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Dirty Old Town

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[ Roud - ; Mudcat 30172 ; Ewan MacColl]

Ewan MacColl wrote Dirty Old Town about Salford, Lancashire, England, the city where he was born and brought up. It was originally composed for an interlude to cover an awkward scene change in his 1949 play Landscape with Chimneys, set in a North of England industrial town, but many people now erroneously regard it as a traditional song.

Ewan MacColl recorded Dirty Old Town in 1952 for a 78rpm record (Topic TRC56). He was accompanied by Al Jeffery on guitar. This track was included in 2018 on his Topic anthology He was accompanied by Al Jeffery on guitar. This track was included in 2009 on Topic's 70th anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten, in 2017 on the Topic anthology The Real Sound of Folk Music, and in 2018 on Topic's MacColl anthology An Introduction to Ewan MacColl.

Ewan MacColl also sang Dirty Old Town, with Shirley Collins on backing vocals, on the B-side of Alan Lomax and the Ramblers' 1956 Decca single Hard Case, and on their eponymous 1957 Decca EP, Alan Lomax and the Ramblers.

He sang two verses of Dirty Old Town unaccompanied in 1958 on Dominic Behan's and his Folkways album of childhood memories of Ireland and Scotland, The Singing Streets. This album was released in the following year on Topic as Streets of Song. This track was included in 1993 on MacColl's Topic anthology The Real MacColl.

And he recorded Dirty Old Town in London in 1983, which was released in 1990 on his Cooking Vinyl album Black and White. This track was also included in 2002 on the anthology The Rough Guide to Scottish Folk.

The Spinners sang Dirty Old Town in 1963 on their eponymous Fontana album, The Spinners. They also released it in 1964 on a Fontana 7" single. This track was included in 1971 on the Philips anthology Focus on Folk. Spinner Mick Groves sang Dirty Old Town in 2004 on his Ewan MacColl tribute album Fellow Journeyman, and Hughie Jones sang it in 2005 on his Fellside album Liverpool Connexions. The Spinners also sang Dirty Old Town at a reunion concert in Liverpool's Music Room on 19-20 May 2018. A recording on this concert was released in the same year on their CD Legends.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang Dirty Old Town in 1966 on their Transatlantic album Contemporary Campbells. This track was included in 2005 on their Castle Music anthology The Times They Are A-Changin', and in 2006 on the Castle Music anthology of British and Irish folk 1955-1978, Anthems in Eden. Ian Campbell noted on the original album:

A difficult song to perform well, because the tune has a quality which tends to make it sound like the background music for an old Western. Having overcome this one finds a memorable song, full of the loneliness of the big city. I suppose one ought not be surprised to find it is written by Ewan MacColl.

Julie Felix sang Dirty Old Town in 1968 on their Fontana album This World Goes Round & Round a.k.a. Julie Felix's World. This track was included in 1970 on the compilation of early Fontana recordings, Shades of Folk.

The Dubliners sang Dirty Old Town on their 1968 album Drinkin' and Courtin', which may well be the most popular version of this song.

Steve Earle sang Dirty Old Town in 2015 on Cooking Vinyl's Ewan MacColl tribute album Joy of Living.

Edward II sang Dirty Old Town in 2015 on their CD Manchester's Improving Daily.

The Oldham Tinkers recorded Dirty Old Town in 2019 for the Topic anthology Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings Dirty Old Town on his 78rpm album TRC56

I found my love on the gasworks croft,
Dreamed a dream by the old canal;
Kissed my girl by the factory wall,
Dirty old town, dirty old town.

Heard a siren from the docks,
Saw a train set the night on fire;
Smelt the spring on the smoky wind,
Dirty old town, dirty old town.

Clouds a-rolling across the sky,
Cats a-prowling upon their beat;
Spring's a girl in the street at night,
Dirty old town, dirty old town.

I'm going to make a good sharp axe,
Shining steel tempered in the fire;
We'll chop you down like an old dead tree,
Dirty old town, dirty old town.

Ewan MacColl sings Dirty Old Town on The Singing Streets

I found my love on the gasworks croft,
Dreamed a dream by the old canal;
Kissed my girl by the factory wall,
Dirty old town, dirty old town.

Heard a siren from the docks,
Saw a train set the night on fire,
Smelt the spring on the smoky wind,
Dirty old town, dirty old town.