Cover Story: (3) Our Town. Iris DeMent or Kate Rusby, American Midwest or South Yorkshire
Overpaid, oversexed, over here? 'Not a bit of it - I'm exploring British folk-rock'

Cover Story: (5) From Clare to Here. Ralph McTell, Bob Fox or Nanci Griffith

May 2021 update: Ralph McTell’s second most famous song. I have been an admirer of his music for decades. I first saw him at the Sunderland Empire, taking the stage a little nervously after a pulsating support set from Lindisfarne, so good that all us Mackems forgot they were a bunch of Mags.

Ralph quickly settled and delighted the audience with a flawlessly engaging performance. This would have been around 1969 or 1970.

From Clare to Here came later, in the mid-1970s. It is an exceptional song, one of his finest in my view, and recalls his time working on a London building site with a gang of Irish navvies

When I first included it in my Cover Story series four years ago, I noticed that lot of the visits to Salut! Live  it prompted came  via a Facebook link. I asked whether anyone could tell me which Facebook page was generating such interest. There was no response to the question but having recently joined Ralph McTell's Facebook fan group, I will get around to digging into its archives to see whether that was the source  ... and thanks again, Ralph, for your much appreciated contribution to our collection of 80th birthday tributes to Bob Dylan.  

In the fifth article in my series Cover Story, looking at different versions of the same songs, I consider three of the many interpretations of Ralph McTell's From Clare to Here , "my second most covered song "as he has put it himself ...



Ralph McTell: attributed at Wikipedia to Notthesameasyouremail, no less


Call it the folly or delusion of the man who is old know to know better.

But since I bought a guitar, coincidentally on the day Leonard Cohen's death was announced and my first new guitar for more than 30 years, I have spent more time on Ralph McTell songs than any others.

It is open to respectable doubt whether anyone other than unfortunate family members and friends will ever hear my version of From Clare to Here, a poignant tale of the work-booze-fighting-yearning London existence of an Irish navvy far from his home and love in the west of Ireland. The same applies to Streets of London and Last Train and Ride




All the same, it's a great song - all three are and even then they constitute only a fraction of McTell's wonderful output - and even my tortured efforts to do it any kind of justice give me pleasure.

But in which more professional hands does the From Clare to Here make the greatest impact?

As with all instalments in this series, it is ultimately a matter of individual taste. Partisan listeners will always make strident, absolutist claims on behalf of this or that performance and you see evidence of that in the comments that often follow YouTube clips of the song.

No rebuke is intended; I have been a partisan listener often enough. McTell himself starts with an advantage in that for many, the original is invariably the best. I see the case for that view but dismiss it (if I did not, this series would have no real purpose).

So I shall declare here and now that no one, for me, touches Box Fox's combination of warm, accomplished vocal delivery, the perfection of his guitar accompaniment and the flash of inspiration that led to the song running into the mournful air Women of Ireland, exquisitely played by Deidre Ruane, Chris Leslie and Norman Holmes.

If I allow myself one pedantic gripe, I do not believe an Irishman would talk of his "mum" craving a letter home from her exiled son; "mam" or "ma" feels more authentic. 




Fox recorded From Clare to Here on his album Dreams Never Leave You, which as The Daily Telegraph's folk critic at the time I chose as my album of 2000. Bob has often ribbed me because my initial review, while positive, suggested no such accolade was forthcoming; the album simply grew and grew on me and I still frequently play it in the car.

I cannot fault McTell's version of his own fine song, or I should say versions since I have come across a few and seen him perform it live, as I have Box Fox.

The one I chose for this article, from RTE's programme The Late Late Show, includes lush embellishment provided by the Irish broadcaster's Concert Orchestra.

Many readers may prefer it and the arrangement does not jar as did the orchestral strings added for chart-climbing purposes to Streets of London.



Nanci Griffith removes our hero's long-lost Clare love, Josephine, so that it's "family" he misses, not the girl he promised to return to.

But it is a gorgeous rendition and I am not remotely surprised that so many people have "liked" it at YouTube and/or left admiring comments.

And of course, many more people have recorded it, tribute itself to the quality of the song. I am thinking of Jim McCann, Paddy Reilly and the Fureys but you will locate other examples with a simple search and may wish to commend one of them to our readers.

This is not a competition, more an excuse to share the music I love with the larger numbers of people visiting Salut! Live these days. Feel free to add your comments - or just to appreciate the clips I have posted and feel a spot of gratitude that I have resisted any temptation to make and include my own.

