Monday, March 10, 2014

Ewan MacColl

Image of a young Ewan MacColl from Peggy Seeger

"The first time ever I saw your face, I thought the sun rose in your eyes, and the moon and stars were the gifts you gave, to the dark and the empty skies, my love..."

Deeply romantic, The First Time took all my attention when first I heard it. Well, not quite all. In the old Arts I building at UBC, I happened to be sitting near a young man I knew, though not very well.

He was chubby, his appearance unprepossessing. The day we heard Ewan McColl's song, I glanced over as he was writing something down. Poetry, I thought, but the words I read without his knowing pierced me with sadness: "I feel fat and unloved." Now MacColl's song evokes this memory.

Ewan MacColl was born to a socialist family in Lancashire and was involved in the various aspects of the theatre of England and later the US. His third wife Peggy Seeger, who still sings with her son Calum MacColl, was half-brother of Pete Seeger.

Ewan and Peggy sang traditional songs like old Scots ballad Johnny Lad, which I associate with the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. As well as having three children together, Ewan and his wife collaborated in England and America on a variety of social, musical and theatrical projects.

Ewan MacColl also wrote the great fishing classic The Shoals of Herring, later famously sung by Liam Clancy. Ewan died in 1989. The First Time, inspired by Peggy, has been sung by Roberta Flack, Johnny Cash, Peter, Paul and Mary, and many other artists.

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