Dirty Old Town

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"Dirty Old Town"
Dirty Old Town Dubliners.jpg
Single by The Dubliners
from the album Drinkin' and Courtin'
B-side "Peggy Gordon"
Genre Folk, Pop
    Label Major Minor
    Songwriter(s) Ewan MacColl
    Producer(s) Tommy Scott
    The Dubliners singles chronology
    "Maids When You're Young Never Wed An Old Man"
    "Dirty Old Town"
    "Hand Me Down My Bible"

    "Dirty Old Town" is a song written by Ewan MacColl in 1949 that was made popular by The Dubliners and The Pogues.



    The song was written about Salford, then in Lancashire, England, the area where MacColl was born and brought up. It was originally composed for an interlude to cover an awkward scene change in his 1949 play Landscape with Chimneys, set in a North of England industrial town, [1] [2] but with the growing popularity of folk music the song became a standard. The first verse refers to the gasworks croft, which was a piece of open land adjacent to the gasworks, and then speaks of the old canal, which was the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal. The line in the original version about smelling a spring on “the Salford wind” is sometimes sung as “the sulphured wind”. But in any case, most singers tend to drop the Salford reference altogether, in favour of calling the wind “smoky”. (This is the case in MacColl's own 1983 recording of the song. [3] )

    A portion of the canal referenced by the song Ladyshore Waterson.JPG
    A portion of the canal referenced by the song
    Salford Docks, another place mentioned in the song Manchester Dock No 9.jpg
    Salford Docks, another place mentioned in the song

    The Pogues Version

    "Dirty Old Town"
    Single by The Pogues
    from the album Rum Sodomy & the Lash
    Released19 August 1985
    Genre Celtic rock
    Label Stiff
    Songwriter(s) Ewan MacColl
    Producer(s) Elvis Costello
    The Pogues singles chronology
    "Sally MacLennane"
    "Dirty Old Town"

    Released on Rum Sodomy & the Lash in 1985, the Pogues' version reached number 62 in the UK and 27 in the Irish charts when released as a single. [4] It has been certified Silver for sales.

    The Pogues' version of the song is played during the team walk-on at Salford City FC. [5]


    John Leland at Spin called the song, "a sparse melancholy reminiscence of love in an industrial sewer. The Pogues are a crudely affecting bunch of romantics." [6] AllMusic said, "while Shane MacGowan may not have written "Dirty Old Town", his wrought, emotionally compelling vocals made [it] his from then on." [7]


    The Dubliners version

    Chart (1968)Peak
    Ireland (IRMA) [8] 10


    RegionCertification Certified units/sales
    United Kingdom (BPI) [9]
    The Pogues version

    Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

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    1. Ewan MacColl Songbook
    2. Rogers, Jude (29 June 2020). "Dirty Old Town — why Ewan MacColl wanted to take an axe to his neighbourhood". Financial Times . Retrieved 16 April 2022.
    3. Black and White (Media notes). Cooking Vinyl. 1990. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
    4. "Dirty Old Town". Irish Charts.
    5. Brent, Harry. "'Dirty Old Town' is about ENGLAND - not Ireland - as secrets about famous Pogues and Dubliners song are revealed". The Irish Post. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
    6. John Leland (December 1985). "Singles". Spin . No. 8. p. 32.
    7. Deming, Mark. "Rum, Sodomy & the Lash – The Pogues". AllMusic . Retrieved 20 May 2014.
    8. "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Dirty Old Town". Irish Singles Chart.
    9. "British single certifications – Pogues – Dirty Old Town". British Phonographic Industry . Retrieved 18 February 2022.