It is nearly 30 since Ewan MacColl died and other recording labels have stolen a march in the issuing of compilation CD’s in the meantime so this collection of his recordings for the Topic label is perhaps long overdue. It is, nevertheless, an interesting collection and a worthy snapshot of his folk singing career. Sadly, the Radio Ballads, perhaps some of MacColl’s most influential work, are absent from this collection – they were issued by Argo Records – but there is still much here that reminds us of his powerful influence in the early days of the folk revival, an influence which prompted one obituary to describe him as the godfather of the folk revival. The material also reflects what Peggy Seeger has described as ‘the policy’ from The Ballads and Blues Club (a title that says much about the material that was performed in those early days of the revival) which MacColl founded in 1953 with a few kindred spirits, namely when you’re onstage you sing folk songs from your own culture. There are songs here which reflect MacColl’s highly politicised upbringing in Lancashire to Scottish parents and the lives of what politicians are wont to describe these days as ‘ordinary working people’ (sic).
The album opens with an early recording – it dates from 1952 – of perhaps his most famous composition, Dirty Old Town, written in 1949, about Salford, the city of his birth. Even at this early stage in his recording career, his characteristic quavering voice is very much in evidence, helped along with a slightly bluesy guitar accompaniment [ . . . ]
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