Ewan MacColl — biography
Ewan MacColl was born in Auchterarder, Pertshire, in 1915, but spent the bulk of his childhood in Salford, Lancashire. His father was an iron-moulder and from his parents, both lowland Scots, MacColl inherited a considerable body of songs, melodies and stories. After leaving school at the age of 14, he worked at a variety of jobs: motor mechanic, factory worker, builder's labourer, street singer, and so on. In the years immediately prior to the war, he was associated with Joan Littlewood in a number of experimental theatre projects and in 1945 the two of them formed Theatre Workshop. For the next seven years, MacColl was the resident dramatist and art director of the company and during this period he wrote eight plays, seven of which were performed not only by Theatre Workshop but by other groups. Five of these plays have been translated into German, French, Polish and Russian; they have been produced in these languages and enjoyed extensive runs in the main cities of those countries.
In 1950, MacColl turned his attention to traditional music and played a key role in initiating and extending what is now called 'the folksong revival' in Britain. He was among the first to recognize the importance of the folk club as the basic unit in this revival, a unit without which the revival might never have survived. In London he founded, with several other leading singers, The Ballads and Blues Club, later to become the Singers Club, now the leading folk club in Britain. By 1956, he was acknowledged as one of the leading singers and major theorists of this revival.
In 1956, collaborating with Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker, a BBC radio producer, he researched and wrote THE BALLAD OF JOHN AXON, a documentary program on the life of a railway driver. This program, a combination of recorded speech, sound effects, new songs in the folk idiom, and folk instrumentation, was the first of a series of eight such programs, which came to be known as 'radio-ballads' and which were hailed as a major breakthrough in radio technique and creativity. Others in the series are SONG OF A ROAD (on the building of the M-l motorway); SINGING THE FISHING (on herring fishing, a program which won the 1960 Italia radio-documentary prize); THE BIG HEWER (on mining); THE BODY BLOW (on polio and the psychology of pain); THE FIGHT GAME (on boxing); ON THE EDGE (on teenagers); and, finally, THE TRAVELLING PEOPLE (on Britain's nomadic peoples). Most of these radio-ballads have since appeared on Argo records.
MacColl's work in television and film are extensive, not only in the field of entertainment but in education and documentation. He has written scripts and music for films for the BBC, for commercial television, for the National Coal Board and for numerous independent film companies and organizations. His most recent project is the training of young revival folksingers in both singing and theatre techniques with a view to forming a folk theatre by the mid-1970's. His main concern is with the future of the folk revival, for folksong in vacuo is a museum piece. It must be combined with other media: it must adapt to them and adapt to the needs of the new generations; It must reflect the conditions of the country and speak for people now; the folk club must be more than, a place where old songs are sung — it can be a cultural centre, a place for discussion and education as well as entertainment, a place from which the new folk culture constantly emerges and is given expression.
MacColl is a writer — he has written plays, poetry, has composed several hundred songs, a number of which have entered the folk repertoire. MacColl is a singer — he is well-known in Britain, Europe and the United States as one of the best living ballad-singers. He has recorded more than sixty LP's on his own, with both British and American companies. Above all, MacColl is a creator, an ideas-man, who is fortunate enough to have the ability to put his ideas into practice.
Peggy Seeger — biography
Peggy Seeger was born in 1935 in New York City. Her parents, both of them professional musicians, came in contact with folk music in the mid-1940's, through their work with the Works progress Administration, with Alan and John Lomax, and through their work at the Library of Congress. It was thus, through listening to recordings of field-singers and instrumentalists from all over the United States, that Miss Seeger absorbed the folk idiom and developed her singing and playing techniques while growing up in a suburb of Washington, D.C.
From the age of seven she had a formal music education and her parents saw to it that she learned to play the piano, read and transcribe music, had tutelage in theory and harmony — in short, an excellent classical music education. They also encouraged simultaneously her interest in folk music so that she is a unique product of two musical areas. At ten years of age, she began playing guitar; at seventeen, she took up the 5-string banjo (North America's only indigenous folk instrument). Since then she has learned to play the autoharp, the Appalachian dulcimer and the English concertina.
She attended college at Radcliffe, the women's section of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she majored in music and began singing folksongs for audiences. In 1955 she went to live in Holland, where she studied Russian at the University of Leiden. Following this, she travelled widely through Russia, Poland, China and most of the western European countries. Through her friendship with Alan Lomax, she was brought to Britain in 1956 to take part in a Granada television film, DARK OF THE MOON, and through Lomax she met Ewan MacColl. For a year they worked together on various television and radio programmes and began to sing together as a team. In 1957, they embarked upon a series of eight radio-ballads (produced by Charles Parker of the BBC), a new radio form which received not only wide acclaim as a 'major breakthrough in radio technique and form', but several of which took Italia prizes. In 1959 she became a British subject and settled in south London. Since then she has been singing in folk clubs, giving concerts in countries as far away as Cuba and Tunisia, and writing music for films. All her work is in conjunction with Mr. MacColl, to whom she is now married. They have two sons.
She has made over three dozen solo long-playing records, and another two dozen with Mr. MacColl; these discs being issued by both British and American companies. She is considered in America as being one of America's most vital young women folksingers and, being a British subject, is now taking a leading role in the British folkmuslc revival not only as a singer and instrumentalist but also as a songwriter, anthologist and trainer of other performers. Her style is a mixture of folk techniques and tone with an almost classical flair for decoration and instrumentation. Her feet are in the tradition and her head is in the revival, a revival which is not only attempting to keep the old songs alive and meaningful, but which sees as its main objective the extending of folk methods and forms of creation and the adaptation of these to the new media of communication. She credits the development of her social consciousness and her musical technique over the last ten years to the influence of Ewan MacColl, who has formed criteria by which the revival folksinger can create and operate logically in a society which has lost most of its traditional culture and modes Of communication.