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Peggy Seeger: She must be one of the most complete artists around today. -  Belfast Telegraph

Peggy Quotes 2

With the singing voice of a 20-year old, the tone and temperament of a slightly acidic and world-wise 40-year old, and possessing the studied acumen of a 500-year old, the lady enjoyed a warm intimate gathering of friends and family upon the occasion of her 70th birthday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, England.
- Mark S. Tucker

 

Ewan MacColl Songbook Reviews

Comments, Cheers and Critiques

DIRTY LINEN EM/PS review

THE ESSENTIAL EWAN MacColl SONGBOOK; Sixty years of Songmaking complied and annotated by Peggy Seeger (Oak Publications ISBN 0- 8256-0321 (2001); $29.95)

THE PEGGY SEEGER SONGBOOK: Forty years of Songmaking, by Peggy Seeger (Oak Publication ISBN 0-8256-0344-7 (1998); 429.95)

These two massive tomes are a testament to one of the first couples of 20th-century folk music, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. MacColl, born Jimmie Miller, was the son a Scottish iron moulder whose radical politics forced him to leave Scotland in 1910 to find work. Young Jimmie, therefore, grew up in Salford and nearby Manchester, towns he later immortalized in songs like "Dirty Old Town" and "The Manchester Rambler. He founded the well-known Theatre Workshop and, after World War II, became increasingly involved in folk music. Seeger was born to a very musical family.

Her father was the musicologist Charlie Seeger and her mother the singer and musician Ruth Crawford Seeger. Both became very active in folk music in the 1930s and brought their children along with them on recording trips and study voyages of all kinds. Peggy, her brother Mike, and her half-brother Pete (Charlie's son from a previous marriage) are the ones most associated with folk music today.

In 1956, MacColl met Seeger at a rehearsal for a TV production on which both were singing; MacColl was 20 years older, married, and had a child. Nevertheless, he remembered his first meeting with Seeger as a life-changing moment and wrote about it in his most successful song: "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." In 1958, the two met again, and following a harrowing set of circumstances (in which folksinger Alex Glasgow wed the pregnant Seeger so that she could become a British subject and live in England with MacColl, the father of her child), they settled down together for 31 years, until MacColl's death in 1989.

Since then, Seeger has continued to perform and to write songs. MacColl wrote songs for many different contexts: incidental songs for theatrical productions, commissioned pieces for labor unions or political causes, songs stitched together from vernacular speech recorded for his radio documentary series The Radio Ballads, songs for rallying, striking, marching…and, of course, songs for singing in folk clubs. Some of the best-known works included here are "My Old Man," "Champion at Keepin' 'em Rolling," "Thirty Foot Trailer," "Shoals of Herring,", "The Moving On Song," "the Terror Time," "North Sea Holes," Schooldays End," "Ballad of Accounting," and "Ballad of Tim Evans." Still, it's surprising how quickly a fan of British folk music will run out of songs he or she knows and be venturing into unknown territory; I'd say only about 20 percent of these, if that, are well known. And although there are a few overlooked gems, many of the lesser-known songs here deserve their obscurity. For every " First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," there is a "Tatty Underpants"; for every "Dirty Old Town," there is a "Blast Against Blackguards."

Indeed, one of the very refreshing things about this book is Seeger's unsentimental honesty about which songs are dated, which she never liked, which need work, and which are pretty good. So for people who want the classics of MacColl's repertoire, this book isn't strictly necessary. But as a glimpse of the processes of writing songs, especially of writing from traditional models, this book is both fascinating and instructive. How did MacColl transform old Irish songs into social commentary, how did he apply Scots lullabies to political demonstrations, and how did he convert the landscapes of Britain's inner cities into places of mystery and romance? It's all here to be read, played, sung, and pondered, and for that, it's highly recommended.

Seeger's collection is, to me, more of a mystery. Seeger's politics differed from MacColl's; she is much more feminist, more eco-friendly, and even more pacifist than he was. Her collection contains a preponderance of songs about environmental issues and women's politics. There are songs on the subject of nuclear power plants, women in the miners' strike of 1984, Ronald Reagan's visit to Ireland, men's preoccupations with women's measurements and their own penis size, the Vietnam War, Margaret Thatcher, and other cows, sacred and otherwise.

Many of the songs deal with their subjects humorously, like "Give'em an Inch," which asks, "does this little spike of flesh define the stronger sex?" Others are more serious, some sanctimonious, some even ponderous, like, "Mother and Daughter," in which the two characters fight about everything, with the mother endlessly repeating the chorus," Where are you going? When will you be coming back?" Interestingly, MacColl's presence is as deeply felt in this book as Seeger's presence was in the MacColl book. Indeed, the most moving songs here , like" New Spring Morning," deal with their great love for one another. it's also interesting to compare the two books and look at events in their lives through their songs.

