If Leonard Cohen’s songs are poems set to music then Ralph McTell’s are stories. He tells them like your favourite uncle did as you sat on his knee as a kid. There’s a warmth in his voice and a chuckle in his eyes as he lets the story slowly unfold.
In Streets of London, though, there’s a chill wind. An old man in a closed down market kicks up some papers, a bent old woman carries her home around in two carrier bags. It paints a picture of the deprivation and hopelessness that haunts any big city – an emptiness that’s there for us all to see if only we would look.
The chorus then urges us to put our own troubles into proper perspective:
So how can you tell me you’re lonely
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the streets of London,
I’ll show you something
That makes you change your mind.
The words and the guitar chords fit snugly together. The tune flows easily over the sound of plucked strings and uncle’s soothing voice delivers the bleak message like well-chilled ice cream – cold, but delicious. Let’s have a coffee break and savour this, my latest track of the week.