2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
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2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act

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GUEST,Pseudonymous 05 Dec 19 - 07:15 PM
GUEST,Pseudonymous 05 Dec 19 - 07:35 PM
GUEST,Pseudonymous 07 Dec 19 - 06:34 AM
GUEST,Pseudonymous 07 Dec 19 - 06:42 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 07 Dec 19 - 09:32 AM
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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 05 Dec 19 - 07:15 PM

Regarding the name change, Harker takes what seems to me to be a reasonable approach. When he writes of the years when Jimmy Miller was known as Jimmy Miller, he calls him 'Jimmy'. Then, from the time when MacColl changed his name, he refers to him as MacColl.

I have found the book fascinating (and I speak as somebody born in the 1950s who knew very little about MacColl before reading it, though I did know something of Joan Littlewood and her left-wing theatre work!)

For example, MacColl, the book tells me, read and enjoyed the works of Lewis Grassic Gibbon - another pseudonymous writer - whose works I have recently begun to read. The book is full of such details, and seems to me to have been well-researched.

I think that MacColl's first meeting with Alan Lomax might have been a significant point, though he had done singing work before that. See page 95 and the section following it. Lomax seems to have been the first to take MacColl for a recording session (apart from radio work). This took place in 1951.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 05 Dec 19 - 07:35 PM

I would like, if I may, to suggest respectfully that at times one encounters something almost akin to hero worship when it comes to MacColl. It is, I would suggest, possible to try to take a more balanced approach without being 'right wing'. I would also suggest that it is possible to point out what appear to be historical facts about his political allegiances ( and to dislike Stalin and his regime) without being 'right wing'.

I will confess to voting Green on occasion, and I may do so again, given the importance of the environment, but for most of my life I have voted for Labour, and just did so again (via my postal vote, as getting to the polling station is cumbersome, especially given the weather).

Thank you for reading this.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 06:34 AM

Regarding the Critics Group, mentioned by Hootenanny and others above, it has indeed been mentioned here, and once again I think that Harker gives a balanced view.

He interviewed some people who went to the group, and also gives some of Peggy Seeger's hindsight thoughts about it. As I think I mentioned, it did involve song-writing and criticism, and the application of a techniques from both acting, and, if I remember aright, dance, but Seeger and MacColl themselves were not, Seeger says, subjected to the criticism. Seeger later said she thought that had been a mistake. For me, this difference between the two main organisers and the rest would suggest that the group was not as 'democratic' as it is sometimes said to be.

The criticism appears to have been in terms of political approval and 'authenticity' as well as in terms of aesthetics, singing style, projecting oneself into the song, and so on. But the account given by Harker is very much of MacColl as a teacher, and one who some of those attending found inspirational, whereas others just walked out. At the end of the session there would often be a fairly long lecture by MacColl:'you'd walk a foot above the pavement for the rest of the week. You would end up buzzing. It was special,' one informant told Harker. Another person described the experience as 'trial by ordeal'.People have differing views: some felt it could destroy people, others feel that some participants benefitted and even built careers as a result. Here I am trying to give a sense of the balance Harker tries to achieve between the different views.

The book has quite a bit to say about MacColl's ideas about what folk song was, and how it should be used by the left, informative here. It gives you an idea of the sort of criticism that might have been applied.

There were two BBC programmes about it in recent years, one presented by John Cooper Clarke and one by Martin Carthy. Both are interesting, and there are some recordings of MacColl delivering criticisms within the circle/group. These may still be available on the BBC sounds app. So there is quite a bit on the topic to add to what has been said on here.

See pages 184-191, pages 194 - 198, 213-219 (dealing with the somewhat acrimonious break-up which took place in 1972).

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 06:42 AM

Picking up another point in this discussion: some web sites do refer to MacColl as the 'founder' of the folk revival, and I don't think this is true. First, it downplays the role of Peggy, who I think was vital, and secondly, as Hootenanny suggests, there were other aspects of it. Some aspects of it were less political than others. At least some of the political aspect may have come from the states (via Blues, Lomax etc).

Speaking personally, I remember Hall and MacGregor being on TV (The White Heather Club?) when I was a kid. Until a couple of years ago, more or less all I could have told you about MacColl was that he wrote The Manchester Rambler (which you still hear sung) and Dirty Old Town (which I play, badly of course, and in a rather Poguesish manner). I didn't even know Joan Littlewood had been married to him.

Just giving my views, happy to be corrected if wrong.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 09:32 AM


Robin Hall & Jimmie MacGregor did appear on White Heather Club. But prior to this they had a much larger exposure from their long run on the BBC Tonight" TV programme.

"At least some of the political aspect may have come from the states (via Blues, Lomax etc)."

Believe it or not the UK did not need Lomax to teach us about politics and your suggestion that the blues had any political influence would suggest that you know even less about that scene.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 10:24 AM

Oh dear !!!
Jim Carroll

Prosppero and Ariel – The rise and fall of Radio. Personal recollections(extracts) G D Bridson, Gollantz, (1971)

Ewan MacColl and Joan Littlewood
Harding had invited me to try my hand at a programme about May Day. Briefly, the idea was to contrast the old bucolic three- times-round-thc-maypole tradition with the new conception of May Day as the day for social protest. Here at least was a theme which offered me possibilities. I built up a pleasantly varied mosaic in which Robin Hood plays and the May Day games gave way to the May Day rioting against imported Flemish labour under Henry VIII. May Day had soon become a cause of contention between the Puritans and the people: the Strand lost its maypole. Herrick and others restored the May Day jollity. But dancing Jennies gave way to the spinning Jenny: the Industrial Revolution began to pave the way for another. As for the nineteenth century, that gave me the chance really to try for a little fun! Tennyson, in the role of an increasingly hysterical Queen of the May, found himself cross-cut against a rising tide of industrial militancy, peter¬ing out in a final despairing squeak before the advance of or¬ganised labour. From there, of course, was a short step to the Hunger Marches, machine-guns in the Berlin streets, and the Internationale blared out over the loud-hailers in the Red Square. The programme ended on a quiet but equally ominous note in a poem of mine read by Robin Whitworth:

Cause enough, then, for their spending
One day in the old fashion—
All under way and the land mending . . .
Winter over with its winter ration—
Salt meat, dried fruit and the rest:
May gave them milk again and churns to freshen.

Yes . . . And the Spring, then, and the men out.
Spring again—and the men 'out’ still. . .
May Day, then, and a new order of things . . .
May Day, yes . . . And a new order of things .        . .

This was sounding rather a new note in British Broadcasting— or so Archie Harding decided. But the newest note of all came in the reading of a couple of stanzas from my Song for the Three Million, the number of the Unemployed in Britain at the time.
The stanzas were snarled out in seething anger by a vigorously proletarian voice that must have rattled the coffee-cups in sitting- rooms all over the country:

Cut the cost somehow, keep the balance whole;
Men are in the making, marching for the Dole.
Payday and May Day drawing to the poll,—
There’s a time to truckle—and to take toll.
Time to take toll—so watch where you tread:
The lesson in the bleeding is not to be the bled.

Bats are from the baking, cooling on the slab:
The duster at the knuckle, waiting for a dab.
Shout for your chauffeur or call for your cab:
Our kind of scathing is difficult to scab!
And stooping to the tramline, you can hear the tread
Of the done-brown damnfools—the living and the dead.

The voice was a new one on the air, the voice of Ewan MacColl, but there was no mistaking the message of the tramping feet behind it.
Ewan MacColl was himself a victim of the Depression. The son of an unemployed Glasgow steelworker, who had moved to Salford in search of work during the twenties, he had suffered every privation and humiliation that poverty could contrive for him from the age of ten. His memories of his early years are still bitter like his recollection of how to kill aimless time in a world where there was nothing else to do: “You go in the Public Library. And the old men are there standing against the pipes to get warm, all the newspaper parts are occupied, and you pick a book up. I can remember then that you got the smell of the unemployed, a kind of sour or bitter-sweet smell, mixed in with the smell of old books, dust, leather and the rest of it. So now if I pick up, say, a Dostoievsky—immediately with the first page, there’s that smell of poverty in 1931.”

