Ralph, Albert & Sydney (Live Recording) - Ralph McTell

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Ralph, Albert & Sydney (Live Recording) - Ralph McTell

1 CD(s) - British Folk - Label: Leola - Distributor: Proper - Released: 01/12/1997, 12/1997 - 5016272780224

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Review of "Ralph, Albert & Sydney (Live Recording) - Ralph McTell"

published 02/01/2016 | 2mennycds
Member since : 28/08/2015
Reviews : 265
Members who trust : 71
About me :
Bit worried about my wife's driving. She told me the other day that she nearly ran over a squirrell on her way to work - hey, this is an animal that LIVES IN A TREE!!
Pro Great collection of earlyish Ralph, thought provoking, warm
Cons May be difficult to source
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money

"A night at the (Sydney) opera (House) - and Royal Albert Hall"

Autographed copy (but at Morecambe not Sydney!)

Autographed copy (but at Morecambe not Sydney!)

I owned this on vinyl longer ago than I care to remember and was delighted when it was released on CD. It is one of my favourite Ralph albums, and even contains one or two items not available on his studio recordings. And, to me, this is Ralph at his best: relaxed (yes, even alone on stage at the Royal Albert Hall as Sydney Opera House!), engaging, performing his moving and at times intensely personal songs.

The recording has even captured one or two slight glitches – they are insignificant enough and Ralph makes light of one of them. I’m not going to point them out, as I would hate a purchaser to listen out especially for them!

The CD

Here we have a gem in a jewel case – most appropriate! The original cover is a replica of the original vinyl’s cover, the front showing a photograph of Ralph and an image of Sydney Opera House with the Royal Albert Hall in the background, and the two buildings in reverse positions on the back cover with a different photo of Ralph. The inside of the cover booklet contains some reminiscences of his trip to Australia along with images of some of his other albums. Fair play.

The two gigs – is “gig” an acceptable term for performances in such illustrious venues?! – took place in 1976 and feature some of Ralph’s relatively early material. That suits me fine. Partly due to nostalgia this period of Ralph’s career covers some my greatest favourites of many. It includes twenty-one songs (including several that were not on the original release) and plays for seventy-two minutes. The additional tracks are an interesting bonus. They are not simply randomly selected tracks, but are, in my view, worthy additions to the album.

As with Ralph’s other live recordings, this includes some of his banter between songs. To me this is a definite plus. Some live recordings are merely a compilation of song after song, and apart from some applause and the odd muted “Thank you!” in response from the performer it might just as well be a studio recording. (Equally I feel a bit cheated if I attend a gig and the only spoken words are along the lines “Thank you! I’m going to play a song/tune called...”)

With Ralph we have here:

“I’ve never recorded this... think it would be bad for my image...” (introduction to “Winnie’s Rag”).

“This is about my very first encounter with the opposite sex. I was about six years old at the time. I’m sure some similar incident must have happened to you. Well, at least I HOPE it has! Well, by now, anyway!” (“Big Tree” introduction).

“This is my other guitar, a 12-string. It was made by a cabinet maker... unfortunately he hasn’t got the hang of scaling things down... this has a drinks cabinet in the back!”

“I was talking a while ago [to double bass player Danny Thompson] and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice.... with ladies... instead of the last minute lurch just before the pub closes to sort of, build it up slow, like Fred Astaire or someone... and keep that sweet mystery of it all!” (“Sweet mystery” introduction).

The back cover carries a disclaimer about sound interference that became evident when listening to the playback of the recording from the sound deck. I can only say that it isn’t particularly evident; I wasn’t aware of it on the vinyl, and it doesn’t spoil my listening enjoyment. It seems only fair to mention it, though.

The tracks – well, some of them anyway!

Some of the tracks are contained on other Ralph albums that I have reviewed. Most tracks are original songs, with just a few cover versions.


Ralph has another humorous introduction for this song about a secret affair. It’s a bitter-sweet reflection. Ralph writes with such flair and conviction itÂ’s impossible to know whether certain songs are autobiographical or not. It hardly matters. This song is a case in point.

“Remember the room without any view?
Frightened of meeting someone that we knew –
no farewells or how-do-you-dos
in the grand affair.”


As alluded to above, this song is derived from an incident in Ralph’s past. There’s some gentle humour about the innocence and naivety of it (“I showed her, she showed me, lots of fun behind the big tree!”) There’s humour too about being caught and reprimanded. The tune and guitar accompaniment are similarly light-hearted. It makes for an integrated whole.

