Words by Robin Denselow
Stirring tribute to a legendary figure of British folk
The centenary of Ewan MacColl’s birth provides the perfect opportunity for a remarkable collection of artists to celebrate this unique, if controversial figure. A stalwart of the British folk revival in the 1950s, MacColl famously told singers what they should perform (no American songs if you were British) and how to dress. But there was another side to him, displayed in some memorable songs, which mixed angry left-wing politics and stories of working lives with sturdy melodies and strong emotion. He’s the man who wrote ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ for Peggy Seeger, long before it became a hit for Roberta Flack in 1972.
This 21-song set, produced by his sons Calum and Neill, is a reminder of MacColl’s power and range. It’s a magnificent tribute that covers well-worn favourites such as ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, here revived by Paul Buchanan of Blue Nile, and ‘Dirty Old Town’, which gets a gutsy treatment from Steve Earle. Lesser-known songs include an exquisitely sung version of the gently romantic ‘Sweet Thames, Flow Softly’, and a charming treatment of ‘Cannily, Cannily’ from The Unthanks. Songs from the experimental the series Radio Ballads, made for the BBC, include a selection from The Travelling People, on the realities of Gypsy life, with a powerfully understated ‘Moving On Song’ from Norma Waterson and an edgy account of ‘The Terror Time’ from Karine Polwart.