Sand In My Shoes - Ralph McTell

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Sand In My Shoes - Ralph McTell

1 CD(s) - British Folk - Label: Transatlantic - Distributor: Universal Music - Released: 04/1996 - 5026389911923

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Review of "Sand In My Shoes - Ralph McTell"

published 26/04/2017 | 2mennycds
Member since : 28/08/2015
Reviews : 287
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About me :
Best wishes to all, and thanks for your kind rates and comments, have been half-expecting the latest announcement for at least the last year. Have thoroughly enjoyed being a member over the last couple of years or so.
Pro Wide scope of subject, moving lyrics, great music
Cons Becoming rare
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money

"Love, genocide, social injustice, parenthood - moving, evocative"

Sand In My Shoes - Ralph McTell

Sand In My Shoes - Ralph McTell

Music reviews don’t earn the writer a single penny regardless of what rates are awarded. You may want to bear this in mind when rating. On the other hand, it’s taken quite a bit of time to write and edit this review!

Note that the title of this album is definitely “Sand in YOUR shoes” and not “…MY shoes”! It caused me some confusion when I was searching the site for it!

I love Ralph McTell’s music. Firstly, his lyrics are often powerful, striking, and evocative. Secondly, he marries his lyrics to great tunes that fit the words like a glove. Thirdly, he is a very adept guitar player. Fourthly, his manner on stage is relaxed, down to earth, and engaging.

The album

I like the jewel case packaging of this album, enabling me to keep it in good condition. It plays for just over 68 minutes, consists of 14 songs, and comes with a 16-page booklet containing complete lyrics and some photographs.

The tracks

The songs cover social issues, genocide, a thought-provoking song about Jesus Christ (though I don’t agree with all its sentiments), love, family breakdown, and watching one’s children grow up and leave home to forge their own lives. I’ll confine myself to commenting on some of them.

To me, the jazzy, upbeat sound of this contrasts starkly with the haunting, disturbing lyrics. It’s a series of word sketches about vulnerable people neglected and deliberately ignored. One man handles a knife in his pocket as a voice in his head urges him to “take a life”. I like the implied warning alongside “You better take care in the community” that states “The community better take care/There is no immunity...”
As well as the trumpet (Guy Barker) there’s some fine double bass by Chris Laurence.


Fairly high on my list of favourite Ralph songs, this tells an ambivalent tale. Again, it has an upbeat tune, helped by violin, electric guitar and harmonica. The chorus tells a lie, “When I put it this way, I can truly say that I don’t think about you”. The rest of the song is more truthful, though. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about you”, “Not a month goes by when I don’t think I see you somewhere in a crowded street”, and so on.

I love its wistfulness, and its being sung in the first person adds to its evocative nature.


A song about the demise of the British mining industry in the Thatcher years, its title comes from a phrase she coined for the miners. I find this a very moving song, again sung in the first person, Ralph telling of the change in “his” fortunes from the protest marches, telling “our lass it would be all right as hope replaced despair”. It all proves vain, though; “the gates are closed, the shops are shut, our very jobs they stole.

I also like the brass instruments that evoke a colliery band and add further poignancy to references to the band room.


“Sand” is another upbeat song about life’s ups and downs. I think it’s rather nicely and positively done, though, as even disappointments are partly offset by “a little sand in your shoes” – lasting, happy memories. It all sounds rather twee or contrived when trying to describe it, but it comes over as sincere and natural on the song.

“After Rain” is an assurance that “time will ease away the pain”, and somehow it avoids sounding overly trite, to my mind


I’ve already reviewed these songs in my review of Ralph’s live album “Travelling Man”. Suffice to say that his words and phrases capture some striking images as Ralph imagines Jesus Christ’s thoughts as he faced his approaching end.

“Peppers” is a very disturbing song and powerful that tells, in the first person, of a man’s growing unease in the community to which he thought he belonged. Little by little, differences between him and his neighbours appear. He determines to flee – but will he make it? The impassioned chorus stresses the man’s belonging the dirt from his fingers can be washed away, “but this earth is in my bones”.

I like the strummed guitar, and the percussion and electric guitar that build up the intensity of this tale. I also like the details – the man’s dry mouth but moist palms as he prepares to leave...

The Case of Otto Schwartzkopf

I think that the melancholy tune is appropriate for its subject matter again sung in the first person. It tells the tale of the museum exhibit of the suitcase of a holocaust victim, and speculates about its former owner. It poses questions that fill the mind of the singer. To me the most chilling part is a spoken pair of lines that announce the specified load allowed for a railway truck: “thirty pigs or seven cows, one hundred and twenty Jews for transportation”. To me it’s an intensely moving song, the more so because its apparent subject is an inanimate object, a suitcase.


This apparently carefree tune (and whistling) accompanies lyrics about a couple who are on or just above the breadline. The husband tries hard to make ends meet, but the song has a sting in its tale, and again I feel that the pathos is heightened by the upbeat tune; the husband – and father to a very young child – is a philanderer. “Nothing’s ever said, but everybody knows…”


I love the imagery of this song’s lyrics and the gentle rise and fall of its melody. It tells of moments, feelings and thoughts upon waking. I adore the gently rippling guitar accompaniment, and I think the images and phrases are gorgeous: “I drag a comb through knots of dreams”. It’s also a winsome love song. The singer considers his image in the mirror “weathered in time’s wilderness… Whilst yours is fixed in summer light/ Not creased or lined and smudged with age…”

I find this a beautiful, life-affirming song whenever I listen to it, and the melody swings unusually at times from a mid-note to a pretty low one, adding to the feel


This song was the main reason that I bought this album. I first heard it live, and it brought a lump to my throat. It tells of the leaving home of grown children, and my son had very recently left home to study!

It has a real Celtic feel, enhanced by Uileann pipes, fiddle and whistle, and one or two lines of the melody remind me of that of the Irish “Hard Times (Come Again No More)”. The chorus comprises the first two lines of an Irish blessing, firstly in English and then in Gaelic. I love the song’s words and sentiments, the realisation of having to let go and allow a young person to make his (or her) own way – and mistakes – despite the burning desire to help and protect.

The full version of the blessing is:

“May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall soft upon your field
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand”.

Concluding comments

5 stars from me for the evocative, powerful and, at times, disturbing lyrics and fine music. Those unfamiliar with Ralph McTell, or familiar only with “Streets Of London” but who like moving songs could do much worse than to sample some of his songs.

Currently available from Ralph’s own website ( for £9.99 hard copy, it’s becoming rare, and the cheapest through Amazon Marketplace (new hard copy) is £25.85, though used copies are available.

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Comments on this review

  • Nymphypig published 26/07/2017
    I love a bit of Ralph McTell!
  • LiveMusicLoverLyn published 02/07/2017
  • siberian-queen published 08/05/2017
    excellent review
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Product Information : Sand In My Shoes - Ralph McTell

Manufacturer's product description

1 CD(s) - British Folk - Label: Transatlantic - Distributor: Universal Music - Released: 04/1996 - 5026389911923

Product Details

EAN: 5026389911923


Listed on Ciao since: 22/05/2005