Ewan McColl Centenary

Ewan McColl Centenary

I notice that there is no mention of Ewan McColl’s 100th birthday on Google.

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Celtic Connections have a celebratory concert.

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Big concert in his memory going on at “Celtic Connections” in Glasgow, right now as I type this. Probably timed deliberately to coincide with another great song-writer - it’s [ Robert ] Burns’ night.

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Snap !

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😀

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Did you do anything to bring it to Google’s attention, John?

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James Henry Miller, draft dodger

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Good musician all the same. Dilemma?

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Really gets my goat this character, faked his name and a Scottish birth to dodge the draft to fight the war his peers and betters were up to their necks in, then had the audacity to re-emerge afterwards as some kind of self appointed voice of the oppressed. The very people he abandoned to their fate dodging the draft. Worse still he then went on to develop a highly prescriptive do and don’t list in an attempt to dictate how those very people expressed their voice in music and art. Just the bloody thing his peers had fought against!

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Great folksinger and musician.

Re: Ewan McColl Centenary -Dirty Old Town

Interesting to hear this unexpected background about the man, but let’s concentrate on celebrating the music. That is the positive legacy he has left behind.

I love the way that his most famous composition, ‘Dirty Old Town’, is loved worldwide as an Irish ballad.

It was written by McColl/Miller (Manchurian) about the English town of Salford (near Manchester). It was then given major promotion in recent times by Shane McGowan, the English son of a Tunbridge Wells dentist. It is English through & through!

It was not even arranged as a ‘trad’ style song in it’s original setting. No matter, it’s still a worthy classic.

It’s a funny old world.

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I think you had to grow up in that dirty old town where whole streets lost all their men in world war one, to understand Ewan McColl’s politics. What a dirty old town it used to be. I can still smell it.

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@ Steve t, sorry but we seem to be perusing this same argument on two different threads. But here are my thoughts:-
In reference to McColl’s ‘draft dodging” in the second world war (wrong term for the time and place), I must admit that even conscientious objectors like myself have to acknowledge that there are points in history where it would seem there was l no choice left but to defend my country and way of life (i.e WW2). But what you are ignoring is that in the 1930’s people like Ewan McColl in England, and the likes of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Paul Robeson in America were already fighting for their own people. And by ’their own people’, I don’t mean nationalism (the first evil half of the word Nazi), I mean what they saw as their OWN PEOPLE. Especially after the first world war McColl, living in Salford, would have seen any war as being a class issue where the working class were nothing but capitalist gun fodder. He wasn’t on his own. There was actually a big anti war protest in Salford at the outcome of the second world war. They had already lost most of their sons. There were around 10 million working class people sacrificed in the first world war (including about 50, 000 Irish). And what for? (answer:- Nationalism and capitalism). Whether or not you agree with this, Seeger, Robeson, Guthrie and McColl all had the courage of their conviction and their conviction was only for what they saw as their own their own people, and that’s what their music was all about. All these men had the courage of their convictions. I find it hard to understand how you can object to mere political correctness (as I do) when you have no objection to your government dictating to you when you should take up arms FOR THEM and for their corporate interests. You said that you despise McColl, and that’s your privilege, but to me he was a Northern English working class hero. Despite the criminal elements that I despise, I have the same respect for many of the IRA soldiers, in that the fought for their people and against cruel and insane injustice. It’s called courage of conviction. You don’t have to join the military to have it.

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Oh yes, and just in case I risk being deleted for that IRA comment being seemingly irrelevant to this site, I hastily add that so much great music came out of it all.

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In the 2nd world war, I would argue, no one with a grasp of the facts took up arms for their government in this country, they took up arms to protect their way of life from an almost irresistible threat. Salford wasn’t the only city in this little island where the working class lived in squalor and had also suffered hugely during the precursor and also practically unavoidable first world war.

McColl was a coward and a hypocrite.

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“McColl was a coward and a hypocrite.”
That’s unjustified abuse. Look at the likes of Quentin Crisp if you want to see courage. If everybody in Britain was so eager to defend their lifestyle then why did the Government need conscription? What a load of codswollop.

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Anyhow I just had a premonition of Jeremy telling me off so I have no further comment. You hate who you like.

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In his track record he comes across as conceited, to say the least. But he was a fine singer and self-accompanist (going by such clips as I’ve heard), and songwriter.

If his championing of unaccompanied / finger-in-the-ear / whatever-you-like-to-call-it singing can seem to have been unduly exclusive, at least he could do it well and present it as a thoroughly viable art form - something an awful lot of others could not quite manage.

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I’m with Gobby on this one - apart from being a fine folk singer and collector of folk material, Ewan MacColl was clearly a highly politicised person and he had the guts to live his life by his own moral compass.

He was clearly from very strong Scottish roots and he was no more faking his Scottish identity than many’s the Irishman or woman living in England who played Irish trad in the pubs there.

