"Dirty Old Town" is a British song written by Ewan MacColl in 1949 that was made popular by the Dubliners and has been recorded by many others since.
The song was written in reference to Salford, then in Lancashire, England, the town where MacColl was born and brought up. 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 first verse referred to the Gasworks croft, which was a piece of open land adjacent to the Gasworks 53°28′50″N 2°16′36″W / 53.4806°N 2.2768°W, and then speaks of the old canal, which was the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal
The song was written about an English town, but later became associated with the Dubliners and the Pogues with a few word changes.
A portion of the canal referenced by the song
Salford docks, another place mentioned in the song
Recordings and performances
Notable renditions of the song include:
- The first recording, Ewan McColl, on the flip side of Alan Lomax and the Ramblers, Decca F 10787 (single, UK, 1956).
- Folk singer Jackie Washington on his 1962 album Jackie Washington
- Esther Ofarim in 1963 and 1964
- The Spinners, the Settlers, Donovan, Gary Shearston, and Chad & Jeremy, all in 1964
- Roger Whittaker, on his 1968 album Durham Town
- The Dubliners, charting in the Top 10 in the Irish Charts. Also appeared on their 1968 album Drinkin' and Courtin'
- Rod Stewart, on his 1969 first album, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down
- The Clancy Brothers, on their 1970 album Flowers in the Valley, sung by Liam Clancy
- The Pogues, on their 1985 second album, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
- Townes Van Zandt as a limited edition single, recorded September 1996
- The Specials, on their 1996 covers album Today's Specials
- Emscherkurve 77 as "Alte Dreckige Stadt" in German, on their 2001 Album Die Macht Vom Niederrhein
- The Mountain Goats, on their 2002 EP Devil in the Shortwave
- Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, on their 2003 EP, Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead and 2003 film, Dirty Old Town
- Donovan, on his 2004 album, Sixty Four (recorded 1964)
- Frank Black (accompanied by Marty Brown) on his 2006 double album, Fast Man Raider Man
- Lorraine Leckie and her Demons on the 2008 album Four Cold Angels (with Spider Stacy of the Pogues and Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre)
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, on their 2009 live album, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Live
- Cutthroat Shamrock, on their 2009 album, Blood Rust Whiskey
- Nolwenn Leroy on the 2011 re-release of her album Bretonne
- Bettye LaVette on her 2012 album, Thankful N' Thoughtful
- Played in the final moments of Charb's memorial ceremony, after his death during the 2015 Paris attacks.