Friday, 15 February 2008


The purveyors of technology never tire from telling us that its advancement will save us time/money/energy and that we should embrace it wholeheartedly. But real life shows us that the reverse is almost invariably true. Email, mobile phones and other ‘labour savers’ have actually made our working lives faster, more stressful and given us less leisure time than our fathers and grandfathers. So much for progress.

Having got that out of the way, there is one tiny area of the techno-revolution that has actually saved me time. In my teens, I bought and subsequently taught myself to play an acoustic guitar. For many years after, if I heard a song that I liked I would settle down with my guitar for an hour or two and attempt to work out the chord progressions that underpinned the melody. This was a time consuming exercise that didn’t always yield the expected result but all my labours were recorded in an old exercise book (actually it was my Geology ‘A’ Level book that had only a couple of used pages in it when I left school).

These days, there is no need to do this sort of thing as a few taps on a computer will yield the chords for most songs you care to name so those hours of toil are avoided. Whilst this is very convenient, somehow it is not quite the same as using the product of your own diligence but then in view of the above, who am I to complain?

I don’t often play my guitar these days but I have resolved to do so more in the future thus I did blow the dust off it the other day and gave it a strum. Then I found my old chords book and flicked through the pages and it was there that I found it - a long forgotten song that I have not thought about for a considerable time. It is ‘Barges’ by Ralph McTell.

Poor old Ralph! Forever saddled with the albatross that is ‘Streets of London’. I don’t own any of his music, which is why I’d forgotten all about ‘Barges’ but its rediscovery was very welcome as I do like it a lot. In fact I liked it enough to sit down for an hour or so to work out the chords about 30 years ago.

It’s one of those sounds-like-a-trad-folksong type compositions that just drifts along with easy chord changes and a lilting melody but it is the lyric that is the killer. It paints a wonderfully evocative picture of innocent childhood spent fishing and watching the river traffic which harks back to an age of simple pleasures and unrestricted adventure that would have the health and safety police busting an indignant gut these days.

The very antithesis of our controlled rushing technology driven lifestyle today, in fact.

Can’t find any video of McTell doing 'Barges' on Youtube but this version by Mike from Halifax is just as good.

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