An occasional series in which John Beresford explores the stories behind Ralph McTell's discography.

Save the Last Track for Martin

It might be just coincidence, but, following Ralph’s 2007 trip to Australia, there was a significant increase in the number of his vinyl LPs for sale on Australian record shops’ websites.

Of particular interest is the Australian version of "Slide Away the Screen", which was issued in Oz by Suta/Polydor in 1980. This LP has the same tracks as the 1979 UK version except for the last track, which has "Song for Martin" in place of "Save the Last Dance For Me".

This was two years before "Song for Martin" appeared in the UK on "Water of Dreams". The musician credits for the tracks are almost identical, suggesting they are different mixes from the same recording session. The Oz version has a prominent sax part (by Jack Lancaster), which is missing from the UK mix, and the vocals are different takes.

It seems that the "Song for Martin" recording session was after the UK release of "Slide Away the Screen". This suggestion fits with the line-up of backing musicians (eg Phil Collins on drums), and with the fact that "Martin" does not appear on the "Slide Away the Screen and Other Stories" CD, which includes extra tracks for the “Slide Away” sessions. In fact, the track notes in “The Journey” box set give the recording date of "Water of Dreams" as June 1980… so I guess that answers "When?"

But not "Why?”

Ralph takes up the story: “ ‘Song for Martin’ was a single in Oz around the time that I toured there with a certain Mr Alan Oshlack (the brother of my promoter, Ian). Alan formed Suta records and as far as I know mine and his were their only releases. This of course makes them very collectible rarities. Profits from ‘Martin’ were donated to a drug clinic. I hope the addicts did better out of it than me. I made no money to speak of but the album was available so it was only natural to add the single to the product.”

Alan fills in the details: “The Suta Record label was formed around 1979. My musical name is Alan Japaljari, later changed to Al Japaljarri, and I originally brought out two singles and an Album, ‘Soul on a Shoestring’. When Ralph toured in 1980 he had no record deal and his brother who was managing him sent out a master copy of ‘Song for Martin’ b/w ‘Promises’, which we released independently as a single on the Suta label. When Ralph toured, Polydor/Polygram did a lease deal with us for the release of ‘Slide Away the Screen’. The deal stipulated that ‘Song for Martin’ be on the Australian album, removing ‘Save the Last Dance’. The original Hipgnosis cover was retained, only changing the last track on side 2 and adding the Polydor and Suta logos. We also then released a further single from the album, ‘Harry (Don’t Go)’, with a little paper cover, and put ‘Save the Last Dance’ on the flip side as we had the master.

“ ‘Martin’ got a fair bit of airplay along with some TV as we also recorded and edited a film clip. During the tour Ralph also did a live version of ‘Martin’ on TV with a studio band on an evening variety show. The arrangements for the band were done by a friend, Craig Benjamin, who played sax and flute on my ‘Soul on a Shoestring’ album.”

Of Ralph’s album, Alan says, “The Australian pressing of ‘Slide Away the Screen’ is excellent. I play that album every day - it is an absolute classic, one of the great albums of that era.”

Alan Japaljari’s LP "Soul on a Shoestring" was released on Suta Records (SRLP 1001) in 1979. For details of Ralph’s Oz releases see "Further by the Day". The Suta releases crop up occasionally on eBay, so keep your eyes peeled… you might find a rarity.

With thanks to Ralph and Alan for sharing their memories.

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