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”.

Things That Music Taught Me

With my friends Simone Magliozzi, Miraldo Vidale, and others, busking outside the Colosseum in Rome.

I’m in a philosophical and grateful mood. I’m grateful for all the amazing experiences, friendships, adventures I’ve had through music, and I hope for more to come. I’m especially for all that music has taught me!

Music can be a great teacher, if you let it (her?) be one for you. The discipline of practice, the social interactions, the progress and frustrations – I believe that these things can have a positive effect on people.

Anyway : here are some of the things that I hope music taught me.

  1. If you want to look good – focus on making other people look good.
  2. Music is not a democracy, it’s a meritocracy. Everyone gets a say – but those who show more wisdom and taste get a longer one. You have to earn that!
  3. The way to learn hard things is to try to make a tiny progress each day. There will be good days and bad days – don’t worry, carry on!
  4. Don’t compare yourself. There are always people better and worse, no matter where you are at.
  5. You can’t stand still – always try to be exploring and learning new things.
  6. Invest effort in things because you believe in them, because they speak to you and have value for you – not because someone else tells you it’s cool, or that you should.
  7. BUT : listen to those who’ve been around much longer and who have shown that they know what they’re at – even if what they say doesn’t make sense to you – just give it a chance.
  8. In any creative endeavor that is worth doing, there will be moments when it feels hopeless and you feel sure you should quit. Often this comes when the end is in sight. Don’t. This feeling is part of the deal. Summon your last reserves and “keep on keeping on”.
  9. Change stuff around every now and then.
  10. It’s OK to take a break.
  11. Take care of yourself – your health, your mental and emotional state, your dignity and self-respect. Love yourself as you would love your own child.

And here’s a bonus one : if you stay cool and stay in the game long enough – most things fix or heal by themselves in the end. Including ourselves.