Ralph prepares to change tack as the clock ticks towards his big birthday
Shhhh... don't say it too loud, but Ralph McTell turns 70 next year. This realisation hasn't exactly come as a surprise, but it's made the singer songwriter take stock of his troubadour lifestyle and consider how he'd best spend his time.
He's not saying the "R" word, but he is going to be scaling down his relentless performance schedule in the future. As he prepares set off on a 27-date UK-wide tour that would put the majority of young artists to shame – beginning with two nights at the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter on October 4 and 5 – Ralph is aware that he probably won't be making such an extensive journey again.
"Old age isn't a shock; I still play guitar every day and I enjoy it everyday, but I have been everywhere, and I won't be able to cover the country in the same way at my age because I want to keep up the quality," says Ralph, whose best-known and loved Ivor Novello-winning Streets of London represents the tip of a very deep iceberg of compositions dating back to the 1960s.
"I'm going to have to ask people to come and see my shows, rather than me going to play in their local town like I have in the past," he says.
"I think it's been like them having a great night out with their old mate, and in order to keep that freshness and communication with the audience, you have to work hard at it. I like to keep it real and alive – I need to do that for my soul.
"It's not a swansong, but I am getting on a bit and there are other things to do rather than hit the road," says Ralph, who lives near St Austell with his wife, Nanna.
Writing songs has always been his passion and in them he always encapsulates people's lives, environments and experiences with lyrical charm and thoughtful musicality. Far from being sad about the prospect of fewer shows, he says it has given him a new and exciting focus that is far more about reflection and excellence than it is about being in a hurry.
"That exploratory urgency is the province of the young musician. The older musician can bring a gravitas to songwriting," says Ralph. "If I only write four songs a year and they are great songs, that's fine by me. Musically I am not going to get much better than I am now; with creaking bones and muscles it gets more difficult. But you get to know how to put words to music and I'm taking more of a poet's route. There are some quite modest instrumentalists out there who write stunning songs.
"We are so blattered by music from every direction these days, in shops and lifts and radio and downloads, if I am going to do anything I want it to have some strength and be worth another listen."
"I still have lots of ideas on the bubble," says the father and grandfather, who was much saddened by the recent death of Seamus Heaney.
"I have started reading his poetry and unravelling their secrets," he adds. One of Ralph's current projects is an album of Dylan Thomas poems set to music; another is a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock about the First World War. And, in time for the tour, he has Volume Three of his Six Songs For Six Strings box set ready to roll in the key of G.
Oh, and watch this space for news of a new Alphabet Zoo album featuring many of the songs Ralph wrote for the beloved children's TV series of the same name back in the 1980s.