"Dirty Old Town" is a song written by Ewan MacColl in 1949 that was made popular by The Dubliners.
The song was written in reference to Salford
, the town where MacColl was brought up. Salford is, in fact, a city. When MacColl first wrote the song, the local council were unhappy at having Salford called a dirty old town and, after considerable criticism, the words of the song were changed from "smelled a Spring on the Salford wind" to "smelled a spring on the smoky wind". The Spinners made the first popular recording of the song and they sang "Salford wind". This was hardly surprising as the lead singer on the track was Mick Groves, a Salfordian. It was originally composed for an interlude to cover an awkward scene change in MacColl's Salford-set, 1949 play Landscape with Chimneys
, but with the growing popularity of folk music
the song became a standard.
The song paints an evocative yet ultimately bitter picture of industrial Northern England, and presages to some extent the Angry Young Man school of the 1950s.
Because of the song's association with The Dubliners and The Pogues, most people tend to think of it as an Irish song, indeed, in Ireland the lyrics are popularly thought to refer to Dublin. Many people, even in England, are surprised to hear that the song was written by a Lancastrian of Scottish descent.
Notable renditions of the song include:
- The Spinners, The Settlers, and Chad & Jeremy, all in 1964
- Roger Whittaker, in 1968
- Rod Stewart, on his 1969 first album, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down
- The Clancy Brothers, on their 1969 album "Flowers in the valley", sung by Liam Clancy
- Eddie Carr - 45 on People label - unusual for being a R&B/soul version.
- The Pogues, on their 1985 second album, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, the rendition perhaps most familiar to modern audiences
- U2, sometimes briefly performed in concert, often with drummer Larry Mullen Jr on vocals, such as the 27th August 1993 live at Dublin, Royal Society Hall, during the Zooropa Tour.
- The Specials, on their 1996 album, Today's Specials
- The Mountain Goats, on their 2002 EP Devil in the Shortwave
- Tom Waits, sometimes played live for example on December 31, 1988 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.
- Simple Minds with Jimmy Johnstone in 2003
- Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, on their 2003 EP Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead and as the title song of their concert film from the same year, Dirty Old Town
- Frank Black, on his 2006 album Fast Man Raider Man.
- The Tossers play the song live regularly, and it is featured on their Live at the Metro album.
- Lucero often covers this song live.
- Jason DeVore of Authority Zero covers this song on his solo album Conviction (The Smokehouse Sessions)
- Jackson Jackson, from Melbourne, Australia, uses parts of this song on their debut album The Fire is on the Bird, as choruses for the song Cats Rats and Pigeons.
- David Byrne, performed live with drum machine in the early 1990s, captured on the bootlegs "A Head Talks Alone" and "An Acoustic Evening with David Byrne and Richard Thompson," not to be confused with an Afro-Cuban song of the same name on Byrne's album Rei Momo.
- The Mottled Dogs played the song the 2007 on Barbacka.
- Graham Norton in his role as Father Noel Furlong in the sitcom series Father Ted.
- Breton singer Gilles Servat created two French translations of this song, one for his studio recording Sur les quais de Dublin (1996) and another one for his live album Touche pas à la Blanche Hermine (1998).
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sometimes play the song live.
- Van Morrison have played it live once. In Celtenham in 2003.
- Easter Rising have played the song in many concerts.
- The Lancashire Hotpots created a parody of the song called This Lancashire Town on their album Never Mind The Hotpots.