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Journeyman: The Autobiography Of Ewan Maccoll

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Journeyman: The Autobiography Of Ewan Maccoll.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Ewan MacColl(Author) Peggy Seeger(Introduction)

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Ewan MacColl and A.L.Lloyd brought about the 1950s revival of traditional folk music in Britain. MacColl remained our most famous folk singer for the next thirty years, with songs like "Dirty Old Town" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". His autobiography, completed with the help of his singer/wife Peggy Seeger shortly before his death in 1989, describes his working-class childhood in Salford, his acting career, the pioneering Radio Ballads for the BBC and his family and friends, including Brendan Behan.
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  • By gille liath on 12 February 2013

    The folk music Revival, in which folk and pop cross-fertilised one another, was one of the most significant musical movements of the last century, and Ewan MacColl was instrumental in it. The funny thing about this book is, it doesn't even get on to the subject until over three-quarters of the way through.Fortunately, perhaps, this is a real rarity: a celebrity autobiography which is actually worth reading in its own right, regardless of the subject's fame. MacColl's memoirs of his early life in Salford are interesting, moving, even racy at times; they also have the dry humour you would expect from someone of his background, which is a relief when many of his songs are a bit po-faced.In her introduction, his third partner / wife Peggy Seeger is quick to accept that 'this is not The Compleat Ewan MacColl'. What the book doesn't tell you is often as interesting as what it does. It tells you about the lifelong Communism that gave meaning and shape to his life, but little about how he viewed its global retreat by the late 90s. It doesn't tell you about the famous people he mixed with, nor about his own family life (Seeger fills those gaps in, very briefly). It tells you something about his work in showbiz or, as he calls it, 'culture' - but not much about how he got into it in the first place. To me it's not really credible that, as he claims, he just 'drifted into' theatre, radio presentation and eventually writing. Those things only happen to the powerfully ambitious, especially if they are the son of a foundry-worker. Nor do people acquire stage names by accident - he was born plain old 'Jimmy Miller', but the book has nothing to say about why he changed. Although he talks about family singing sessions led by his Dad, music in his adult life only appears midway through Chapter 21, as an offshoot of his radio documentaries. The work he is best known for is then compressed into the next three chapters.It was a good idea to 'interview' himself at the end, and answer the questions everybody asks. This, though, is where the egotism dressed up as modesty (mentioned in the other review) is most evident. He says he got bored with hearing the same questions; I can think of a few more I'd like to ask, if he was still here, about how he thought his attitudes to music and politics have stood the test of time.But hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course. MacColl was an intelligent and talented man who overcame circumstances that crushed millions in order to, as one of his songs says, 'make a change in the world he found'; and he did it without losing his humanity and hope for a better day. Above all, he was someone who really, really meant it. His main legacy has to be his songs, but this is a life well worth reading.

  • By THUMBTOM on 6 June 2012

    Perhaps, always belittling his own incalculable contribution to the well-being of British folk music, Ewan MacColl was always looking to defer to one greater than himself. He managed to fix upon the American folk "collector" Alan Lomax. MacColl's entertaining autobiography does not record the antipathy of Lomax to Bob Dylan at Newport. Neither does he recall, as Bruce Dunnet did when Dylan turned up at MacColl's "Singers Club"; that MacColl said, "I don't want to let that [so-and-so] in". MacColl is Lady Macbeth. Despite this book, written as he was about to die; in 2012 the stains on his life won't wash away. It's a tragedy.Even though he says about his song writing: "It's nothing", a clever boy cannot avoid heaping praise upon himself. Dylan himself as a young folk-singer, for instance, strums his guitar on an early CBS recording and laughs: "What's probably got you baffled more is: What this thing here is for ? [strum strum on the acoustic guitar]...It's nothing... It's something I learned over in England !" Self effacement never sounds like boasting. But Dylan is always boasting. He is boasting here that he has travelled; that he has been to England and that he has survived no worse for wear. MacColl is boasting too: "The truth is that I found writing songs as easy an occupation as talking into this microphone."Ewan MacColl is so talented he cannot help but be full of himself. Yet, after his barely rewarded lifetime of scholarship; and the years on end of "political" struggle; after all the overtime and the hard work, the creativity is worn TOO lightly. MacColl is in control of all of this; and you begin to doubt the apparent sincerity. It is not believable that "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", that perfectly crafted love song, was the work (if we are to believe him) of a few moments over the phone in response to a request from his wife for a song, to sing to her audiences in the USA from which he himself had been barred; and from where she soldiered on alone.But, despite my doubts, towards the end I felt myself respecting his achievement more; even if it was, by his own account, only due to toiling at the coalface for every waking minute of his life. Though the book brought out the best in him, it would have been a better book if he could have described his years as a deserter; if he could have stooped to discuss the way folk music had been renewed by the genius of Dylan. MacColl died before his book was published. It is a record of the lifetime of political agitation that truthfully, and sadly, blights his enormous body of work. Yet he still proudly manages to malign politicians and BBC apparatchiks. He doesn't make too big a deal of it, but it is clear that his contribution to "The Radio Ballads" was never appreciated enough to give him a permanent position on the BBC. Despite his denials, he was not a man who doubted his gifts.MacColl's informed and intelligent compassion for poor working class people is unerring; and his truly refined ear searches and finds poetry and natural song in the speech of the lowliest. Towards the end of the book, as he searches his memory he fondly recalls a young girl being recorded for the "actuality" background for one of his beloved radio-ballads. "Her ability to articulate her thoughts and dreams was quite extraordinary". MacColl discerns that the voice was "carrying echoes of my own childhood's hopes and fears" as he recalls her words that moved him: "People sat at the doorway, women gossiping... like home...I know it's only Salford ...people stood on the doorsteps on the hot summer night, drinking the beer what they'd just got from the corner. It seemed that nice. ..The darkness comes and the people go in their houses and it's something really kind of ... unspeakable." He is ruthless as always with his own analysis, asking unsentimentally, if it is just the nostalgia for her world that moved him so deeply, as he continues her words: "Glad that I'm alive and can do these things. Just to be alive and meet people and laugh and be friends with everyone."Ewan says "I have never been proprietary or courted fame." Perhaps this is the essence of his great failings. He annoyed people, and was glad to do it. The work was there to be done. It is not false modesty that enables him to praise the contributions his fellows made to his art. He also says: "Peggy and I were not very discriminating about the use of accompaniment and a number of our early attempts at accompanying ballads were disastrous." It is the humility of a very clever man, afraid to belittle those around him with the panache of his gifts, aware too of how often he fails in this. "Dirty ol' town" was written to cover a "set change in "Landscape with Chimneys"". He makes light of "Sweet Thames Flow Softly" one of the most exquisite lyrics in our language. Something about him sounds like a liar when most he is telling the truth; and he knows it.The true poet in him, in failing health, recalls the Corsican journey to hospital with his beloved Peg driving him; with heightened awareness he sees "past the burning municipal-tip where red kites soar in and out of the drifting, stinking amber-tinted smoke to the hospital at Bastia." Right to the end he despises "the Thatchers and the Tebbits" and "all the plunderers of the common wealth" and capitalists whose "greed is as limitless as the universe".Still raging against the dying of the light he continued to rail against the establishment whose imprimatur he craved until he died; MacColl does not get the credit that is his due because he worked too hard against himself to put together such a body of work.


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