Small Voice Calling has Three Strands:
... surveys Ralph McTell's career as a songwriter and performer.
... explores the source of many of Ralph McTell's song lyrics - the stories he remembers from Sunday School.
... reflects on themes in Ralph McTell's songs that echo my own experiences.
Ralph McTell in 1971
I was shocked and disappointed by the suggestion that being a Christian was somehow an 'easy option'. Worse, I could see no context for it, neither in the song nor in my admittedly limited experience.
Nor did Ralph explain it. He had none of the between-songs patter then that has so enthralled his audiences in more recent times. I felt strongly that I wanted to understand the song, and, more importantly, my reaction to it.
That's the backdrop to this website.
Ralph McTell was a headline act at The Marquee Folk Concert, which was held on Platt Fields in Fallowfield, Manchester in 1971 and 1972.
In 1971, Ralph sang Small Voice Calling. It was clearly unfinished, but the chorus caught my attention:
"There's a small voice calling our names outside
and he says that he knows us.
He says he remembers us from way back
and he knows where we've been."
That's how I remember it. I was 19 and I knew that voice.
Three years later, 'Streets of London' was an international hit and 'Ralph McTell' a household name.
Ralph McTell is an English singer, songwriter and guitarist. In a career spanning five decades he has written more than 300 songs and tunes, released over 30 albums, toured extensively in the UK, Europe, America and Australia, and filled some of the world's most prestigious concert halls.
Small Voice Calling > Home
Ralph McTell at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970
"There's a small voice calling our names outside..."
I am a Cradle Catholic. That means I was born into a family that went to Mass every Sunday and 'practised the Faith'. I enjoyed the considerable benefits of a Catholic education. The Bible readings I had heard every Sunday and Holy Day since I was a baby had worked their way into my heart and soul, and, had anybody asked, I would readily have said that I was a Christian.
So, when Ralph McTell sang about a "small voice calling our names", I immediately thought of how, in a far off land long ago, God had called Samuel by name; and how Samuel's willing acceptance of what God told him led to a very significant development in the history of Israel.
Small Voice Calling
LP issued in Australia
LP issued in Holland
You might get an answer. In 1972, in the same tent in the same field, Ralph McTell sang Small Voice Calling again. A longer version this time - but one of the new themes confused me:
"There's a small voice calling our names...
But his name ain't Jesus.
That would be too easy nowadays, don't you agree?"
Well, no, actually, I don't agree!
I knew nothing then of Ralph's upbringing or beliefs, though it was clear from some of his song lyrics that he was well-versed in Christian thinking. For example, in 'Mrs Adlam's Angels' he sang about Sunday School; in 'Father Forgive Them' about Jesus. And 'Genesis 1 Verse 20' suggested a deep appreciation of the Bible. I liked this young performer's songs.
After the concert, I left the marquee eager to hear the song again. I wanted to find out whose voice Ralph thought it was... and how Ralph was responding to it.
It's a dangerous thing to ask a question in a song, especially if you sing it in public.
Ralph McTell in 1970
In 1972 Ralph McTell released a song called Small Voice Calling on the B-side of a vinyl single.
It didn't make the charts.
I first heard Ralph's music in 1969, and was immediately captivated. Ever since then I have sought and bought his recordings and travelled many miles to see him in concert. A list of my favourite Ralph McTell songs would be very few short of 300.
This website is dedicated to one of them...
Promotional single issued in UK