Ralph answers some questions prepared by me and my staff. Originally the questions were planned for a live interview in December 2003 in London, but owing to Ralph’s engagements, we left the interview with his staff and he sent yesterday the answers by e-mail.
WTS) During our meeting in Cornwall we spoke about your wondering about Italy; about your possible Italian tour proposed by Domenico, about your fear to meet a new audience. Now that all of this seems to be a reality what are your feeling about this adventure?
RMcT) I am always a little nervous when performing in a new country because of the language difference and the fact that my work is more than 50% lyric based.
I often feel that I lose nuance and some of the subtlety of the poetic aspiration when an audience has to translate at the same time as they are listening.
People always try to reassure me that the music will carry my intentions but I rely a lot on familiarity with the songs for best response.
I have played in Italy a couple of times and naturally I have happy memories of my rambling days busking with my guitar. I do hope I will be able to come and play in your country this year.
WTS) Will the style for Italian performances be the same as your English gigs?
RMcT) I think I will try to balance my set with some more guitar based work so that if I lose on the lyric I may pick up on the guitar picking.
WTS) During our last meeting we spoke about your next album and about the new tracks. Is this album in progress?
RMcT) The album is a long way off but I have begun to write again.
WTS) In your opinion, will it be inspired by blues used in National Treasure?
RMcT) It will not be like "National Treasure". I think it will be a return to my more reflective style.
WTS) This interview will be published on our Italian website. In your second work about your life, you describe your approach with guitars. We read that you listened to big blues artists before understanding notes and later you did the same. How do you arrive at your particular style without studying music?
RMcT) My teachers were mostly American, mostly black, mostly blind and mostly dead! I could not see how they played, I could only listen, just as they had done.
I tried to copy and of course made mistakes, and I learned from mistakes.
Sometimes a mistake can lead you to a new melody or the wrong chord can take you to another place.
I enjoy my mistakes and my "happy accidents". I was aware of a lot of different music to my teachers as music constantly changes even if it doesn't evolve.
I think a little of your own culture creeps in to your playing no matter what you are trying to sound like. That's why American and British guitar players have evolved their own sound.
Because I am untutored, the guitar is a constant source of wonder to me. I play everyday and feel I have only scratched the surface of what is possible.
The guitar is my inspiration accompanying my lyrical ideas.
It is a companion to the blues. It is my comfort and it also frustrates me. I have about twenty guitars and I love them all but my Gibsons are my favourites along with my custom made Tom Mates guitar and my "new" 1933 National.
WTS) If you think about yourself as a songwriter and singer, do you notice a difference between young Ralph and actual Ralph? Is the passion when you write still the same?
RMcT) The most important thing for me as a writer is to strive to be better. to find more poetry or subtlety. The biggest risk in living a long time is the increase of cynicism. This must be avoided and especially in the young writers. It depends if you seek to lift the soul of our collective humanity or to point out our weaknesses.
It is much easier to be against something than for something.
My earliest inspiration was the writing of Woody Guthrie who wrote "I hate a song that makes you think you're not any good etc etc...."
That sentiment remains my goal. We can write about sad aspects of life but only to remind ourselves of shared experience and our common entry and exit from the life we share. It is the writers job to look at all these things and above all, not to waste time, time passes quickly enough.
If anything I am more passionate now about the quality of my contribution than I ever was. There will only be a new CD when I am sure I have something worth sharing.
WTS) I think that you have a particular way to compose, how do you divide your work? Do you write music first and words later or words first and music afterwards?
RMcT) There are no fixed rules about writing, I have worked both ways. I guess writing the words first, is easiest. It is a greater challenge to write words to tunes already composed. These songs tend to be different as melody is dictating subject matter and not the other way around.
WTS) “Weather the Storm”, your song has been played in a lot of ways, for example in an acoustic way, which one do you prefer?
RMcT) I don't have a preference
WTS) Your fans have endless contacts with you, using e-mails, forum, web site. Does all this gratify Ralph as the man or more Ralph as the artist?
RMcT) I love to hear from people I just don't have the time to reply to all who write but it is hugely gratifying to know that your work is getting through.
Thanks to all of my Italian friends for sharing my music and I hope to see you soon best wishes Ralph McTell.