But there’s a wistfulness to it. (“Me and Susie had nothing to hide – but I guess we may have in the world outside...”) There are nice childlike invocations in the refrains to the tree itself. The big tree “was our friend but the big tree knew how it would end”. “Big tree, what do you know..?” “Big tree, why do you sigh..?”

Light hearted but though-provoking – superb stuff from the songwriting maestro!


This is a very thought-provoking song about a young man with a disturbed mind. The point though is that despite “They in their wisdom say ‘Michael’s got something wrong with his mind’”, the truth is that “They must be blind – they cannot see what Michael sees...” Then Ralph alludes to simple and apparently banal things in which Michael takes great delight.

Again the accompaniment is in keeping with the mood of the song. The guitar is strummed and the tune has a plaintive sound.


The first of these is one of Ralph’s cap-0doffing to the fabulous Blind Blake, American blues and ragtime guitar player extraordinaire from the 1920s. The second of the tunes features Ralph playing some ragtime piano.


To me this is one of the loveliest of Ralph’s songs of his long career. It has captivated many of his fans and I read on his website once that he has a “Naomi” room in his house with numerous photos of babies named after this song. It’s warm and poignant, and it’s hard not to quote it at length (I’ll resist, though!)

The refrain begins with the line “She wasn’t all I wanted, but she’s all I’ll ever need...” It’s a song about an ageing couple. “Age has made her frail, I’m sacred to take her in my arms”. The man (“the kids today, they think that they’ve discovered everything, but me and her, we done it all without a wedding ring”) reflects on how privileged he is to have had the long-term love of his lady: “Times I was unfaithful, she said: ‘No future in the past’”

“Age is for complaining, but you won’t hear much from me...” “Makes me feel like a man, growing old with Naomi.” “How lucky can you get, growing old with Naomi.”


Ralph does his tongue-in cheek bit here. “One of these days I’m gonna do it right... get to her door and just say goodnight. Even if she asks me to come in, I’ll make myself say no so I can call again.” He does his best to keep the sweet mystery, but admits it will be difficult. “Get to her door and scream, ‘You let me in!’, and if she says yes, that’ll be the same old thing...”


This is the one that Ralph says he hasn’t recorded previously, as it would be bad for his image. It’s a light-hearted song about a lost love. It’s fun and risqué, (as were many vintage blues and ragtime songs) and he chuckles aloud at one of his double-entendres (which I won’t quote – you can find it out for yourself if you like!)

“We had it so cosy
everything was rosy
in our little love-nest on the Old Kent Road;
in our nights of passion
they could hear us thrashing
a good six houses down the road.”

Ralph is from Croyden so probably his natural accent isn't strictly "cockney", but he makes it a bit more so for this song. It gives it a more homespun feel. His guitar accompaniment ripples and bounces along brilliantly (if you didn’t know, he is an outstanding guitar player) and adds to the fun song.

“If you see my Winnie
she’s blonde and rather skinny
and you’ll know her by the wart on her nose...”

It really is a song to make you chuckle, but it does say something about the songwriter, too. There isn’t a mood or topic that he can’t make a great song of!


A fabulous song with the refrain “It was alright, it is alright and it’ll be alright”. It contains some lovely images of driftwood in the river, and of angels singing. It’s poetic and beautiful and has a real feel-good factor.


A clever and rather nice move on Ralph’s part, this. It’s a brief instrumental version that ends the album, and, judging by his concluding remarks, also marked the end of the Sydney performance. He doesn’t announce it and sneaks the first few notes of the tune in under the audience’s radar. They applaud approvingly when they realise its identity. It’s adeptly played, too. Then to a final and appreciative “Thank you very much! Take it easy! Thank you!” I realise it’s time to leave the virtual Opera House and rise from may armchair. With a warm glow inside.

Concluding remarks

I am a great Ralph fan. I think that while all his albums are good, some are truly outstanding, and to me this is one of them. I can’t rate it lower than 5 stars. It’s currently of very limited availability but is definitely one to seek out. It still seems to be available from his own website. Beg, borrow or steal it if you must – but not from me! Not only is my copy of great nostalgic value, it’s also autographed.

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Comments on this review

  • cornishchic published 03/04/2016
    excellent x
  • RICHADA published 14/01/2016
    Sublime review of a subject that I would actually enjoy. R.
  • beautybuff published 10/01/2016
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Product Information : Ralph, Albert & Sydney (Live Recording) - Ralph McTell

Manufacturer's product description

1 CD(s) - British Folk - Label: Leola - Distributor: Proper - Released: 01/12/1997, 12/1997 - 5016272780224

Product Details

EAN: 5016272780224


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