A 1961 tour that Seeger was compelled to do alone (MacColl couldn't get a visa in those Red Scare days) led to her song "My Love and I Are One," and also to MacColl's song" The Letter." As Seeger quips, perhaps they should have spent more time apart! Seeger's collection is just the sort of book to get you in touch with your inner earnest, eco-feminist singer/songwriter.

- Steve Winick (Philadelphia, PA)

~*~*~*~

 

FOLK ROOTS PS/EM REVIEW August 2002


The Peggy Seeger Songbook - Warts & All: 40 Years Of Songmaking
(Oak Publications US ISBN 0 8256 0320 X. UK ISBN 0 7119 6291 X)

The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook - 60 Years Of Songmaking
(Oak Publications US ISBN 0 8256 0321 8. UK ISBN 0 7119 6292 8)

Peggy Seeger ranks as one of the most important people who ever graced and shaped the British folk scene. Other Americans like Jack Elliott, Alan Lomax, Hedy West et al came and went. She stayed. In so doing, she raised standards like few others. Seeger belonged to a family that was far more than her half-brother Pete or her full-brother Mike. She talks about her parents, Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger in detail. This collection is nothing like her 1964 collection for Oak, Folk Songs Of Peggy Seeger, it's full of memorable songs, including Primrose Hill, There's Better Things To Do (a read-it reaction to arriving in England in 1956), her rewording of Lonnie Donegan's My Old Man's A Dustman, Wasteland Lullabye, the very important I'm Gonna Be An Engineer ("you'd think I'd been brooding on discrimination and prejudice all my life," she remarks), Song For Charles Parker and so on. Her explanations and memories of engagement capture the mood of the times and provide a pr'cis of the energy and politicisation of those various struggles and the folk revival. Much of The Peggy Seeger Songbook is about the politics of living. It makes for a wonderful book, but it does not compare with The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook. She did better by him than she did by herself, which is a cause for sadness and an indication of her graciousness. Peggy Seeger deserves much praise and many readers with these two volumes.

Ewan MacColl was a man whose art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, untold millions through the wireless, and greater numbers still, through the collusion between recording and radio. It was his songwriting that brought him his hugest audience. First Time Ever I Saw Your Face remains his greatest hit - and is the first song in The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook - but with the act of singing it down the phone to Peggy Seeger in Los Angeles, he effectively handed it to her, no matter what the Berts or Robertas did for his royalty statements. However much he was a heel, a schoolmaster and self-reinventor, art poured from him. Some of it was of its time and sometimes it served its time in the front line before being tactically withdrawn. Yet as these scores of songs remind, his could be art of a high calibre. An "amplifier for everyday speech", hope sprang eternal for MacColl, even if it was the hope that he was hooking up with the numinous, much like Shakespeare and Jonson did in their day.

I have no doubt that MacColl knew the value of his best work and kept one mandarin eye cocked on posterity. Songs such as Sweet Thames, Flow Softly (a title with the purl of Burns' Flow Gently, Sweet Afton), 30-Foot Trailer, The Moving On Song, Dirty Old Town - all represented here - are the stuff of greatness. This anthology is instructive in the varied insights it grants into MacColl's creative juices, whether the facsimile draft of My Old Man or the mouth-rolled changes from Famous Flower Of Serving-Men to Shoals Of Herring, his favourite mode (Dorian, since you wonder) or his unwitting self-plagiarism. Peggy Seeger does not dodge some of MacColl's unkinder attributes or spare us his hammy side (after his autobiography Journeyman how could she?), or his mysteries, such as the possibility that the Alfred Watts of Newcastle, who 'furnished' Ivor in The Singing Island (1960), may well have been MacColl himself. There have been earlier MacCollian songbooks, collections like Shuttle & Cage (1954) and Songs For The Sixties (1961) that used many mouths to feed them, but this is the one to which I shall return and use when contemplating the lives, times and works of Ewan MacColl. Consistency can be the hobgoblin that paralyses the human mind. MacColl comes out of this volume as somebody who never stopped learning and even learned how to change.