MacColl had been out busking for pennies by the Manchester theatres and cinemas. The songs he sang were unusual, Scots songs, Gaelic songs he had learnt from his mother, border ballads and folk-songs. One night while queueing up for the three-and- sixpennics, Kenneth Adam had heard him singing outside the Manchester Paramount. He was suitably impressed. Not only did he give MacColl a handout; he also advised him to go and audi¬tion for Archie Harding at the BBC studios in Manchester’s Piccadilly. This MacColl duly did. May Day in England was being cast at the time, and though it had no part for a singer, it certainly had for a good, tough, angry Voice of the People. Ewan MacColl became the Voice, a role which he has continued to fill on stage, on the air, and on a couple of hundred L.P. discs ever since.

Shortly after May Day in England went out, a letter appeared in the correspondence column of the Radio Times over the signa¬ture of one George Potter. It gave high praise to the programme and ended: Broadcasting produces, or displays, a creative writer of real force, and the critics continue to retail nothing but the latest band-room and bar-room gossip. It is high time this par¬ticular temple is cleansed. I was surprised, when I met him a year later, to find that George Potter had been a discreet pseudonym for Laurence Gilliam, who had just moved over from the Radio Times to become a London feature producer himself. We were to see a great deal more of each other…..
pp. 35/36

That same summer of 1934, Northern radio made one truly unique recruit. While in London, Harding had acted as an adjudi-cator at R.A.D.A., where he had been asked to award the first gold medal for microphone technique. The girl who won it had a warmly engaging voice, excellent diction, and absolutely no fashionable affectation of accent whatever. She was not remark¬able at R.A.D.A. for that alone: she also happened to be a girl from a working-class home in the East End. As it transpired, she heartily detested R.A.D.A., for which she had won a scholarship, and equally detested the genteel mediocrity of the West End theatre of the time. Harding had been impressed with her, and had asked her to come and see him at Broadcasting House. She pre¬ferred to hock her medal, and go over to Paris for the Stavisky riots. By the time her money had run out, and she was back in London needing work, Harding had been transferred to Man¬chester. As he had promised to find her whatever radio work he could, she decided to follow him North. But where most girls would have borrowed the train fare, Joan Littlewood preferred to cover the hundred and eighty miles on foot. This she did with a small rucksack.
Sleeping under hedges, living on raw potatoes and turnips dug up out of the fields, hitching lifts and all that went to the usual picaresque tradition brought her finally to the Potteries. There she rested up in communal quarters with a group of families fighting a running battle against eviction from their homes. Perhaps it was the loss of the battle which eventually brought her on to Man¬chester. True to his word, Harding at once put her on the air; her story was also taken up by the Manchester papers. Beds were laid on for her in flats around the city, and Joan became a part of the Northern way of life. As she chose to put it herself: “I was a bum, but I was adopted for the first time in my life, as part of the whole humming scene. I was adopted by the autonomous republic.”
I sometimes wonder whether I ever met in anyone quite the same warmth and charm and utter sincerity with which Joan made the North her own. Over the next few years, I was to watch her captivate hundreds of people in every sector of Nor¬thern life. Her sense of fun was highly infectious; but only her power to deflate the pretentious was really dangerous. For her, the people who mattered were those who knew they had some¬thing they must create; the people she despised were those who had never found it necessary. She had no real ambition to act herself: her burning urge was to gather together a body of people equally devoted, who could be taught to act and react instinc¬tively as a group. There was something of Stanislavsky about it, but very much more of Joan Littlewood. In a way, it was almost exasperating that being such a natural actress herself, she pre¬ferred to try and coax good acting out of material far less talented. So far as the stage was concerned, perhaps she felt that appearances were against her: she looked too full of fun, and her gap-toothed grin was too engaging to carry conviction in very much more than comedy. As for her acting for the BBC, this she could never take seriously as more than a comic interlude. The BBC as a whole she found as absurd as it mostly was, and her parody of the BBC manner could embarrass even a BBC announcer. Harding and I and the rest had to endure her mockery, which was salutary for all of us. But despite her derision of the BBC, Joan was to play a very important part in making the sort of radio that I wanted. We worked at it happily together over the next few years.
Among the beliefs that I shared with Orage and Ezra Pound, was a firm assurance of the need for some sort of monetary re¬form. Various economic panaceas have been suggested. Once there was technocracy and today there is fluidity, but in 1934 there was Social Credit. And whatever one thought of that, the world-wide recession of trade at the time was more than enough to prove the need of an urgent shot in the economic arm. By way of publicising the need, I had just written a verse play called Prometheus the Engineer. It was written in the form of classical tragedy, and set in what I described as the Workshop of the World. Its hero, the Engineer, was vainly attempting to hold a balance between the factory floor and management. As was to be ex¬pected, he ended up as a victim of neo-luddite violence: the workers threw him to the machines.
Despite its anti-Marxist economics, Harding liked the play and accptd it; in due course it was cast and billed and went into rehearsal. Once again, Ewan MacColl was given a major part to play; there couldn’t have been a better choice for the militant leader of the workers. Robin Whitworth and I were billed as co-producers, he looking after the technical aspects at the control panel and I the speaking of the verse dialogue and the various choruses.

Since the death of Frank Nicholls, I had been looking around for someone who could take his place in a new series of Northern actuality shows. My choice fell on Joan Littlewood, whose charm and sincerity would have won the confidence of an anchorite. No persona was needed for her: she was everything in herself and be¬came almost as popular in the North as Harry Hopeful had been before her. After covering the Isle of Man, further country shows took us to Furness Fells and the Cheviots.

But it was in the trio of major industrial features that we did together that Joan achieved her greatest success in actuality radio. By 1938, the worst of the Depression was over, but unemploy¬ment was still at a desperately high level in many of the Northern towns. For our production Cotton People we went to Oldham to find the group of spinners and weavers that we needed. In the Oldham area there were more than three hundred mills: the week in which the programme was broadcast, only four of them were working full time.

Yet it was far from a depressing occasion when fifty Oldham operatives took to the air. Lancashire was my home county: I knew exactly the stuff that went to make up the Lancashire character. Once again, we relied upon careful scripting and home rehearsal to set the people on their mettle. Once again the method paid off handsomely, for the lively humour and sheer vitality of the mill folk whipped up over the air like an autumn gale on Blackpool promenade. This was Lancashire telling the world, and telling it inimitably. It was all I had hoped to do on radio with ordinary people telling about their ordinary lives—but facing up to living with quite extraordinary self-possession.
After Lancashire it was the turn of Yorkshire, but the broad¬cast that hit the air with most impact of all was the one we did with the Durham miners. Ever since the General Strike twelve years before, the plight of the miners had been deplorable. The towns that most of them lived in were little short of a national disgrace: their work was backbreaking and dangerous, the con¬ditions in which they worked were primitive and intolerable. Seams only eighteen inches deep were not uncommon in Durham; the workings were generally damp, and pithead baths were still to come.

A month’s work went to making the programme, during which time Joan and I familiarised ourselves with every aspect of the miner’s life. We went on shift with the men by night and morn¬ing; we helped with the hewing, loading and putting; we got the dirt engrained into our scalps and every pore of our bodies. Joan lived with a miner’s family—the son had been killed in the pit— while I put up in no greater comfort at the local miners’ pub. By the time that Coal came on the air, there wasn’t a miner at the pit who didn’t know us and treat us as one of themselves.

In Durham again, of course, there was a high rate of unemploy¬ment: many men had been out of a job for the main part of their working lives. One of the most moving stories in the broadcast was that of the hewer who had been out of work for so long, that when a job was found for him at last, his body had gone too soft for him to be able to hold it down. The sob in his voice as he told the story was hard to get out of one s mind.

