In the previous entry in this blog I mentioned A Trip To The Fair, a track on the Scheherazade And Other Stories album by Renaissance recorded and released in 1975. That song recounts a spooky incident at a funfair. Now, there’s an eerily similar song on Ralph McTell’s 1969 album, Spiral Staircase; it’s called simply The Fairground.
The two songs are quite different in their musical styles. The Renaissance song is an intricate prog rock track; Ralph McTell’s is a simple folk song. The Trip is performed by a 5-piece electric band; the Fairground is just one man and his acoustic guitar. The vocabulary and the literary style of the lyrics is quite different, too. There’s no question that the songs were written entirely independently. And yet they might have been inspired by the very same experience.
To illustrate just how closely they match, here is an excerpt from the previous blog post (with one very minor redaction) that describes The Fairground just as well.
. . . . .
The rides are deserted. All is quiet. Everything is still. … suddenly the silence is shattered by the screech of the dodgems, the rumble of the waltzers, the wheezing drone of the fairground organs. Lights blaze and the fair is full of people …
. . . . .
Actually, it happens rather more gradually than that in Ralph McTell’s song but the essential elements are much the same. At first the fair is spookily empty, a deathly shadow of the hustle and bustle that draws young and old to the fairground. Then a ghostly spirit sweeps through the rides as if God has breathed life into the cold clay figure of Adam. The transformation is incomprehensible, terrifying and wonderful all at the same time.
The tunes do have one thing in common – they are both in triple-time. Somehow the rhythm of the waltz is inseparable from fairground music. Perhaps that’s why the waltzers are always so popular. Or is that just a coincidence? It would be pointless to compare the two compositions beyond that.
When it comes to the lyrics, though, it has to be said that Ralph McTell tells a good story. His language is down to earth, his imagery is startlingly real. I particularly like the way he describes how movement shifts from the world outside to the fairground and back again as the narrative unfolds.
Standing alone in the fairground at night,
The world racing past on the streets …
. . .
I noticed although the fairground was moving
The rest of the world stopped still.
. . .
Behind me the wheel and the fairground were still
And outside it was moving again.
What is it about funfairs that makes them so creepy when no-one is around? Perhaps it’s the very fact that a busy fairground is so brim full of energy and movement that we can not imagine it any other way. Whatever it is Renaissance and Ralph McTell have both felt it. Crotchety Man has felt it too.