Ewan MacColl: His Life, His Words, His Music
University of Salford
SALFORD is the “dirty old town” where James Miller — the folksinger better known as Ewan MacColl — was born in January 1915 and it was the scene of this joint celebratory event by the University of Salford and the Working Class Movement Library.
In a packed hall, four readers and a solo singer took the audience through his life and work, in which extracts from his somewhat sanitised autobiography were interspersed with just a few songs.
It was a rather prosaic event, with no drama and precious little of the great man of the theatre’s histrionic impact upon British culture. One could't help wondering what the Theatre Workshop founder might have made of it.
Of course, MacColl was such a polymath that anyone would be hard put to it to cover his life adequately. “There are quite large bits of his life that we have had to leave out,” the show’s producer Royston Futter said in his introduction. “The first run-through of all the material we wanted to present would have had you struggling to catch the last bus, despite our afternoon start.”
There were the expected songs — Dirty Old Town, Tim Evans, Manchester Rambler, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, — and songs from the radio ballads — Freeborn Man, Hot Asphalt, Shoals of Herring, Come Me Little Son — and his elegiac 1986 farewell The Joy of Living, recorded in only three years before his death. But this was a programme of readings interspersed with the songs, rather than songs with interpretive prose.
What did come across was Ewan’s love of the landscape, echoed in the words of that lovely, final song: “Take me to some high place of heather, rock and ling, Scatter my dust and ashes, feed me to the wind, So that I will be part of all you see, the air you are breathing. I'll be part of the curlew's cry and the soaring hawk, The blue milk wort and the sundew hung with diamonds, I'll be riding the gentle wind that blows through your hair, Reminding you how we shared In the joy of living.”
This great poet of industrial Salford was also at one with the countryside around his dirty old birth town.