On this occasion, response to the broadcast was more than a matter of critical bouquets: money poured in from all sides, with requests that it should be passed to to the miner in question. He was the lucky one: I wished there had been enough to have helped the ones who had not been mentioned. But one of the letters gave me particular pleasure. Enclosing his own contribu¬tion, the writer told me that the broadcast had given him a new pride in his office. It was signed by the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham.

Broadcasts such as Coal gave millions of listeners a new realisa¬tion of the true dignity and importance of men and women like themselves. Such broadcasts proved that everyone had something to tell his fellow-men, and a point of view that deserved a hearing. They also proved that everyone was capable of putting his point of view across, often far more pungently than those who were paid to do it for him. And that, let me emphasise again, was something new in the land.

Frank Nicholls and Joan Littlewood were soon to be joined by Wilfred Pickles, for whom I created the character of Bitty Welcome shortly after the start of the war. Between them, that remarkable trio probably did more to help the country to find its voice than anybody had done before. Within a matter of ten years they had won an appreciative audience for the man in the street. Since nothing succeeds so well as a good example, hearing one s neigh¬bour sounding off is the shortest way of becoming vocal oneself.

By the time that the war was over, and Have a Go was able at last to bring unscripted spontaneity to the air, people were no longer afraid of standing up to a microphone. The boiled-shirt image of the BBC as us’ had been swept away for good; and the free-for-all which followed had left ‘them’ with important parts to play in radio and television. The age of the Common Man had actually arrived; and that he could often be so superbly un¬common, Frank Nicholls, Joan Littlewood and Wilfred Pickles must all be thanked for helping to prove.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that a vital new theatre move¬ment was born in Manchester at the time when Cotton People and Coal were giving new vitality to radio. For it was there that Joan Littlewood first gathered together the group that was later to form the nucleus of Theatre Workshop. Known at the time as Theatre Union, that body of young enthusiasts had something they wanted to express in movement no less than in voice. Ewan MacColl was one of them, for in those days Joan and he were married: they had first met up in my broadcast Tunnel. Others were recruited by Joan from among the hundreds we got to know in all parts of the North.
I asked her in a broadcast recently what the North had meant to the movement she had founded there in pre-war days. She admitted it had meant everything—that what she had been able to start in Manchester could not have been started then in London. As the seed was later to bear such splendid fruit, I like to remember where the seed was first nurtured. So does Joan Littlewood.
                      69 -71

One of my first pleasures in my new capacity was to write and produce for the Home Service in 1959 a ballad opera called My People and Your People. This told the story of a group of West Indian immigrants in London, and the love affair between one of them and a young Scots skiffler. The girl was played by Nadia Cattouse and the Scot by Ewan MacColl, the other leading parts being taken by Cy Grant and Edric Connor. The action of the story moved from the warmth and gaiety of the Caribbean to the squalor and wretchedness of life in Rachmann’s London, rising to its inevitable climax in the Notting Hill race riots. I have the deepest affection for my West Indian friends, and perhaps no show that I wrote for radio in the fifties gave me more pleasure to mount or seemed to me more worthwhile. The music, arranged for me by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, was lively and magnificent, the contrast between its Scots and West Indian rhythms being no less intriguing than the contrast between the two idioms and accents. The authenticity of the latter, I might add, was notably helped by the collaboration of Andrew Salkey, whose ear for the richness of West Indian speech is far more accurate than mine.
pp. 254-255

I was to fly from Iceland to Greenland in search of the story behind the discovery of the settlement of Eirik the Red at Brattahlid, from which Leif Eiriksson had sailed away to discover Vinland the Good. The laying bare of their skeletons after nearly a thousand years, tucked away under the Greenland ice-cap, was one of the most romantic pieces of archaeology that I ever recorded. As with the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls, I was gratified to find the shows so well received by the listeners.
Such excursions into the past were far more to my liking than excursions into the current. But the main emphasis of my work was still upon creative radio—my own or other people’s. In 1959 I had written what proved to be the last of my creative docu-mentaries for the Home Service. This was Hazard at Quebec, in which I was able to reflect the latest historical estimate of Wolfe’s near-disaster on the St. Lawrence. My knowledge of the Cana¬dian scene, a love of Canadian wild-life which I shared with Audubon, the colourful presence of the Algonquins, and the ebb and flow of the action itself gave me a chance to write verse narration once more for Stephen Murray. Ewan MacColl was again on hand to sing the songs that the campaign had given to history, and John Hotchkiss provided a suitably evocative score, which followed the fighting to its triumphant close. All in all, Hazard at Quebec was the sort of show that I had enjoyed writing for something like twenty-five years, and I was glad to find that the romantic formula still worked.
                                                                                                                                     pp. 279-280      

Alan Lomax
I got back to the States in time for Independence Day, which the American end of Transatlantic Call was celebrating from Philadelphia, and this I was invited to attend. After his first three shows, Norman Corwin had fallen sick and been forced to retire from the series. His place had been difficult to fill, and with their new insistence on nothing but actuality, CBS were hard put to find any producer with the right experience.

By the time the show reached Philadelphia, they had found him—one of the few people in America who had spent his life recording actuality speakers (or rather singers) all over the States. This was Alan Lomax, whose collection of American folk-songs—recorded along with his father John A. Lomax—had formed the basis of the famous Library of Congress archives in Washington. Their work in the field has been honoured by every folk-singer since, from Ewan MacColl to Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.

Alan Lomax was a Texan, a large, powerfully built man with a great zest for living and for his work. He was very much a singer in his own right, apart from the folk-songs he had collected, and a compulsive mixer. In the first of his Transatlantic Call produc-tions, American actuality came alive: he spoke the same language and sang the same songs as Americans everywhere. More to the point, he was able to help them speak that language into a micro¬phone, and to get the full flavour of their characters across. The shows that he handled came over with the same American im¬press as the prose of Thomas Wolfe or the poetry of Whitman. He could interpret America because he was so American himself. My meeting with him in Philadelphia was a lively and hila¬rious experience: it was also the start of a long and valued friend¬ship. I never knew any American who more fully embodied the virtues—and the more engaging vices—of all his country¬men.

Alan Lomax soon introduced me to the sort of young Americans I had always wanted to know—the young liberals who stood for Roosevelt, the W. P. A. and the New Deal. Apart from Alan’s own family, there was Nicholas Ray, then working for the Office of War Information with Louis Untermeyer as a documentary radio producer. Nick was keenly interested in my own methods of actuality production, and he soon became one of my favourite drinking cronies until he went out to join John Houseman in Hollywood. There he quickly established himself as one of their most gifted directors with an avid post-war following among the nouvelle vague in France. Burl Ives was another of our circle, then making his name on CBS as the Wayfaring Stranger-—-an enor¬mous twenty-stone bull of a man with a nature as gentle as a girl’s and a tenor voicc as pure and sweet as a choir-boy’s. Otherwise, he was Gargantua—eating his pounds of steer at a meal and drink¬ing his wine by the quart flagon: my only drinking boast was to match him one evening, level-pegging on bourbon. Over the years, both in the States and around the British Isles, I was to work with him on some of my j oiliest shows.

With Alan and Burl, I soon made many friends among the Negro folk-singers then to be found in New York. There was the almost legendary Leadbelly—Hudy Leadbetter—whom Lomax’s father had found singing in a Southern penitentiary after killing a man in a brawl. He was then singing at the Village Vanguard, where he had come to rest after killing another man who had annoyed him. Luckily for me, I never did—and the songs which he recorded for me were a quite inimitable delight. At Downtown Café Society, I also grew friendly with Josh White—already well to the fore in the long struggle for Negro integration. Josh was a fighter for whom I had great respect, a man with a sense of humour who could still be as tough and mean as he sometimes had to be.

