Blood and Roses: The Songs of Ewan MacColl at the Barbican
Ewan MacColl – British folksinger, songwriter, spearhead and communist – was born 100 years ago this year. He had three wives, the last of which was American folksinger Peggy Seeger with whom he had three children. They married and had some children of their own, and this year brought their musical talents together, along with their love for the eminently talented songwriter, for one special evening of performances to celebrate MacColl’s life and legacy.
Joined by cherished friends Chaim Tannenbaum, Eliza and Martin Carthy, Damien Dempsey, Seth Lakeman and The Unthanks, MacColl’s spectacular birthday party not only created a sense of hallowed appreciation and respect for the artist, but also worked as a full-bodied and energetic ode to the British folk music revival, in which MacColl was an important figure. Many of his hits are reproduced, such as Dirty Old Town, written for MacColl’s play Landscape with Chimneys and which went on to be a huge success for The Pogues, and his internationally successful song The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, which was written about – and performed magnificently by – Seeger herself. Seeger’s tiny, elderly figure is still capable of unleashing an astounding range of vocal tones that had the entirety of the Barbican’s spacious auditorium held in suspended ecstasy. Seeger, alongside Damien Dempsey, has a perfectly controlled, fluid voice; it seems to be searching, challenging and asking something all at once. Accompanied by the strong, strolling phrases of music from guitars, drums, double bass, violins, accordion, piano, banjo, mandolin and harmonica, the band sketched out a brief history of MacColl’s life and relationship with folk music that dipped in and out of the personal and the political, with a background of striking black and white photographs to give context to the music.
As much about one man as a whole generation, Blood and Roses emphasises how music, especially folk, is about community and shared power. Passion for this genre and a respect for tradition and their own roots radiate from the performers’ smiles as they maneuver their instruments with expertise and joy. Each song has its own individual spirit and purpose, adding fresh vigour to an artform that has evolved from the primitive tradition of oral storytelling.
Photos: Mark Allan
For further information about Ewan McColl and future events visit here