Dirty Old Town (3:43)

Cover of The Best of The Pogues

From The Best of The Pogues and 40 other releases

“Dirty Old Town” is a song written by Ewan MacColl in 1949 that was made popular by The Dubliners, & recorded by The Pogues for their 2nd album, Rum Sodomy & The Lash.

The song was written in reference to Salford, Lancashire, England, the city where Ewan MacColl was brought up. Salford is, in fact, a city. When he 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 Ewan 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.

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