The violence of American life was something I gradually came to accept. I had seen men knocked out in bars, and on Christmas Eve was to watch the police club a Negro through the window of Dempsey’s Restaurant, while the loud-speakers filled Times Square with the strains of Holy Night. In Café Society one night I was eating peacefully with a party of friends and talking to Josh over our steaks. Sitting next to me, Alan Lomax suddenly jumped to his feet, seized the man at the next table and knocked him clean across his supper. Waiters rushed over, but saying nothing to Alan, threw the body into the street. I asked, in some astonish¬ment, what the hell was going on? “He annoyed me,” said Alan, sitting down again. Five minutes later, the man came lurching back, protesting that he wanted to apologise. With a vigilant waiter on either side, he approached our party again and held out his hand: Alan rose, prepared to shake it. “I didn’t mean to offend you,” said the man, “I only said that I didn’t want to sit at the next table to a goddam nigger.” Alan hit him again, be¬fore the waiters could drag him away. But this time, like every¬one else, Josh had heard the remark. He froze in his chair, then slowly rose to his feet as his hand reached for his pocket. Three or four girls at nearby tables rushed to pinion his arms to his side. The body was thrown out again without Josh being able to draw his knife—and the bevy of his admirers subsided back to their suppers again. He was obviously a very popular folk- singer . . .

Perhaps the only song more scarifying than Josh’s own Hard Time Blues was Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit, then to be heard at tlie Onyx on 52nd Street. But splendid singing and jazz was still to be found all over New York. Down in Greenwich Village, around Times Square or up in Harlem the bars and nightspots were crammed each evening with American servicemen on leave, and the town was there to please them. Ethel Waters, Maxine Sullivan, Hazel Scott, Pearl Bailey and Mary Lou Williams— these were only the best of the women I loved to hear. And the dancing of Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus was equally good to watch. As for the great jazzmen—that was still an age to remember, with Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Eddie Condon, Sidney Catlett and Red Allen, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. All were there to enjoy nightly, often enough for the price of a couple of drinks at a crowded bar.
pp. 101-104

When I got back to my desk I had a great deal of work to cope with, much of it being a hangover from my nine months’ stay in the States. I had left another ballad-opera lined up with Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in New York, a production which I had been loth to relinquish. This was The Martins and the Coys, a family-feuding comedy from the Apallachians in which the Nazis became even more acceptable as a target than everybody’s next- door neighbours. Once again, the cast was outstanding—the roster this time including Burl Ives, the fabulous Woody Guthrie, the young Pete Seeger, Will Geer from Tobacco Road and Lily May Pearson of the Coon Creek Girls. Roy Lockwood, BBC’s resident New York producer, made a lively occasion of it all, which luckily survives in one commercial recording.
pp. 114-115
‘In view of his interest in folk-songs—of which he claimed to know three or four hundred—and as he was shortly going over to New York, I gave him the telephone number of my old friend Alan Lomax. (Robert) Graves had a great admiration for Lomax’s work in the field, and the meeting between them should have been something of an occasion. He rang up soon after he arrived, and was asked along for an evening’s session in Alan’s flat in Greenwich Village. He announced his arrival at the bottom of the stairs by bursting into an Irish song himself, though he may have been shorter of breath by the time he had climbed to the top of the four flights. Unluckily, Alan had damaged his hand in a fight the day before, and he had to apologise for not being able to play his guitar. Urged on to sing without it, he felt himself so handicapped that he began to forget the words of the songs, no doubt because he was writing a book about something else at the time. He was even more embarrassed to find that the drink was running out as well, and in desperation suggested that he take Graves on to a party round the corner to which he had been in¬vited. When he had been corrected after introducing Graves as “The English poet—Robert Bridges,” he decided that it simply wasn’t his night. So apparently did Graves, whose dislike of Bridges’ poetry was intense, apart from the fact that he had been dead for thirty years. I never heard whether he looked in on Alan again, the next time he was in New York . . .
pp. 271-272

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 12:05 PM

Thank you Hootenanny for answering my question about the White Heather Club.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 12:58 PM

Re my previous comment that Lomax might have had something to do with the political aspects of the 2nd revival, the book we are discussing quotes MacColl himself on the important effect that Lomax had on him.

Regarding the question of whether blues had 'any political influence', the book mentions the Ballad and Blues Clubs. I thought it was accepted that MacColl's contemporary, Lloyd, also saw blues songs as some sort of example of what folk music might be. This is in his book about Folk Song.

My own view, based on my own experiences and those of others, is that blues, both of the sort collected by the older Lomax and as it evolved via jazz, was part of what made many young British aware of the US colour bar, though this still shocked musicians who were fans of the blues when they went over there and encountered it. I would count this as having a political effect. Look at the work of Paul Oliver, for example.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 03:01 PM

Fabulous contribution there from Jim.
That said, I had to shrink it to 80% to read it, which made it very small. couldn't you use shorter lines on mudca?

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 04:43 PM

Great stuff, Jim! Can we have some more please?

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Keith Price
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 05:55 PM

Good to see you back Jim.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: The Sandman
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 08:26 PM

I second that

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 07 Dec 19 - 09:09 PM

Just got the harker, abd Journeyman from Amazon, and Peggy on audiobook.
Soon i will be able to understand why you're all so angry and provide dazzling insights.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 03:05 AM

Thanks lads, good to be back, though I'm not sure for how long

I've been having a sort out and filing our overlarge collection of articles in preparation for making them available
I thought a dip into some of them might help sort out some of the misinformation here
This is from a review of two albums, A.L.Lloyd's 'First Person' and MacColl's 'Manchester Angel.
It is, I think, a pretty accurate analysis of how these two pioneers took traditional songs and made the songs relevant to contemporary audiences
It was written by Karl Dallas, no great friend of Ewan, but certainly a great admirer

This type of analysis by people who were around to observe what was happening on the folk scene , seems far fairer and mo efficient than throwing stones at long dead singers

I never really got on with Ben Harker's book - I once did a three page analysis of the factual errors and misinterpretations
I know that he interviewed several people for the book and totally ignored what he was told - this was certainly the case with the interview we gave
It is certainly useful for some of the background information on MacColl's brush with MI5
I found Journeyman somewhat disappointing and, on occasion, self-indulgent
I found Peter Cox's analysis of The Radio Ballads far more satisfying   
"The trouble with occupying the positions of leadership in the British revival that Lloyd and MacColl have carved for themselves is that each stage of their work tends to be regarded as holy writ. In fact, in the course of getting the revival going, both of them have learned a great deal about their craft and the likelihood is that they will continue to do so. Unfortunately both of them have been badly served by the recorded examples of their work, most of which have fixed the public impression of them at a much earlier stage than today.
This is especially true of MacColl, who has been most assiduous in his study of the living tradition and in attempting to apply those lessons to the problems of the revival singer, which are mostly quite different from the problems of the singer in a traditional environment. Both of them are much less declamatory in their style than once they were. Thus, Lloyd sings St James's Hospital in an almost conversational manner when compared with his earlier recording for Riverside, in which he made more of an attempt to approximate the street singer's style. It is certainly easier to take its jagged melody when played on the family record player in this way, and probably this interpretation is more "correct" in terms of how it is to be heard.".....

"There is a great temptation, whenever a traditional song seems a mite dull in the original, to liven it up. In the bad old days, this was usually done by the addition of an unnecessary guitar beat; these days the singer may be tempted to resort to elaborate ornamentation, bending the tune into a more "interesting" mode, or other flourishes and curlicues. When the singer is as skilled as Lloyd, the result is often a new creation of great artistic merit; but it would be a pity if the result of his artistry were to prevent less skilled performers from grappling with the song in its original form. Lloyd is also a skilled re-maker of old songs which seem to have been lost to tradition."....