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MacColl a draft dodger ? Not quite the right expression. You might cross the border into Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft, but there was no such option living in Britain. You might fail the medical, or be in an essential workplace, or take the tricky option of pleading conscientious objection, but otherwise there was little choice.
Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but the recent information I had gleaned was that he did his basic training as a conscript, and then skedaddled. I can’t imagine his particular reasoning - it was a war he certainly didn’t want to fight, for many political reasons, but he hadn’t tried to be a conscientious objector. MI5 knew who he was, and had been keeping an eye on him, and they were probably happier that he was no longer in the army potentially spreading socialist unrest and laying low instead. And then they picked him up when it was all over and slung him in prison for a few months. As I say, correct me if I’m wrong. Chapter and verse, please, no unsubstantiated allegations.

The Observer article had some interesting points from those who encountered him early on - those who adored him and joined The Critics Group of his young acolytes often ended up sounding like clones of him or Peggy. Those who didn’t resented his attempts at control.
And so Jimmy Miller became Ewan MacColl because Jimmy Miller had a bad war record, whilst Ewan MacColl was a virgin…..and the rest is history.

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Here’s a link to part 1 of a 2-part documentary airing Friday Jan 23 and Friday Jan 30, produced by Paula Carroll for The Lyric Feature on RTE’s Lyric FM. It is based on interviews with Peggy Seeger, Jim Carroll, and Pat Mackenzie, and recordings from the Critics Group and the Singers Club.
http://www.rte.ie/lyricfm/the-lyric-feature/

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I just found that the correct name for the singers club is the Ballads and Blues Club.

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“… and the likes of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Paul Robeson in America were already fighting for their own people”

I make no judgment regarding MacColl. But for the record, Guthrie served in the Merchant Marine, and was on two ships that were torpedoed and sunk. At great personal risk, he saved lives during the sinking of the second ship, including that of Cisco Houston. Seeger served as well, although not in combat.

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The Ballads and Blues Club was early on, ‘50s’. Famed for its floating venue apparently. No, not a barge, just always moving. Whether it just metamorphosed into the Singers Club, or there was a different organisation I couldn’t say, but the Singers Club was definitely the one going from the mid-‘60s’ onwards.
Personally I never went, though I was in London from the mid-‘60s’, it had a reputation, an aura, that discouraged my interest.
I heard Peggy Seeger in an interview a while ago, and she insisted that it was the committee, not her and Ewan, that brought in the rule about only singing songs from your own tradition. Yeah, right. What Ewan thought about these more modern “fusion” folk bands we can only guess.

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Mancunians and Manchurians are both exotic 🙂.

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Strange to think that the Radio Ballads - written in the 50s by McColl - quickly became embedded in national consciousness as “traditional” songs. One of the greatest sleights of hand in folk music.

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MacColl, I believe, was a deserter, not a draft dodger. Though his version of events is that the UK military booted him from service because of his politics - he was an active and known communist at the time.

Western communists weren’t too keen on fighting World War Two and were actively anti-war. They had no interest in defending the free world against their fellow left-wingers, the National Socialists. until June of 1941, that is, when Hitler attacked their paymasters in the Soviet Union.

Right after that point, as if by magic, western communists and “progressives” became all about beating the Nazis. Pete Seeger’s sudden turnaround was particularly pathetic and servile. And all these guys were totally willing to throw the common people under the bus to provide propaganda for Stalin, Mao, Castro and Ho Chih Minh.

MacColl wrote a nice hit for Roberta Flack. I’ll give him back. But what kind of warped, twisted mind would ever conceive of writing a “Ballad for Stalin,” as MacColl did?

The capacity of the “folk music” movement to explain away or write off support for the most monstrous, murderous regimes and governments in modern history is perplexing to say the least. But they still worship MacColl and Seeger.

MacColl was never a “man of conscience.” If he had a conscience it was easy enough to join the Merchant Marine, jump port in Murmansk and join the Red Army, post Barbarossa. At least Guthrie and even Seeger suited up.

I don’t hold MacColl too responsible for the Ballad of Ho Chih Minh. I think he wrote it during the French IndoChina war and it was maybe not well known then what a murderous crew of terrorists and brigands the Viet Minh and later the Viet Cong were. (Seeger has no such excuse).

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@Matt Buckley… I wasn’t suggesting that Guthrie and Seeger didn’t serve in the forces. Both were extremely patriotic men. I was referring to the shared left wing views that all these songsters displayed in their songs. This was the pre-war time of the great depression and the dust bowl don’t forget. The word ‘communism’ meant something very different to these men back then.

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“what a murderous crew of terrorists and brigands the Viet Minh and later the Viet Cong were. ”

As opposed to the humane values exemplified by the US military at My Lai for instance ?