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Sweet Thames Flow Softly

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Ewan MacColl wrote Sweet Thames Flow Softly for an experimental production by the Critics Group, based on Romeo and Juliet, which was broadcast to schools in May 1966. It was published in 1967 as title track of the Critics Group’s Argo album Sweet Thames Flow Softly, sung by John Faulkner.

Planxty sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 1973 on their eponymous first album, Planxty.

Dave Burland sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 1978 on his, Tony Capstick, and Dick Gaughan’s album Songs of Ewan MacColl.

Danny Spooner sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly on his 1987 album When a Man’s in Love. He noted:

This is one of the songs written by Ewan MacColl in 1966 for a radio production set in contemporary London and based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Having worked on the London river for many years this song has a special appeal for me because it mentions familiar places and reaches along the Thames.

Jean Redpath sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 2000 on her Greentrax CD Summer of My Dreams. She noted:

This was one of several songs written by the late Ewan MacColl for the London Critics Group radio production bases on Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s play was presented in terms of contemporary London and under the direction of MacColl made use of improvisation and radio ballad techniques. It was broadcast to schools in May 1966.

Terry Yarnell sang Sweet Thames in 2001 on his Tradition Bearers CD A Bonny Bunch. He noted:

Ewan, along with the study group, the ‘London Critics Group’ had been asked by the BBC to produce a version of Romeo and Juliet in a modern setting, for schools programmes. The group members took a character each, thoroughly learnt the detailed story and improvised the retelling on tape. Ewan took these tapes and using Radio Ballad techniques, reconstructed the story and produced the programme, which was broadcast in May 1966. This was one of the songs written for the programme, and in my opinion, one of his best.

Maddy Prior & The Girls (Rose Kemp and Abbie Lathe) sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 2002 on their Park Records CD Bib and Tuck.

Mick Groves sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly on his 2004 album of songs of Ewan MacColl, Fellow Journeyman.

Cherish the Ladies sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 2005 on their Rounder album Woman of the House. They noted:

Ewan MacColl wrote this beautiful love song in 1966 for a BBC Radio production of Romeo and Juliet.

Jiig sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 2005 on their eponymous album Jiig. Ian Robb noted:

Sweet Thames was written in the sixties by Ewan MacColl, for a radio production based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but set in London. My native city has always seemed to me more romantic when seen from its river.

James Keelaghan sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 2006 on his Fellside CD A Few Simple Verses.

Jon Boden and Sam Sweeney sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 2012 on the Proper sampler This Is Proper Folk Too!!. Jon Boden returned to it in 2019 on his Hudson album Rose in June where he noted:

I was trying to think of an upbeat, cheerful number for festivals so a song written by stern political balladeer Ewan MacColl for a production of a Shakespearean tragedy seemed like a good fit. Had to leave the last verse out though. I love the Planxty version of this (although sadly I had to stop short of pronouncing Thames as Themms) but it wasn’t until we started performing this live that I realised I must have borrowed one of the place names for Beating the Bounds from this song, so it feels right to have them next to each other here.

Rufus and Martha Wainwright sang Sweet Thames Flow Softly in 2015 on Cooking Vinyl’s Ewan MacColl centenary tribute album Joy of Living.


John Faulkner sings Sweet Thames Flow Softly

I met my girl at Woolwich Pier beneath the big crane standing
And all the love I felt for her it passed all understanding
Took her sailing on the river, flow sweet river flow
London town was mine to give her, sweet Thames flow softly
Made the Thames into a crown, flow sweet river flow
Made a brooch of Silvertown, sweet Thames flow softly

At London Yard I held her hand, at Blackwell Point I faced her
At the Isle of Dogs I kissed her mouth and tenderly embraced her
Heard the bells of Greenwich ringing, flow sweet river flow
All the time my heart was singing, sweet Thames flow softly
Limehouse Reach I gave her there, flow sweet river flow
As a ribbon for her hair, sweet Thames flow softly

From Shadwell Dock to Nine Elms Reach we cheek to cheek were dancing
A necklace made of London Bridge her beauty was enhancing
Kissed her once again at Wapping, flow sweet river flow
After that there was no stopping, sweet Thames flow softly
Richmond Park it was a ring, flow sweet river flow
I’d have given her anything, sweet Thames flow softly

From Rotherhithe to Putney Bridge my love I was declaring
And she from Kew to Isleworth her love for me was swearing
Love it set my heart a-burning, flow sweet river flow
Never saw the tide was turning, sweet Thames flow softly
Gave her Hampton Court to twist, flow sweet river flow
Into a bracelet for her wrist, sweet Thames flow softly

But now, alas, the tide has changed, my love she has gone from me
And winter’s frost has touched my heart and put a blight upon me
Creeping fog is on the river, flow sweet river flow
Sun and moon and stars gone with her, sweet Thames flow softly
Swift the Thames runs to the sea, flow sweet river flow
Bearing ships and part of me, sweet Thames flow softly