Monday 2 February 2015

Blood and Roses: The songs of Ewan MacColl

Neill and Calum MacColl
Concert for Ewan MacColl Celtic Connections 2015
A joyous celebration of the life and songs of Ewan MacColl and a family affair along with the English folk family the Carthys.  

MacColl was many things, a diamond in the rough - a self taught actor, playwright, author, singer, songwriter, activist, song collector. He is known for his part in the folk revival movements of the 60s. He wrote one of my favourite songs ever, the well loved - 'The First Tie Ever I Saw Your Face.'

He is also best known for his songs and tonight we were enriched by hearing them interpreted in the traditional tried and tested way by some of England’s and Scotland’s finest folk singers - Dick Gaughan, Karine Polwart, Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, The Blue Nile's Paul Buchanan, American musician Chaim Tannenbaum, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, his sons Neill and Calum MacColl, and four of MacColl's grandchildren.
Neill and Calum MacColl

The event was organized by his two sons (with folk singer Peggy Seeger) Calum and Neill MacColl, and by Kate St John. His second wife Peggy was unable to be there due to illness.  For Peggy he wrote one of the most perfect love songs - The First time Ever I saw Your Face and Neill commented that his parents had a display they called the 'Chamber of Horrors' for some of the dire covers of this now very famous song. 

The band played acoustically and included double bass, accordion and guitars and with stripped back arrangements so the songs were able to shine through. On stage there was a backdrop of black and white images of Ewan and his wife Peggy Seeger.   
Dick Gaughan
**Some true gems tonight –
Scottish folk legend Dick Gaughan and Karine Polwart began the concert with a strong interpretation of Ewan's song Ballad of Accounting. Gaughan also sang a dramatic Father's Song. Karine Polwart's truly felt cover of the song Nobody Knew She was There.

I especially enjoyed the Blue Nile's Paul Buchanan’s subtle interpretation of The First Time Ever I Saw your Face which was full of honest depth and heart and with none of those trills or unnecessary overdone vocal gymnastics so common these days on reality shows.

Eliza Carthy, Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy
English folk singer Martin Carthy sang with character Champion at Keeping Em Rolling and Freeborn Man of the Travelling People. Eliza Carthy performed with honesty and verve the MacColl songs Alone, Space Girl and The Fitters Song. Martin and Eliza Cathy were joined by Norma Waterson to sing a moving interpretation of MacColl's The Moving on Song. 
Pulp's Jarvis Cocker sang in his own very unique way the song The Battle is Done With.  
American musician and philosopher Chaim Tannenbaum impressively joined the cast of players. He sang MacColl's Go Down Ye Murderers and My Old Man and the well-known song now in the folk cannon, Shoals of Herring. (For 40 years, folk music’s first family, the Wainwright-McGarrigle clan, has enjoyed Tannerbaum's quiet support.)

MacColl's grandchildren performed some shanties.  Calum MacColl sang the well kent Sweet Thames Flow Softly and Neill MacColl sang the poignant The Joy of Living, before the encore songs for us all to sing along with - Dirty Old Town and Manchester Rambler.  

Jarvis cocker
Martin Carthy
Ewan McColl concert PHOTOS -
MacColl was a fine storyteller with a magic way with words and wrote life-affirming songs. McColl died in 1989 at 74.
His wife, Peggy Seeger, now 80, still tours and records. She is an American classically trained musician and part of another famous folk family - the Seegers (Pete Seeger).  Her father was Charles Seeger, a folklorist and musicologist; her mother was Ruth Porter Crawford, a modernist composer who was one of the first women to receive a Guggenheim fellowship.

They are also known for their folk club, The Singers Club, in London and their Critics Group a "master class" for young singers performing traditional songs or to compose new songs. Seeger and MacColl performed and recorded as a duo and as solo artists;

A four disc boxed set of MacColl’s songs to mark the centenary, will be released later this year and will include some of the singers at tonight's show.  MacColl's parents were Scottish
He has released albums twenty solo albums and thirty albums with Peggy.