"All of MacColl's songs on this record are English in origin, which may surprise those who think of him primarily as a Scottish singer, but those who know he spent the earliest years of his life in the North-West of England. This is what makes his rendering of the Lancashire version of To The Begging I Will Go on this record particularly authentic in sound.
I have dwelt at some length on his tendency to dramatise songs, something he does much less than of old. But there are positive advantages here. His actor's training has given him the ability not only to get inside the song but to get inside the character who might have made it. This gives his readings the same sort of reality that the songs have in the mouths of traditional singers, which very few revivalists achieve. If it be objected that this is artifice, it is artifice of a very high order indeed.
He has also achieved a degree of control over his voice that is rare in the revival. One can argue with what he does vocally, but one thing is certain: what you hear is what he meant to do. His breathing is effortless, although sometimes (on The Bramble Briar, for instance) he drops the last syllable of an extended line rather as if he was running out.
One of his most notable achievements on this record is One Night as I Lay on My Bed, a truly lovely night-visiting song which he sings without apparent art, allowing the lyric to carry its emotion along"....

"All-in-all, these records give us what we have long needed, definitive examples of the way these two leading revivalists are now singing, having applied considerable experience and some knowledge of the sound of tradition to the problems of the revival.
As I have tried to suggest, it would be the reverse of pro¬gress for their solutions to these problems to be swallowed whole by other singers. But careful study of what they are doing, coupled with an attempt to understand why they are doing it, should mean that those who come after will be able to build on their experience and to avoid their earlier mistakes."
KARL DALLAS, Folk Music Ballad And Song No. 4, 1966.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 03:07 AM

Sorry - Cox's book was entitled 'Set Into Song'

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 03:44 AM

I can remember Ian Campbell telling me his phone was being tapped.

"Why would anyone pay someone to do that....?"
he wondered aloud.

Never mind about the inaccuracies, Jim. It will be just nice to remember Peggy and Ewan, who were good to me when I was young.

I saw their gig so many times, and they knew so much it never seemed repetitious.

take care Jim.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 03:45 PM

More fascinating stuff!
I have 'Till Doomsday' and 'Journeyman' and have read Joan Littlewood's big book, but what is the Ben Harker book called? No relation to Dave Harker I presume.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 03:54 PM


Err, its mentioned in the thread title: 'Class Act'.

No relation. The book says he is at Salford Uni at the time of writing I think.

Here is a web site about him:

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 08 Dec 19 - 05:13 PM

And I hope I may mention this, but it does have some quotations (maybe I should say 'purported quotations' from both Pat Mackenzie and Jim Carroll. With apologies if I have misunderstood misinterpreted or misread something, but it seems fair to Harker to point out that he didn't simply interview them and then totally ignore the results.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 03:57 AM

"but what is the Ben Harker book called"
'Class Act'

Without the work of Ewan, Bert and other dedicated lovers of folk song, Folk Songs proper would have returned obediently to the Library shelves and archive cupboards when the Music Industry spat it out like chewing gum when they decided there was no more profit to be milked from it
A significan and growing number of devotees took up the baton passed on by Ewan, Bert and their like and ran with it for several decades, producing entertaining, well-attended clubs, excellent literature, thousands of hours of new material and a healthy song-making movement churning out many hundreds of songs
Peggy Seeger launched an irregular new song magazine, 'New City Songster, which ran for twenty issues and made available hundreds of songs from Wisconsin to Woomera, taking in Wolverhampton on the way
All this was part of Ewan's, Bert's, Bill Leader's, Gerry Sharp's, Dave Bland's..... and all those other dedicated people's legacy to future generations
It would be a crying shame to see that legacy wasted (maybe that's a bit to contraverial for this time in the morning)

Ewan wrote very little on his theories, he peferred to put them into practice in hi own singing and in work with others
Some of the best talks I ever heard on the singing of folk songs happened at the end of the CG meetings when Ewan would flop in his chair, say "i'm exhausted", then launch into sometimes hour-long soliloquies on a point that had been raised during the work session
Many of these were recorded and, fife decades later, still have the effect of making the hairs on the back of my neck bristle- as inspiring as they were forty or fifty years ago
I'm organising and indexing all those recordings to be archived properly and pass on to the family
I'm hoping that one of them takes those soliloquies and publishes them - that would be a real monument to Ewan's contribution to traditional song

One of the most detailed published examples of MacColl's work and ideas can be got from the (unfortunately overpriced) 'Legacies of Ewan MacColl' - the last interviews, by Allan F. Moore and Giovanni Vacca
No always the easiest read, but in my opinion, extremely fruitful - and uncluttered by the rumbles of old score-settling

It really is time people started to think about what these people gave us before it's to late to make use of it

"purported quotations"
Are you suggesting Harker faked our quotes or we lied to him ?
Either seems to be par for your course and needs to be nipped in the bud if this discussion is to be allowed to continue in the friendly manner it is at present
We spent around two hours being interviewed by Harker for the book at a weekend in Salford Uni. held in honor of Ewan's contribution to folk song
We also gave an hour's long talk on him and were able to set p a mini-singing workshop for inexperienced singers in order to demonstrate how The Critics Group method worked

If anybody is interested, Dave Arthur quotes some of the things I wrote about my impressions of the Critics Group in his rather pleasing book on Bert Lloyd - he took them from this forum, I'm delighted to say
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Iains
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 04:59 AM

We also gave an hour's long talk on him and were able to set p a mini-singing workshop for inexperienced singers in order to demonstrate how The Critics Group method worked
Do you think this method was exclusively developed by MaCcoll, or derived from prior collaboration with Joan Littlewood?

An insight below:

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 05:18 AM

Nice article thre Iains - I'm gratefull to get it, it fills in some of the things Ewan said
Ewan made no bones of the fact that much of what he brought to the Critics came from Theatre Workshop
His sencond wide, Jean, took Laben's theory of movement and adapted it for Theatre work (particularly dance)
Ewan brought it to folk song and used it for analysing voice production - Group took what Ewan brought and adapted it individually for their own circumstances
Nelson Illingsworth work was regularly mentioned (apparently his official field of study was Urn Burial)
The most complex work - how a singer relates to the individual songs he/she was based on Stanislavski's so-called 'Method' using 'the application of the idea of "IF"' and emotion memory
This was ground-breaking stuff as far as singing is concerned and, for me anyway, it still keeps my songs as fresh as when I first learned them decades ago
One of these days I really will make a user-pack of the relaxation and singing exercises and the relationship work we did
At least then, if it is rejected it will have been done so on it's own basis and not the urban myths and Chinese Whispers gossip
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Iains
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 06:13 AM

There is a whole body of work on Ewan MacColl, Joan Littlewood and the BBC where it can be argued that their innovative use of sound in the early 30's onward had a direct impact stretching as far as later TV documentaries.
It would seem to be a neglected part of his contributions.
peripheral but interesting

There is a lot of material out there in a similar vein.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 08:29 AM


I think the points you make are made in the biography, in some detail. One example would be the use of 'collage' techniques. This is one of the many reasons that the book is so interesting. I am not sure whether you have read the book or not, I'm guessing not. Is this correct? But useful links. I'd still say that people interested in this aspect would enjoy what Harker has to say about it.


You refer to my post in which I refer to quotations or purported quotations from you and Pat in the book.

This was a response to your own comment. I referred and now refer again to your post of 8th December, 3.05 am.

You said

"I never really got on with Ben Harker's book - I once did a three page analysis of the factual errors and misinterpretations
I know that he interviewed several people for the book and totally ignored what he was told - this was certainly the case with the interview we gave"

You yourself had said that Harker 'totally ignored what he was told', and that this applied in the case of the interview you and Pat gave.

Now I knew that both you and Pat seemed to have been quoted in the book. I could not see how this counted as totally ignoring what you told him. But plainly you were not happy with what Harker did with the data deriving from his interview with you and Pat.

If the quotations are accurate, then in my opinion, it would not be fair to state that Harker totally ignored what you told him. I felt it was only fair to Harker to point this out. Because even if he only quoted some of what you said then the word 'totally' did not apply.

So the question then arose of why you were dissatisfied with the way what you had told Harker was represented in the book. A possible explanation was that you had been misrepresented, which was why I suggested that the quotations might not have been accurate.

