered CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (79:16 minutes):
1. Nanna's Song [Side 1]
2. The Mermaid And The Seagull
3. Hesitation Blues
4. Are You Receiving Me?
5. Morning Dew
6. Sleepytime Blues
7. Eight Frames A Second [Side 2]
8. Willoughby's Farm
9. Louise
10. Blind Blake's Rag
11. I'm Sorry-I Must Love
12. Too Tight Drag
13. Granny Takes A Trip
Tracks 1 to 13 are his debut album "Eight Frames A Second" - released February 1968 in the UK on Transatlantic TRA 165 and June 1969 in the USA on Capitol ST-240. Produced by TONY VISCONTI - it didn't chart in either country. All songs are Ralph McTell originals except "Hesitation Blues" (Traditional Jug Band Blues from the 1920's), "Morning Dew" by Tim Rose, "Too Tight Drag" by Blind Blake (Traditional Blues from the 1920's) and "Granny Takes A Trip" by Christopher Beard and Geoff Bowyer of The Purple Gang.

14. Streets Of London [Side 1]
15. Mrs. Adlam's Angels
16. Wino And The Mouse
17. England 1914
18. Last Train And Ride
19. The Fairground
20. Spiral Staircase [Side 2]
21. Kind Hearted Woman Blues
22. Bright And Beautiful Things
23. Daddy's Here
24. Rizraklaru (Anag.)
25. (My) Baby Keeps Staying out All Night Long
26. Terminus
Tracks 14 to 26 are his second studio album "Spiral Staircase" - released January 1969 in the UK on Transatlantic TRA 177 (No US release). Produced by GUS DUDGEON - it didn't chart. All songs are Ralph McTell originals except "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" by Robert Johnson and "(My) Baby Keeps Staying Out All Night Long" by Buddy Moss.

27. Summer Came Along - non-album A-side to an 11 July 1969 UK 7" single on Big T Records BIG 125
("Girl On A Bicycle" from the then unreleased "My Side Of Your Mirror" LP in December 1969 was its B-side, Track 3 on Disc 2)

Disc 2 (79:51 minutes):
1. Michael In The Garden [Side 1]
2. Clown
3. Girl On A Bicycle
4. Father Forgive Them
5. All Things Change
6. I've Thought About You [Side 2]
7. Factory Girl
8. Blues In More Than 12 Bars
9. Kew Gardens
10. Wait Until Snow
11. Silver Birch And Weeping Willow
Tracks 1 to 11 are his third studio album "My Side Of Your Window" - released December 1969 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 209 (No US release). Produced by GUS DUDGEON - It didn't chart in the UK. All songs are Ralph McTell originals (see paragraphs below for the many guest appearances on the album).

12. Streets Of London [Side 1]
13. Michael In The Garden
14. Last Train And Ride
15. Kew Gardens
16. Fairground
17. Spiral Staircase [Side 2]
18. Factory Girl
19. Bright And Beautiful Things
20. Father Forgive Them
21. Clown
22. Terminus
Tracks 12 to 22 are his fourth studio album "Ralph McTell Revisited" - released November 1970 in the UK on Transatlantic Records TRA 227 (No US release). The album contains remixes and re-recordings - six from "Spiral Staircase" and five from "My Side Of Your Window".

23. Suzanne
24. Eight Frames A Second
Tracks 23 and 24 are session outtakes from the "Eight Frames A Second" album recorded October 1967 - "Suzanne" is a Leonard Cohen cover version first released 2007 in the UK on CD - while "Eight Frames A Second" is Previously Unreleased and is a 'Non Orchestrated Version'.

The 12-page booklet has superbly annotated and seriously detailed liner notes by noted writer and music archivist DAVID WELLS which take a lot from McTell's own website and recollections (just as well really because like many Transatlantic LPs of the period - they looked great - but were skimpy on actual recording details - Brian Brocklehurst of The Yetties simply credited as 'Special Thanks to Brock' on the "Spiral Staircase" LP for instance). There are label repros of the rare Big T 45s "Summer Came Along" and "Kew Gardens", snaps of McTell in Acoustic Troubadour mode, a snap of Producer Gus Dudgeon (more closely associated with Elton John's DJM albums) and a collage of the four LP sleeves in colour. Oddly for a Cherry Tree release (part of the Cherry Red labels) - there is no Audio or Mastering credits. But the sound is fabulous - acoustic recordings that then slowly move into Folk Rock and beyond. The "My Side Of Your Window" album (which is my fave) is particularly good. A nice job done...

The first album "Eight Frames A Second" is mostly McTell and an Acoustic Guitar with some tracks featuring other players brought in for accompaniment. Typical of so many debut LPs searching for a style - the decidedly weird covers of Tim Rose's "Morning Dew" and the minor Jug Band hit "Granny Takes A Trip" by The Purple Gang (1967 UK 7" single on Big T Records BIG 101) are indicative of interfering forces and did the overall impact no good at all. But McTell more than holds his own on the lovely "The Mermaid And The Seagull" (complete with lapping waves and bird cries), the Bluesy traditional "Hesitation Blues" and the mellow instrumental "Willoughby's Farm". Jug Bands and flicked Washboards fill "Sleepytime Blues" while McTell gives a nod to those old ragtimes with his own instrumental tribute to Blind Blake on "Blind Blake's Rag" (he covers the Milwaukee man's "Too Tight Drag" also).

