Matt McGinn


There's a time and a place for everything. Matt McGinn's time was 1928 to 1977; his place was Glasgow. He was working class and of Irish descent. Time, place, class and genes combined to make this unique man.

His time is over. Yet here we are, in the next century, celebrating his work. Love songs, childrens songs, and daft ditties do get passed on, so you could expect songs like Janetta, "The Red Yo-Yo", or "Oor Wee Wean Can Sook a Bar of Chocolate" to be sung now and in years to come, all over the world, and even downloaded from the internet. (He would have loved that!)

However, as many of you will know, for many years it was almost impossible to get recordings of his work, yet his songs have been passed on from parents to kids, from teachers to students and from old fans to a new generation of fans. That in itself is a great tribute to the Celtic Culture!

Similarly, you might not be surprised by the popularity of his instant-history-lesson-songs like the "Ballad of John McLean" or "The Ibrox Disaster". My sister Eleanor reminds me that he could amaze us with his knowledge, although we thought nothing of the speed at which he could write a song. Take the morning someone phoned and asked if he had a song about Benny Lynch. No, but Ill write one he said. Then, while having a shower and making us lunch he did the 1970s equivalent of cutting and pasting; except he did it all in his head. By the time we had finished lunch the song "Benny Lynch", complete with the names of his opponents and fight venues, was fully formed.

Such was the way he wrote most of his songs; scribbling stuff on the back page of a book or whatever other kinds of paper or card he could get his hands on. In fact we still find old books at home with lyrics on the back cover. My sister Anna says that, just like "the Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede", it seemed he thought it was best not to look for an explanation of what came naturally, and he churned his songs, poems, plays and stories out at an incredible rate, rarely going back to polish them off.

However, what surprises me is the continued relevance of the songs that you would have thought were only going to be around for the 60s and 70s. That was a fast moving slot in history; all of a sudden we were all getting colour TVs, washing machines and cars, and our lifestyles were changing at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, Matt McGinn was reminding us of the reality of the consumer boom by dedicating songs like "I.O.U." to that great institution H.P., to which we are all deeply indebted!

Whilst proud of his ability to write catchy wee songs about such issues, I also hope that they can serve as a reminder that, 40 years on, more and more people depend on credit just to be able to get some temporary relief from our current form of poverty, and that songs like "I.O.U." and "Rich Mans Paradise" are now even more pertinent.

He warned us about politicians stealing milk from children, and asked if we hadn't seen their skull and crossbones. And that was only when Thatcher was the Minister for Education. What would he have made of the real Thatcher years? Perhaps it is better that we will never know, because as Pete Seeger pointed out recently, his songs were full of optimism, and many people lost their optimism and fighting spirit in the 80s and 90s. However, I do like to think that he would have kept us singing and protesting, and I love songs like With "Jimmy Reid and Airlie", which remind me of the many marches we would go on as a family, with my Dad leading off the chanting and singing along the way.

image The war-mongering events of recent months have brought those memories back, reminding me of songs like "Lots of Little Soldiers", and of the singing, surging crowds who were protesting along the "Road from Aldermaston". While I would have preferred it if the millions of people that marched all over the world in the past year hadn't had a war to protest about at all, it was beautiful to see that the caring, fighting spirit that Matt McGinn wrote about in the 60s is still a force to be reckoned with in the year 2003.

May 2003 saw the first Annual Matt McGinn Tribute Concert and Awards Ceremony, held at the RSAMD in Glasgow, and put together with the work and dedication of and a great number of talented artists. Thanks to their innovative ideas we were also able to formally recognise the work and talent of those that are now representing their time and their place through songs, music, poems, stories and plays, by presenting them with the first Matt McGinn Awards. Look out for next year's concerts in Glasgow and New York!

Shonagh McGinn