In a friendly spririt, perhaps you could clarify what you meant when you said that Harker 'totally ignored' not just what you and Pat said, but also what unspecified others had said.

Thank you.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 08:41 AM

For anybody thinking of buying the book, let me describe some of the research Harker undertook. He did indeed interview a number of people. Foremost among these were Peggy Seeger, whom he interviewed a number of times.   

Others include a number of other critics group members, including Michael Rosen and Sandra Kerr. For me, the fact that he spoke to different people and presented differing views is one strong feature of the book; you get a variety of points of view.

Here is a list (probably incomplete) of other people also interviewed by the author, over a period of several years. He plainly put a lot of work into the book.

Karl Dalas, Calum MacColl, Neill MacColl, Hamish MacColl, Clive Barker, Jean Newlove/MacColl, Vic Gammon, Wizz Jones, Rosalie Williams.

He also had access to the Seeger/MacColl archives and to tapes of the Critics Group.

His list of references runs to pages.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 09:08 AM

I read 'totally ignored'
didn't print anything we said.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 09:09 AM

MaColl, the book tells us, was influenced by a classics professor called George Thomson. I had not heard of this character, but one can see why he and MaColl might have been suited to eachother. Wiki says that Thomson voted against the CP's 'British Road to Socialism' because it left out the dictatorship of the proletariat. MacColl also disliked that policy, it being one of the things that turned him towards Maoism.

Thomson had ideas about poetry and theatre which would have and did interest and influence MacColl.

I had never heard of Thomson, and this is another example of the way that Harker situates MacColl in the left-wing culture of the times and provides a fascinating book.

On a minor point of detail, it is Laban, not Laben. I have heard this explained by former critics group members (possibly Sandra Kerr), and I think it comes in one of the BBC programmes. They used it as a way of analysing melodic variations if I remember aright, and if I don't happy to be corrected.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 09:18 AM

Thanks again Iains
I'm grateful for the two articles - being able to download them is a bonus
I hope Harker makes a better job of Theatre that he did of the Bio
Howard Goorney's book on Theatre Workshop is well worth seeking out as is 'Agit-Prop to Theatre Workshop', which includes three of Ewan's plays
It's often forgotten how highly regarded Ewan was for his theatre work
O'Casey wrote 'A fine play-write - a poet, I think -
Shaw wrote, typically; "apart from myself, MacColl is the most important figure in British theatre today"
Hugh MacDairmid, in his introduction to MacColl's play, 'Uranium 235, probably pai MacColl the greatest compliment when he described Scottish poet/play-write as "the Ewan MacColl of the 16th century"
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 12:16 PM

"MacColl washed his hands of British Party politics at the end of the war and had no connection with the C.P. whatever, so commenting on The British Road to Socialism, which was not published till the 1960s would have been a private matter and nothing to do with his contribution to singing"

1 The book is about the political and cultural life of Ewan MacColl. It is not a book just about his singing. His life began before and ended after the 1960s. Therefore, his views on The British Road to Socialism come within the author's remit. Moreover, the date for the British Road of Socialism as discussed in the book is the 1957 version, also a date within MacColl's lifetime and therefore within the author's remit.

2 I am assuming that the author of this well-researched book has his facts correct, so I hope he will pardon me for quoting. This is a knowledge thread, and therefore, getting the facts as correct as possible seems appropriate. This is what I am trying to do, and once again I think it shows how well put together the book is. I am sorry if this appears to be at odds with the 'facts' as stated by other posters. I simply aim to put the record straight.

"MacColl had rejoined the Communist Party in 1952 at a time when 'The American Threat to British Culture' had galvanised cultural policy in a fashion that excited him. The early days of the Cold War were like the Class Against Class period of his youth projected on to an international scale: on the one side was the decadent bourgeoisie of America, with its corrosive imperialistic culture; on the other, the progressive cultures of the international proletariat, with the Soviet Union in the vanguard." (p122)

"But the Communist Party's appetite for the cultural Cold War waned in the mid-1950s as Stalin's adversarial attitude to the United States gave way to a policy of peaceful co-existence, codified as the party's official position in the 1957 version of the British Road to Socialism"

The author then mentions Krushchev's denunciation of the Stalinist personality cult and the suppression of the Hungarian uprising.

"MacColl would take a hard line on these convulsions during his turn to Maoism in the 1960s. …   He dutifully appeared at Young Communist League cultural festivals in November 1957 and May 1958, but became increasingly remote from the party. Some time in the near future - and almost certainly in the early 1960s - he would allow his membership to lapse"

Harker says the precise date in unclear, but hopes that when the rest of MacColl's MI5 records is finally released the question may be answered.

I respectfully suggest, therefore, that it is not accurate to say that MacColl had nothing to do with party politics after WWII.

The idea that MacColl's politics were private strikes me as bizarre. But maybe that's just me. I had the idea that they were part and parcel of the man, and something he was fairly open about. But of course, everybody is entitled to their own view on this.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 12:48 PM

Freddy Heady

I read 'totally ignored'
didn't print anything we said.

I can see why people might read it this way, hence, as I've tried to explain, I took it up as it seems on the face of it that Harker printed a couple of quotations from each.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 12:55 PM

Harker got that wrong along with a load of other things
Ennough of this
You wanrt to discuss MacColl's politics get someone to open one on the below the line section where this sort of thing can be discussed - it has no place here
MacColl's politics were his own business - he had a right to believe what he wished - last time I looked Britain still goes though the motions of being a free and democratic State which seldom allows witch-hunts such as this

MacColl was an important and highly respected creative artist - that is what he is remembered and respected for
If you don't wish to discuss that, make room for those who do please
This has gone far enough

A reminder of what MacColl and Seeger dedicated their lives to
Jim Carroll

Citation for the award of the Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance and Song Society to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger

