This album is a unique record of two very different occasions which celebrated Ewan MacColl's contribution to the folk revival. They were originally broadcast in Folk On 2 in 1986 and 87.
The first was a Symposium titled SEVENTY YEARS OF CREATIVE STRUGGLE. It brought together many of his friends and fellow musicians including the American folklorist Alan Lomas, then Shadow Minister for the Arts Norman Buchan, Scottish florist Hamish Henderson and the travelling family The Stewarts of Blairgowrie. The event was held on a March weekend in 1986 in the Greater London Council building on the south bank of the Thames. I remember it as a great, gloomy building with groups of musician and folk enthusiasts trampling the endless corridors between lectures, discussions and workshops.
One of the highlights was this concert of Ewan's songs. Representing the Radio Ballads, Ian Campbell sang Thirty Foot Trailer from Travelling People and he was joined by Peggy Seeger and Ray Fisher for Shoals of Herring from Singing The Fishing. Ray told me that, like many young singers, it was Ewan who turned her form skiffle and American songs to British material She first heard him when he came to Glasgow. 'He sang the ballads amazingly, and when this was carried on from traditional songs to the new songs he was writing you could scarcely tell the difference That was when I saw the light'. In concert Ray sang The Fish Gutters' Song (Come All Ye Fisher Lasses), also from Singing The Fishing.
Peggy sang The First Time Ever which Ewan had written for her in their early days together. I asked Peggy what she felt was his strongest quality and she told me 'Ewan has everything tied up in his mind. If you ask him about a period in history he can tell you what they were doing in sciences, the arts and how much of the world has been discovered, what the political position was and that's why the music was like it was, the poetry was like it was. He co-relates. And he left school at fourteen. He's a whole man.
In an interval in the concert I found Belle Stewart standing in one of the corridors talking to her family and friends and I managed to persuade her to sing The Berry Fields of Blair for us. She told me that she first met MacColl when the men of the family moved south from Scotland to London to find work digging the Victoria underground line. 'A knock came on the door one Saturday afternoon and there was John Brind. And he says "I've brought a couple of friends to see you — Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger". So they were going somewhere and they came in and they said "We've only got about half an hour to spare but John's been telling us about you folks and we just wanted to have a word with you because we've got to go somewhere". They were there six and a half hours. They sat and had two meals with us. Six and a half hours — that was their half hour'.
Among the other people I talked to at the symposium was the American folklorist and collector Alan Lomax. When I asked what had been the highlight of the weekend for him he said it was Ewan's African Suite — The White Wind, 'which will turn out to be one of the major works of this decade'. Ewan and Peggy were joined on stage by their three children Neill, Calum and Kitty.
The second occasion celebrating Ewan MacColl's contributing to folk revival was concert held at Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of The English Folk Dance and Song Society, on 17th October 1987, at which Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger received the Society's Gold Badge. As I remember there was an element of kiss-and-make-up about the evening as the MacColl's had long been at odds with the Society, which Ewan had described as an organisation 'run by silver haired old ladies of both sexes'.
In previous years there had been some resistance among members of the Society to the idea of making this award, one member of the National Executive Committee even threatening to resign if Ewan ever received a Gold Badge. And when the occasion came Ewan, who by now was suffering from a serious heart condition, diplomatically felt he should save his strength for singing rather than make an acceptance speech. So Peggy thanked the Society on behalf of both of them.
However, none of this distracted from the warmth of the audience or the sincerity of the citation of the Award, which chronicled their partnership of more than thirty years. It was written by Vic Gammon, who commented 'Can we imagine what the post war folk 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'. Ursula Vaughan Williams, the Society's Vice President, presented the Gold Badges 'for your outstanding artistic achievement and your past and continuing contribution to the enrichment of the lives of millions of people'.
From the concert which followed the presentation Ewan and Peggy introduce and sing Going To The West, The Invader, My Old Man, Spinning Wheel and the deeply moving Joy of Living.
In addition to the two concerts the album includes extracts from some of the conversations I had with Ewan in the course of making various programmes. In fact, you didn't have a conversation with Ewan, he was an interviewers delight, you just asked him a question on any subject and he always gave you a rounded, well-developed answer straight off the top of his head. A truly remarkable man.
The BBC Radio 2 series Folk on 2 started life as Folk on Friday in April 1970. In the first programme there were sessions by The Corries and a young Sussex singer recently returned from Australia named Martin Wyndham Read.
Over the years the studio sessions have remained an important feature of the programme, along with Outside Broadcast Recordings made at concerts, festivals and special events. It has also been our policy to encourage new artists, giving many their first broadcast, and to ask established music ians to offer our listeners something from their repertoire which is not already available on record.
The result is that Folk on 2 now has a unique archive of recordings by several hundred folk performers of material which is often not obtainable elsewhere. In this Cooking Vinyl series we offer you some of the best recordings.