Mudcat Café message #2711913 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #123172   Message #2711913
Posted By: MGM·Lion
30-Aug-09 - 12:37 AM
Thread Name: What did you do in the war, Ewan?
Subject: RE: Folklore: What did you do in the war, Ewan?
'I constantly hear what a bastard MacColl was; what evidence are we given for this? ' Jim asks above.

What follows is a true story, from my own experience as witness and bystander, to demonstrate that, for all his undoubted brilliance and virtues, Ewan could on occasion take his self-arrogated stewardship of the English Tradition to the point of arrogance, contentiousness and extreme unreasonableness, This happened in 1958, while Sandy Paton, who appears marginally in the tale, was over here. I shared a flat in Hampstead with John Brunner, a sf writer, later famous as author of Hugo-winning novels like Stand On Zanzibar, and already well-known in sf magazines. He it was who first introduced me to the folk scene in 1956. He contributed a regular column on the London Folk Scene, & on British folk matters generally, to a NY monthly folk newsletter, highly regarded at the time tho I fear the name escapes me after all these years. He wrote in one column, in a purely theoretical piece on traditional-v-revival techniques, that he wondered if folkies generally preferred to hear a talented revivalist or "an unaccompanied ancient Dorset farm labourer with a voice like a rusty hinge". Note that this labourer was purely fictitious, putative, archetypical: no particular singer was named.

A few days later, Sandy Paton, who hadn't read this article but knew both John & me, told me that Ewan was denouncing John in folk clubs for having insulted the great Harry Cox of Norfolk [not Dorset, note — they are not even near-together counties], by having written something about "scratchy-voiced old Harry Cox". And sure enough, next time I visited Ballads&Blues, Ewan announced he was about to sing one of Harry Cox's songs, adding "I am on a Cox-jag at the moment because he has been publicly insulted in an American journal by their London correspondent, one Brunner, who says he has a voice like a rusty hinge." I went home and told John, who had stayed at home that night to get on with a story. Our next-street neighbour Eric Winter, a much-respected member of the Scene, founder-editor of Sing Magazine and a prominent critic, read what John had written, compared it with what Ewan had asserted, and asked astutely "So who does think Harry Cox has a voice like a rusty hinge, then?"

So, in my presence, John confronted Ewan in the bar of the Princess Louise at the first opportunity, pointing out that he hadn't meant Harry Cox, but had simply referred theoretically to a purely fictitious source-singer. Ewan's response, in absolutely "My·mind's·made·up·don't·confuse·me·with·facts" tones, was to say "You rushed into print on a subject you knew nothing about and it was the duty of someone who knew better to set you right"; whereupon he turned on his heel and walked away, refusing to discuss the matter any further,

I repeat: I was there; I was involved; I saw and heard this last confrontation. I repeat that I had, and have, the utmost respect for Ewan's achievements in & contributions to British Folk, as anyone who recalls my review of Journeyman for The Times will know. But this does not blind me to the fact that, as this incident illustrates, he could be unspeakably arrogant as to his self-appointed not·to·be·gainsaid status as the Guardian-Of-The-Tradition, thoroughly unreasonable, grossly contentious ... and I think this might provide an answer to Jim's question.

Michael Grosvenor Myer