Today the English Folk Song and Dance Society honours a Scot and an American, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. This should cause no surprise-, the historical links between this Society7, Scotland and the United States of America are strong and go back a long way. The Folk Song Society, the older partner in what became the EFDSS, never envisaged that its work would be restricted to England and some of its members, including Lucy Broadwood and Gavin Grieg made important collections of material in Scotland. When we hearEw'an perform, as only he can, some of the great ballads from the Aberdeenshire collection of Gavin Grieg we can feel some pleasure at the role this Society played in the preservation of this unique and wonderful material.
Similarly the transatlantic links between members of this Society and North America should not be underestimated. The story of how Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles journeyed to the Southern Appalachians during the dark years of World War I is well known, as is the rich harvest of material they preserved in English Folk Songs’from the Southern Appalachians. Sharp’s work was an important stimulus in getting Americans to look seriously at their native musical culture and many collectors followed in his footsteps. As a girl Peggy Seeger was brought up in a house filled with the sounds of recordings of traditional musicians then being amassed by collectors for the archive of the Library of Congress.
Peggy’s mother was the brilliant avant garde composer turned folk music transcriber, Ruth Crawford Seeger and her father was the musicologist Charles Seeger, a towering giant in his field, a man of great scholarship and vision who saw that traditional music had an important and valuable role to play in modem society. Brother Pete first became famous with the Weavers in the 1940s, then as a solo performer with ability to move an audience to song. Brother Mike became an expert performer of old timey music as a soloist and with The New Lost City Ramblers’. In such a talented household it is hard to see how a young musician could find her own voice and style. Perhaps that was the impetus behind Peggy's travellings which in the mid 1950s brought this 'scruffy' (the word is Ewan’s description) young woman to England where she met Ewan and formed a partnership that has lasted over thirty years.
Ewan’s background was very different, early life in Salford, in the very streets that Friedrich Engels had described in his classic book of the 1840s The Conditions of the Working Class in England. Transplanted to one of the English heartlands of the Industrial Revolution MacColl’s family may have been, but his parents brought with them some of the treasures of a rich oral culture that stretched back for generations.
That was one part of the MacColl inheritance, the other part was cultural and political a tradition of working class self- education that took its motivation from the injustices and inadequacies of industrial society. This tradition, which stretches back to the radicals of the eighteenth centuiy, the Chartists and the early trade union and labour movements, is as important in the making of Ewan MacColl as that other tradition of songs, ballads and stories he also inherited from his parents.
Although he wrote songs from early on his first area of concern was the theatre. Not the matinee idol theatre of the West End in the ’30s, but an attempt to make a theatre that spoke to the vital social and political concerns of the day. and tried to make people think, understand and act. Ultimately his work found expression in Theatre Workshop which was such an important influence on post-war British theatre.
In the 1950s. having spent years mastering the techniques of acting, production and play-writing, MacColl switched his energies to singing and songwriting. The influence of his family tradition, the inspiration and friendship of such people as Alan Lomax and Bert Lloyd, his collecting, the ideas of such people as the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, all fused in the profoundly creative and productive partnership with Peggy, who contributed a deep understanding of American traditional music and an outstanding musical ability. Together, the work of these two intensely committed people formed a cornerstone of the post-war folk revival in Britain and beyond.
The rest of the story, 1 am sure, has touched people here in one way or another. The high artistic quality of the enduring musical partnership, the records ranging from ballad collections to modem songs, the
Singers Club and concert performances which always stressed by careful juxtaposition the contemporary relevance of traditional song, the Festival of Fools, the radio broadcasts especially the ground breaking radio ballads made with Charles Parker, the films, the collecting activity which bore fruit in gramophone records, archive recordings and books, but perhaps most of all the songs they composed, at once fresh and modern yet rooted in a tradition that unites the past, present and future.
Strong, positive and energetic people are bound to challenge and upset some others along the way and Ewan and Peggy have not been without both defenders and critics. The important question seems to me to be in the realm of what some historians call the counterfactual: can we imagine what the post-war folk song revival would have been like without Ewan and Peggy? Would it have happened at all? Probably, yes. But would it have been the same without them? Definitely no. It would have been a poorer, less interesting, less challenging movement. It is a notable fact that many who have disagreed with Ewan and Peggy’s approach have not been able to resist singing their songs.
Today we honour two people who have greatly enriched the cultural, social and political life of this country and the world. Ewan and Peggy. I am pleased to ask the Vice President of the Society, Ursula Vaughan Williams to award you each the Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance and Song Society for your outstanding artistic achievement and your past and continuing contribution to the enrichment of the lives of millions of people.
Vic Gammon
English Dance & Song, Vol 49, No 3 Christmas ’87

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Dec 19 - 12:58 PM

"The idea that MacColl's politics were private strikes me as bizarre."
All our political affiliations are private - this is what you are insisting on discussing
Take it below the line
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 04:56 AM

"totally ignored"
Virtually all of how we described MacColl was totally ignored by the author presenting a totally different individual to the one we described (from personal, face to face experience)
We weren't the only ones who felt like this
Peggy was furious about some of the things in the book and still is
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 06:10 AM

How can a persons political inclinations be disassociated with that person? It would be a pretty poor biography of it didn't mention them and a poor discussion that didn't follow that up. As far as I can see MacColl's politics played a major part in his life and they belong on any thread that discusses him.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 06:30 AM

How can a persons political inclinations be disassociated with that person?"
Nobody has suggested they have Dave
What has happened here is that MacColl's political affiliations have been targetted
I am happy to discuss my political inclinations until the cows come home (as if they were not obvious); but who I vote for and whether I belong to any political party is entirely my own business.
These issues are my private property and nobody else's
It is no coincidence that the poster who insistes in poking around in Ewan's private political affairs has also targeted his and Peggy's marital relations - this is real gutter-press stuff
I lived with Ewan and Peggy for a time and spent a great deal of time (that should have been spent looking for a job and a home) talking to Ewan
He made it quite clear then (1969) that he has ceased to become involved in Pary Politics after the War - for a whole bunch of reasons
As far as I am concerned, that is as far as this subject needs to go
These discussions invariably get bogged down in personal incidentals rather than MacColl's artistic contribution
I fully intend to try not to let this happen again
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 07:03 AM

I really think it is up to the moderation team as to what is and is not acceptable in any thread. Maybe if you contacted them rather than taking it into your own hands these arguments may not occur.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 07:33 AM

"I really think it is up to the moderation team as to what is and is not acceptable in any thread. "
It is up to the people taking part in this discussions to decide what it decent and what is not decent to discuss
If you think is is relevant to dig up MacColl's political affiliations I suggest you go and join Pseudo in doing so - bon voyage
Personally, i intend to discuss MacColls work as an artist - Christ knows, the revival needs to discuss such matters if it is going to clean up some of the mess that passes fro folk nowadays

Pseudo made a bit of a hames in trying to explain how MacColl used Laban's theory to help singing
I will dig up explanations of these techniques and put them up for discussion in the hope that there is enough interest in MacColl's artistic work to promote a discussion
If not, this thread will gothe way of all others that have chosen to plouter around in the gossip and innuendo
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 07:35 AM


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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 08:06 AM

If I have made a 'hames' then I shall be glad to have it explained to me. However, I based what I said on an example given by Peggy Seeger. She sang something two ways based on ideas from Laban and it was different musically, in terms of melody and dynamics to name just two musical features. But if I was wrong, then please point this out to me politely.

One of the reasons I come here is to learn, and I do learn a lot, though I have to admit that I pretty quickly learned to 'fact check' stuff as nobody is reliable - or polite - one hundred per cent of the time, and, obviously I include myself in that.

Might I be permitted to explain that the reason I found the suggestion that MacColl's politics were 'private' bizarre is that the basic facts of these are in the public domain and have been there for ages. It is on Wikipedia, never mind the book we are discussing. And MacColl himself was one of those who made it public. The book says that at one point even people calling at MacColl's house got asked to join the party, I think the postman might be the example. And he mentioned it in interviews.

This thread is about a biography; I read it and found it fascinating, not least because of the way it situates MacColl's life in its historical and political contexts.

It does also address aspects of MacColl's personal life, and this is perfectly acceptable in a biography. He doesn't always come out of the account smelling of nothing but roses, but that is life. Some of the more poignant details came from members of his family.

Indeed, Harker comments on how personal some of the stuff MacColl wrote in his autobiography was, including comment on the size of his own w***y. So it does seem at odds with MacColl's own practice to rule out the personal aspects.

As for carrying out a 'witchhunt': I have worked alongside members of the Communist Party in the past and I feel that it is unfair to represent what I have said in that light. I cannot see how stating the facts amounts to a 'witchhunt'.

If MacColl were around today, I feel he would have to change. His hostility to feminism would lose him many fans, for example.

I think it would be a pity if this thread was spoiled by the imposition of limits on what can be said, since it is about a book which takes a broad and balanced view.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,Pseudonymous
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 08:13 AM

"totally ignored"

Virtually all of how we described MacColl was totally ignored by the author presenting a totally different individual to the one we described (from personal, face to face experience)

Thanks for the clarification.

However, I think it is fair to say that the author interviewed a lot of people and that not everybody had the same opinion.

Some people had issues with both Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. I think that the author did right to bring this out, and I think he does balance the different views. I think as I said before that this is what makes it a good book. Not only that, he gives plenty of references so that people can follow up what he says and check it through.