While the debut is a reasonable start - "Spiral Staircase" feels like a huge leap forward - opening as it does with a song that would come to define him - "Streets Of London". Written in 1966 while resident in Paris - McTell had abandoned the tune – but then gave it to Derek Brimstone who performed it live in his sets only to elicit wild reactions from the audience. Convincing McTell that he should re-visit the song – Ralph added an extra verse and a busking legend was born. Visconti smartly insisted that “Streets Of London” be put on the second LP (McTell resisted) and so it opens "Spiral Staircase" with a genuinely emotional wallop. That one-man-and-his-guitar vibe continues with "Mrs. Adlam's Apple" – a delicate and beautiful acoustic ditty – the kind of song that dominates much of this hugely underrated Folk LP. In fact it's as if McTell suddenly found his true Folk-Soul voice on LP No. 2. Collectors will note that both "Last Train And Ride" and "Spiral Staircase" feature The Famous Jug Band - Clive Palmer and Pete Berryman on Guitars, Harry Bartlett on Jugs and Mick Bennett (of COB) on Washboard. "England 1914" has particularly lovely string arrangements in an English pastoral fashion - while McTell convincingly reaches for his inner Robert Johnson on the fingerpicking cover of "Kind Hearted Woman Blues". Trivia - the nonsense word title of the impossibly pretty instrumental "Rizraklaru" turns out to be an anagram of Rural Karzi - a song he thought up on the way back from said outside loo (cue country poop produces worldwide masterpiece joke).

For me the real prize here is the third album "My Side Of Your Window" where McTell features a huge array of guesting musicians on genuinely great songs. Ex Country Joe & The Fish Bassist Bruce Barthol turns up on "Michael In The Garden" - while Gary Peterson - his fellow band mate in Formerly Fat Harry – also joins him on the gorgeous "Girl On A Bicycle" contributing Piano and Acoustic Guitar. Beatles obsessives will have to own "All Things Change" and not because it's Ralph's debut on Piano - but because McTell confirms from his recollections that the song contains one or all three of the Cello players who added so much to "Eleanor Rigby" - Derek Simpson, Stephen Lansberry and Peter Halling.

Another pleasant surprise is a hidden one - the obscure Folk group English Tapestry adding hugely to the beautiful "Kew Gardens". Apparently a harmonising trio consisting of sister and brother Ruth and Brian Britain alongside one Andrew Taylor - I can find only two other physical entrances in their recorded history. Two songs called "Valentine Chant" and "Whitsuntide Carol" are on a 1974 Various Artists benefit album called "The First Folk Review Record" on Folksound FS 100 - and they also did backing vocals on the Side 2 opener "Edward Sayers' Brass Band" for Richard Digance's April 1975 album "How The West Was Won" on Transatlantic Records TRA 289. Lead Vocalist Ruth Britain has the kind of pure English Folk voice that engenders hero worship (like Shirley and Dolly Collins for instance) and combining this with a song as lovely as "Kew Gardens" produces noticeable magic here (I'd love to hear more of their stuff).

Other genuine highlights include the sobriety tale of Billy the eventual statesman in "Blues In More Than 12 Bars" and the plaintive and lovely "Factory Girl" from his memories of ladies trying to find joy in the humdrum and repetition. But best of all is the very John Martyn "Wait Until The Snow" - a gorgeously mellow Folk-Rock song with no less than three members of Formerly Fat Harry contributing - Bruce Barthol on Bass, Phil Greenberg on Lead Guitar and Gary Peterson on Organ. I love this whole album and I find myself returning to "My Side Of Your Window" over and over - a forgotten gem that deserves more exposure.   

The 7" single "Summer Came Along" and seven of the 'remixed and re-recorded' versions on the "Ralph McTell Revisited" LP have turned up as Bonus Tracks on the 2007 CD reissues of "Spiral Staircase" and "My Side Of Your Window" before - but here in 2017 is the first time that the whole eleven-track LP has been issued as one. "Michael In The Garden", "Spiral Staircase" and "Father Forgive Them" were largely Acoustic-only affairs on original issue - here they're given the full 'band' treatment that muscles up the arrangements. The "Kew Gardens" track with English Tapestry guesting remains the same - a slight remix perhaps. The impossibly pretty "Streets Of London" song that would come to define him is also only a Remix to my ears with minimal change to the "Spiral Staircase" acoustic version. But best of all is the beautiful ballad "Factory Girl" which is given stunning Pedal Steel guitar accompaniment from Gordon Huntley of Matthews Southern Comfort thereby transforming the song into something altogether better than the original. 

Reprise Records would issue his new recording of "Streets Of London" in November 1974 where it would eventually smash the top ten to settle at No.2 - an amazing placing for Reprise K 14380. The album simply called "Streets" appeared in February 1975 and would give him an equally rare LP placing - No. 13. The song and album would change Ralph McTell's world forever (I always think his gorgeous and far superior song "From Clare To Here" deserves as much praise if not more).

But this is where that long Folk-Rock Singer-Songwriter journey began. Well done to Cherry Tree for reminding us of what we've been missing. "...The music started to flow..." – Ralph McTell sings in "Fairground". Indeed it did mate...

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