Sunday 15 November 2009

Sweet Thames Flow Softly

"I met my girl at Woolwich Pier beneath the big cranes standing. And oh, the love I felt for her. It passed all understanding ..." Ewan MacColl's mid-'60s composition Sweet Thames Flow Softly is all the more romantic in my view for being defiantly non-romantic from the off. There have been many renditions over the years, but my particular favourite is by The Johnstons, an Irish folk outfit, on their excellent 1968 Give A Damn LP on Transatlantic which is infused with the era's harmony pop influences. Am I right in saying the first recorded version was by The Critics Group in '67 when it was the title track of a LP of London related songs (aha!), mixing old broadside ballads with new compositions by Ewan and Peggy Seeger? Great record, and reissued by the good people at Vocalion. I understand that another poem set to music, The Ballad of London River by Mary Byron, was the 'official' school song for many Londoners up to the 1960s, but that is a very different thing. I would like to think that today's school children have the opportunity to hear Ewan's song. Ewan, despite his Manchester roots, lived for many, many years in London (south) and his life story should be studied by us all. "Her necklace made of London Bridge her beauty was enhancing ..." There's a lovely rendition by the great Christy Moore on YouTube which I particularly like for the relish with which he sings the words ...

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