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dirty old town

Ewan McColl

© Cooking Vinyl Limited

Written by Ewan McColl, the modern folk song Diry Old Town was probably made most famous by The Pogues.

It was recorded by Simple Minds as a tribue to Celtic football legend Jimmy Johnstone who was battling Motor Neurone Disease. The song appeared on the soundtrack of a film about his life (Lord Of The Wing) but Simple Minds first released it on Live And Rare.

Billy Sloan got the exclusive though and first played it on his Sunday night show on the 1st December, 2003.

Two versions were recorded in Glasgow during rehearsals for the Alive And Kicking 2003 tour. The first, featuring just Jim on vocals, appeared on the album. The second version, featuring Jim and Jimmy Johnstone sharing the singing, turned up on the single.

Feeling that the song needed more, Mick MacNeil was called in and added accordian to the song. It was his first recording with Simple Minds since 1989.

Jim also changed the lyrics. Instead of singing "Saw a train set the night on fire" he sang "Saw Jimmy Johnson set the night on fire."

On the 22nd May 2017, a terrorist denoted a bomb at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. 23 people were killed including the bomber. Simple Minds were on their Acoustic Tour when the atrocity occurred. They played Dirty Old Town at the Nottingham, London, Bristol and Cardiff concerts in memory of the victims and the people of Manchester. The night at the London Palladium was recorded, and the live performance of Dirty Old Town was released on some of the formats of Walk Between Worlds.

PP: "One thing with collaborating is that you always do well sharing your vocals in the spotlight. Whether it's backup singers or something like that live version of Dirty Old Town..."
JK: "It's great. She's great.. That Dirty Old Town was quite emotional. About six months ago that terrible thing in Manchester that bomb going off at the concert we were at Manchester and that was less than twenty four hours later, less than a mile from the event. Dirty Old Town was written by Ewan MacColl back in the 1960s about Manchester and about the soul of Manchester. And twenty four hours later there was even some doubt as to whether the gig was going to go on, or whether it should go on. It did and at the sound-check we said "Let's do a one off." And I think Sarah had never sung it. She sang it a couple of times at the sound-check. So what you're getting really is the emotion of the night."

Goldmine Interview
January 2018

"The song was poignant because of that horrible incident that happened in Manchester last year. There was a bombing at the concert. There were terrorists, and a lot of kids were killed. We were playing that night close by in Liverpool, so it was about 45 minutes drive away, maybe 50. We did the gig in Liverpool and we were on route to Manchester. We were due to play the next night, and the coach driver said to us, 'We may have problems getting into Manchester. Something terrible's happened there.'"

"We went to Manchester. We did get in, and we had to hang around the next day because the city was in a state of emergency. We had to see, first, if the concert was going to go on, and also, we had to figure out if playing music was appropriate, given the mood of the city. Anyway, the concert was allowed to go on and we wanted to play because that's our response to everything. We always want to play. But the theater we were in was less than 10 minutes from where the tragedy happened. And at the soundcheck, we said, 'We've got to do something positive, something for Manchester.'"

"'Dirty Old Town' was written by Ewan MacColl back in the 1950s about Manchester. But even within that, he's loving the city. He's loving the town, despite the grime, the dirt and the industrial landscape. We did it and we recorded it at the soundcheck. Played it at the gig and caught the moment. We just felt it would be good to let the world hear it, especially with the vocal Sarah Brown did on the track."

Songfacts Interview
March 2018

"As featured on our most recent album Walk Between Worlds, Simple Minds' version of the Ewan MacColl classic Dirty Old Town sung by the magnificent Sarah Brown has received a fair amount of plaudits particularly from critics in the US. On any given night of this current Simple Minds tour you can watch and listen as Sarah "brings the house down" with her interpretation, that for my money is as good as any that already exists. Great singers of course, always rely on great songs. Dirty Old Town is as good a song as it gets." - Jim, 17th October 2018

I met my love by the gas works croft
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

Clouds are drifting across the moon
Cats a prowling on their beat
Spring's a girl from the streets at night
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

I heard a siren from the docks
Saw a train set the night on fire
Smelled the spring on the smoky wind
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

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

I met my love by the gas works croft
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I Kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

Album Version (3:22)
Producer: Charlie Burchill and Gordy Goudie
Engineer: Kevin Burleigh

Live And Rare CD

Single Version (3:24)
Producer: Charlie Burchill and Gordy Goudie
Engineer: Kevin Burleigh

Dirty Old Town single Tribute To Jinky single

Live Version (27th May 2017) (4:53)
Recorded: London Palladium, London, UK: 27th May 2017
Recorded by Olivier Gerard
Walk Between Worlds Limited Edition Deluxe LP (Blue) Walk Between Worlds Limited Edition Deluxe LP (Pink) Walk Between Worlds Limited Edition Deluxe CD

live history
Lisbon Lions: 2007
Acoustic Live: 2017
Walk Between Worlds: 2018
Walk Between Worlds North And South American Tour: 2018