Where The Dirty River Flows

How a nighttime walk in South London inspired the song

“Where The Dirty River Flows” is released on all streaming platforms today. This is the short story of where that title came from.

Listen to it now:

Years ago I lived in South East London, a concrete covered area of industrial estates and rows of identical houses. I’d been having a pint with workmates in the center after work, and my route home was a night bus and then a walk through those “mean streets”. The place was still and deserted as I hurried home.

South London actually has many rivers – but you don’t ever see them. That’s because almost all have been covered over. They run underground, on their way into the Thames. (Some are now part of the sewage system.)

I grew up in West Wales, in a very green coastal area called Pembrokeshire. Rivers and streams were a big part of my childhood – we fished, swam and played in them. (St Catherine’s Bridge on the western branch of the River Cleddau was a regular destination on summer evenings.) Their names were in our vocabulary, and the places that they could be crossed determined how you would get from one place to another. They were so clean that we often drank their clear water. I left Wales at the age of 17, and never again lived anywhere as beautiful as that. I still miss, the remarkable countryside of my childhood. I feel more comfortable, more peaceful, near a river winding through trees and fields. They do something to my soul.

That night, the line “Where The Dirty River Flows” popped into my head. It seemed to have an emotional resonance for me, and when I got home, I wrote it down and started playing with it. The idea of that endless concrete, of buried, polluted rivers, gives me a feeling of loss, of something gentle and nurturing taken away forever.

Just occasionally, a song will “write itself” in half an hour, but mostly it isn’t like that. It was some years before the guitar riff, and “Take Your Psychic Airplane” – the image of a high-up, dream-like state – became part of the “Dirty River”.

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