Ken Hunt, 2002 Folk Roots Magazine, August 2002

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THE ESSENTIAL EWAN MacCOLL SONGBOOK: SIXTY YEARS OF SONGMAKING -
compiled by Peggy Seeger (Oak Publications ISBN. 0.7119.6292.8)

This is a very handsome 420-page book, which manages to be at once a truly definitive collection of Ewan's songs and a very personal (and -refreshingly - also sincerely critical) celebration of his life and work -for Ewan was a man with an acute political and historical conscience and sensibility who, as the jacket blurb accurately and succinctly states, undoubtedly "played a vital role in initiating and extending what is now known as the 'folk song revival' in Britain". This volume makes a virtue out of its sheer comprehensivess, for it replaces and supersedes all previous Oak collections (which have in any case been out of print for many years); to all intents and purposes fairly close to being a "complete collected works", it omits only 37 of the 230 songs to which Peggy, as Ewan's long-term partner and musical collaborator, had access (the omissions being listed in a useful Appendix).

It includes every one of the well-known songs (I'd be inclined to term them repertoire standards) as well as a large number of relative obscurities, many of comparatively uneven invention or downright dubious content perhaps, but all of interest in illuminating and chronicling the totality of Ewan's artistic achievement and the enviably broad range of talents that Ewan possessed, especially within the context of the many contradictions within his personality and his at times disconcertingly unsympathetic, non-humanitarian or blatantly homophobic attitudes. Peggy admits in her introductory essay that even she finds many of the songs hard to deal with in this respect, but she is to be praised for acknowledging these more unpleasant tendencies in due perspective instead of merely making the book a vehicle for an exclusively rose-tinted view of Ewan and his work.

Peggy considers this volume her "last material gift" to Ewan, and it's an honest and moving portrait, a fitting memorial, as well as an invaluable song compendium. The format is eminently user-friendly; each song 's words and music (in simple notation, with basic chords inserted where necessary) is prefaced by a short (but invariably genuinely informative) explanatory note and accompanied where appropriate by a glossary of unfamiliar or dialect words and references. Many of the songs are complemented by one or more photographs alongside or beneath the text, often forming a valuable incidental commentary. There's also a discography which, though not pretending to be exhaustive, I found almost nothing wrong with (especially bearing in mind the constant stream of reissues and repackagings).

Although the songs are grouped thematically, there's a full index of titles and first lines. Of course everyone will know a great number of the songs herein, though some (even among those who sing them!) remain blissfully unaware of their true authorship, as songs like Shoals Of Herring have all but passed into the tradition now. But these more familiar songs and the forgotten curiosities alike, and even those relative embarrassments displaying a distinct lack of finesse (like The Ballad Of Stalin), all gain from the context in which they are presented here. Taken as a body of work, these songs demonstrate a consistency of vision through their mastery of traditional and contemporary forms and appreciation of timeless human concerns, and although it would be hard to find yourself agreeing with all of the sentiments expressed, there's never any denying Ewan's integrity.

And however much you might think you know about this multi-faceted man and his songs, I guarantee you'll learn something new from this fine publication. For essential this book certainly is.

David Kidman

~*~*~*~


Dear Sister Peggy,

Greetings from Cape Cod! My name is Joe Bangert, and I eyed your name on the email list from an email I received today from a mutual friend- Barbara Dane- and was motivated to introduce myself to you and tell you- apart from my love of both you and your brother's musical and artistic contributions to at least three generations of my family- how gratified I am to share with you my deep admiration of Ewan's 'Ballad of Ho Chi Minh'.

Sure I learned it by heart- after returning home from my stint as a door gunner on a Marine helicopter in Quang Tri, Viet Nam circa 1969. Six months later I upped and joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and later met Barbara in Paris at the World Assembly for the Peace and Independence of the Indochinese Peoples at Versailles. We had a great banquet with the diplomatic delegations of both the DRVN and the PRGSVN and later some music began- Barbara sang the 'Song of the Coats' and the only song the young boisterous delegation from the USA could all agree on singing together by heart when asked to sing 'an American worker's song' was "Mercedes Benz" by Janis Joplin.
Barbara then asked me to join her on the stage- for I had boldly decided to wear a close fitting shirt which had emblazened on the front of it- the flag of the National Liberation Front of south Viet Nam.

It was then that I belted out both "We Will Liberate the South" (Giai Phong Mien Nam) the national anthem of the NLF in Vietnamese- for I am a linguist- and ended that portion of the show with the Ballad of Uncle Ho. It was a show stopper to say these least-

Since then I have sang Ewan's delightful song over one thousand times indeed- and when I was working back in Viet Nam, in Ha Noi from 1992-1997 I had the occasion to sing it and teach it to virtually thousands upon thousands of younger Vietnamese boys and girls-

I always give Ewan the credit for penning it. I just wanted you to know that this song rocks even in 2002~!

Best Regards,
Joe Bangert

 

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