I think it is one of the most interesting biographies that I have read.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 08:13 AM

MacColl was one of the most influential figures on the folk scene; he helped to set it up with pioneers like Bert Lloyd H
He and Bert introduced ballads into the revival via the Riverside Series (described by Bronson as the most important contribution to folk song since the work of Sharp and his colleagues - MacColl revives 135 of the Child canon
He and Peggy set aside a day a week for ten years to work with less experienced singer, during which time they evolved a system of work dedicated to singing folk songs
Between them, they made around five hundred new songs using folk songs styles, many of which became classics on the folk scene
The work Ewan left behind, in recordings and in research would fill an archive yet remains relatively untouched...
Yet you would rather discuss his political affiliations and somebody else has just re-opened a thread on his war record - name change next stop
That tells me all I need to know about the state of the Folk Scene in Britain today
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: GUEST,HiLo
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 08:29 AM

If this thread goes " below the line" it will certainly free Jim or McColl from being criticized as Pseud will not, as guest, be able to go there, which is what the "line" is for. Also, Jim, you are very quick to indulge in bringing politics into discussions of other performers.
I do not see how one can discuss McColl and not touch on his politics. To suggest that they are totally separate is absurd and to suggest that being critical of his politics is a matter , the acceptability of which, should be decided by "Mods", is risable.
   This whole McColl thing has been carried out on at least twenty other threads, perhaps we need a moratorium on Mr.McColl discussions, just for the sake of peace.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 08:48 AM

"If I have made a 'hames' then I shall be glad to have it explained to me. However, I based what I said on an example given by Peggy Seeger. "
You said it was Sandra - neither would have made such an error
Using Laban, MacColl divided voice production into its three elements, speed, weight and direction
Different combination of these elements produce different effects which MacColl described by using Laban's term, "efforts"
The most common effort used by singers is;
The Press - slow, heavy and direct.
Change the speed and you get;
The thrust - fast, heavy and direct. - often used in work songs, particularly shanties
Change the direction and you get:
The slash - fast, heavy and indirect, again a feature of work songs

Further useble combinations produce
The glide - slow, direct and light
The float - slow, indirect and light
The wring - slow, indirect and heavy

It is not possible to combine some elements of singing, these are the ones mainly examined
Experimenting with sound production in this way makes the voice more flexible and heelps the singer to understand how the voice is produced - labeling efforts in this way is a shortcut for the group is assisting the singer being worked with - "try lightening you press" or "try pressing a litle harder" for instance - the technique worked perfectly, as the recordings of the meetings show

Similar work was done in experimenting with tones, but nowhere near as detailed as this
None of this has anything to do with melody, Peggy, as someone who could sight-read and play numerous musical instruments, played a major part in that side of things

By the way, there was nothing wrong with Harker discussing macColl's politics in a biography - that's what biographies are for
The problem was that he got so much wrong and appeared to have ignored the people who knew Ewan far better than he did
Your own intervention here has taken that even further and have sunk it to the sensationalist tabloid level
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 02:36 PM

Please remember to stay on topic. Off-topic messages will be deleted. This is the only MacColl thread open for discussion at this time. Don't go refreshing other threads. One MacColl thread is enough for now.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 05:38 PM

MaColl's political affiliations need to be discussed alongside his contribution to folk music. As it is now clear that there should be only one thread to discuss him and this is it, we need to make the most of it. We should be able to discuss his music, his contribution, his war record and his name change without fear of treading on anyone's toes. It should also remain above the line not only because he was such a major figure in the folk world but so everyone who wants to contribute, including guests, can do so.

I know nothing about the man apart from his musical legacy and what I read on here. I like a lot of his songs. The performances I have heard have not been my cup of tea but I can certainly appreciate the contribution he made. I am probably pretty typical in that I am interested in him but not obsessed enough to blind me to any flaws.

Oh, and there is a thread for the state of the folk scene today. This is not it.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Dec 19 - 07:55 PM

of course you've got democratic right to say what you want Dave.

the thing is, though - he lived in a different time to us - and a different place.

its very easy with the benefit of hindsight and our modern knowledge of how brutal Stalin was, to be dismissive of his communism. And its tempting to be judgemental.

However think of all the poets of the 1930's who were communists in response to the rise of fascism. Many intellectuals like George Bernard Shaw expressed golden opinions of Uncle Joe. Think of the young Cabridge students who were suckered into becoming spies. Intelligent sophisticated men, with much better educations than Ewan.

I don't think I feel comfortable with people who had a much cushier start in life and live in a much cushier point in history bad mouthing him.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Dec 19 - 12:08 AM

I don't want to stir things up, but I do think it is very important to discuss MacColl's political beliefs and how they were expressed in his music. Pete Seeger wouldn't be the beloved Pete Seeger, if he hadn't been a Communist. MacColl had a more edgy public persona than Seeger, but I have talked with a few people who knew him well and had great affection for him. The negative response to MacColl, was at least to an an extent caused by his grouchy demeanor.
I'm not really familiar with MacColl's political songs, other than those in the remarkable radio ballads. Mudcat has threads on lots of MacColl songs and many are political - and many of those political songs are quite profound.
Oh, I suppose there are a few people here who might be scandalized by MacColl's politics, but most of us have increased respect for him because of his politics.
So, certainly MacColl's politics is an appropriate topic of discussion, and should not be banished "below the line."

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 11 Dec 19 - 11:12 AM

There is no problem whatever in discussing MacColl's political beliefs Joe - there never has been - they are obvious from the contents of many of his songs anyway
The problem is that this is not what is happening here -
Discussions like this sometimes feel like a session of the H.U.A.C. where it becomes necessary to repeat over and over again "MacColl was not and never has been a member of The Communist Party"
MacColl departed from Party Politics in the late 1940s - he said so to me and we have him doing so as part of a six month interview Pat and I carried out in the early 1980s - as far as his Political affiliations are concerned, that should be good enough to leave alone - it is something that happened 75 years ago and needs top be laid to rest

MacColl's politics, his war record, his name-change, his so-called arrogance...... has been discussed dozens of times over- it is impossible to open a thread under his name without one or other - usually all these things being brought up and usually used as weapons to attack a thirty year long dead singer who added so much to the lives of so many people

Discussions on these things have invariably led to hostility (some of which has been on display recently) and has closed threads
Because of this, discussion on MacColl has become almost a no go area
I have tried on numerous occasions to discuss the groundbreaking work MacColl, Seeger and the Critics group did on singing - always without success
Each time it has fallen at the pre-war politics - name change - Scots or English..... fence - these have become zn insignificant and totally unnecessary hurdle to discussing Ewan as an artist and an innovator   

It has become fashionable for moderators to decide when subjects have run their course and close threads - surely these hoary old chestnuts have had their day by now and it's time to discuss the artistic work of this man ?
Are we really happy to treat him like THIS ?

This is something Peggy wrote after Ewan's name had been dragged from the dead once more to be administered yet another kicking

"Ewan MacColl was one step nearer to being a folksinger than I, having been brought up in a Scots community in Salford. He is a man who is a perfect example of the old saying “stick your neck out and someone will chop your head off”. I didn’t know, until after he died, just how many enemies and ex-post-facto critics we had made. WE. Please remember that he and I were in this together and you can now aim your missiles at someone who is still here and who is quite articulate on the matter. Pity more folks didn’t have the courage and the knowledge to talk with him while he was alive. He was actually an interesting, approachable person and was happy to talk to anyone who approached with a less-than-hostile attitude. I learned so much from those years. And of course, I am biased! I am also fed up with people who criticise him with only hearsay and second (third, fourth, umpteenth) knowledge on which to base their opinions.
Like Ewan, I’ve always got lots more to say but I don’t care to argue all this out nitty blow by gritty blow. By the way, I’m just finishing up a book of his songs. 200 of them. ‘The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook’ (Music Sales, autumn 2000). Those of you who have followed or partaken in this controversy might find my long critique of him as a person and an artist enlightening. It won’t be what you expected from the person who was his lover and working partner. Information is on my website:
Peggy Seeger, North Carolina"
The Living Tradition Vol. 39; July 2000.

Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 11 Dec 19 - 11:55 AM

Just talk about the bits you bad interested in bringing up then, Jim, and ignore the rest. Other people want to discuss other aspects. You have no right to tell them they cannot. You have every right to ignore their posts and carry on telling us what a splendid man MacColl was.

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Subject: RE: 2007 Ewan MacColl Bio - Class Act
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 11 Dec 19 - 12:10 PM

How did are get corrected to bad?

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