* With thanks to my friend Joan Dawson for suggesting this among other songs that might be mentioned in the Cover Story series


All or any of those featured here can be bought from Salut! Live's Amazon link - just click on the record title:
513pTh8vBnLRalph McTell, on his album Right Side Up 513AspMFNwL
Nanci Griffith: it is on her album Emigrant, which I cannot locate at Amazon but also appeared as a single, From Clare to Here  which does pop up on searching the site.
Bob Fox: on his album Dreams Never Leave You


Joan Dawson

The Ralph McTell version has a special place as of course it's the original, and one I listened to a lot as a student. However, I agree with Colin that weaving in Women of Ireland lifts it to another level and Bob's equally beautiful voice fully does the song justice. So that would swing it if I had to vote. I will have a listen to the Nancy Griffith version. Colin is a brave man in singing it ... I don't think I could attempt it though if you ever make it up here to a session Colin I will do my best to join in!

Ian Evans

I know I am, and always will be, a Bert Jansch fan but it is worth checking out his version of From Clare to Here.

Colin Randall

I will for sure, Ian. Your comment reminds me of its existence! Like you, I greatly admired Bert Jansch.

Tony Dean

(Via Facebook) It's late, guess I'm missing Clare but it' the essence of the man who wrote the song, delivers it with such empathy that has me with hanky now instead of slumber.....

Colin Randall

Ian: I cannot locate Bert Jansch's version online. Have a you a link to somewhere I haven't thought of looking? I may have it on one of his albums but they are divided between here and London

Bob Kirkpatrick

Heard Bob Fox "up close and personal" doing this....magic!

Bill Taylor

This is a hugely covered song - there's even a "relaxing piano music" version! I'm not sure if he ever did but I'd love to hear Christy Moore sing.

Sharyn Dimmick

Here's another version to consider, by Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald of Nevada City.

Colin Randall

I don't know why people do it, Sharyn. Beeswing has suffered more than once from the impulse of others to shorten the song when covering it

James Kendall

Long time Ralph McTell fan here in the states. I’ve been trying to put together a playlist of covers of McTell songs by women, but other than Streets of London and From Clare to Here, I’m not finding much. Are you aware of any, or of a site listing McTell covers.

Colin Randall

Good question, James. I did come across Zimmerman Blues by a band that includes a female vocalist (Good Men of the Jungle). She did not take the lead, at least not in the first part after which I'm afraid I gave up. A few female covers of Streets of London, of course, but you didn't want that (if you haven't done so already, check out the Crisis at Christmas charity remake produced by a pal of mine Frank Gallagher and with the Crisis choir, Ralph and Annie Lennox singing (

Colin Randall

James: I asked at the Ralph McTell Appreciation Facebook group. Replies so far

Mishaped Pearls - First and Last (Wo)man

June Tabor (of Silly Sisters fame) does a striking version of Bentley and Craig.

Mary Hopkins. Silver Birch & Weeping Willow, Kew Gardens.

Colin Randall

And I’m now told he wrote White Dress with Dave Swarbrick, beautifully sung by Sandy Denny . But I'm not sure - I thought it was written by Swarb and Sandy, one online reference says Swarb alone and another Swarb/McTell.

Liam Riley

Via Facebook

Having seen Ralph McTell live so many times in Ireland, England and Wales, I would struggle to say anyone sings 'Clare to Here' better and some of the Irish singers sing it way too fast, The Fureys for example.
Nevertheless, my two alternative favourites are from here in Ireland, by the wonderful Jim McCann RIP and Susan O'Neill ('SON') who sings a most beautiful and very haunting version with Sharon Shannon. Both easily found on youtube☘☘🇮🇪

Nina Grand

Nanci Griffith’s voice and emotion was just right for certain types of songs at this partcular point in pretty. I hadn’t heard this one before. Thanks Colin.

Gerry Hassett

Via Facebook
My dad was from Clare and he quite liked this, though he had a much happier and less violent experience of emigration than the bloke in the song. All of these interpretations have their merits but, to be fair to Ralph, his performance featured here is far more saccharine and much less edgy than his original solo acoustic version.

Darius Drewe

Via Facebook
My old music teacher, Ralph 'Folksy Bart' Barton, used to do the best rendition of this I ever heard. It was also the first I heard, before I even knew that the 'other' Ralph had written it.

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