Ewan MacColl was one of the architects of the folksong revival. Whether as an interpreter of ancient ballads or as a writer of new songs, he influenced almost everyone involved in folk music in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. He brought the same skill and understanding to songs of Britain’s industrial cities, ballads of Scots history and lyrics from the English countryside. His own compositions, many of which have passed into the common currency of folk music, are featured both on his own albums and on The Radio-Ballads (see under TSCD801-808).
The Big Hewer – ‘a poetic documentary with worker heroes,’ as The Times called it – charts the lives of Britain’s coal miners, in the Northeast, East Midlands and South Wales.
‘In The Big Hewer, about coal mining and The Fight Game, about boxing, the radio-ballads find men titanic enough to live up to their pretensions. Listening to these two, you can really believe that there were giants in those days.’ THE INDEPENDENT
The great traditional ballads are storytelling at its dark, urgent best and the greatest exponent of this folk art was Ewan MacColl. Traditional narrative ballads are at the centre of the British Folk Tradition. They told stories which helped define the English and Scottish national characters; stories about murder and intrigue, love and discord on both the epic and domestic scale, but stories that told us about ourselves.
Ewan MacColl was the folk revival’s greatest proponent of the ballad; ballads were central to his conception of the folk revival and at the core of his recordings and performances. His commitment showed in his performances, where the story was everything. No one who ever witnessed him performing one of the great ballads live will ever forget it. Ballads: Murder, Intrigue, Love, Discord is a great selection of performances originally released in 1956 and never before on CD. This beautiful double CD is lovingly remastered and packaged in a slipcase with a 64 page booklet with extensive notes and full texts of all the songs.
â€¢ “An unmissable collection celebrating the man’s interpretative genius ” â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜… Uncut
â€¢ “Majestic â€“ the intensity, power, drive and drama of these performances are undiminished” â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜… Songlines
â€¢Â â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜… Record Collector
â€¢ “This lovingly compiled double disc of previously unreleased [on CD] material, with its richly detailed booklet, provides both a fascinating archive and an authentic naked plunge into the deep wellspring of traditional song” Acoustic
Conceived as a documentary on the psychology of pain, The Body Blow focuses on five people partially or totally disabled by polio.
‘The rhythmic nuances of the interviewees were built into MacColl’s melodies; while the merciless impact of the debilitating illness breathed foreboding into the songs of The Body Blow – an examination of the ‘psychology of pain’. From these sprang some of MacColl’s most beautiful music.’ PETER RAPHIDES, TIME OUT
2Â What day did the world stop moving?
3Â Do you recall how you climbed the Mountains?
4Â Can’t breathe…
5Â I often think back…
6Â The world is a bed …
7Â I wasn’t afraid while I was in the lung…
8Â Well, first of all… appreciate the situation…
9Â While there’s life, there’s hope…
10Â It’s goodbye now…
11Â Now I can do all the small things?
12Â Stronger than pain is the human will to survive…
13Â Closing announcement / The hidden foe…
Script, song lyrics and music: Ewan MacColl
Orchestration and musical direction: Peggy Seeger
Actuality recording: Charles Parker
Production: Charles Parker
Programme prepared with the help of The Polio Research Fund
Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger
Alf Edwards English concertina, ocarina â€¨Alfie Khan flute, harmonicaâ€¨ Brian Daly guitar â€¨Peggy Seeger guitar, 5-string banjo
The last of the radio-ballads deals with gypsies, tinkers and the rest of Britain’s travellers – ‘people talking about what it means to be a tenth-rate citizen in a civilised land.’ MacColl’s song The Travelling People was so true to their lives that it was taken up by travellers and absorbed into their repertoire.
‘The final episode, The Travelling People, had MacColl at the peak of his lyrical intonation.’ DAVE HENDERSON, Q
‘The Radio-Ballads are, in the literal sense of the word, wonderful ….. they changed the course of broadcasting history. What makes them so important now is that, at their best, they tell you things you don’t forget. The Travelling People is even more powerful than it was in 1964’ GILLIAN REYNOLDS, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
Britain’s herring fishing communities are the subject of this, perhaps the best-remembered and most widely heard of all the radio-ballads. It was broadcast in more than 80 countries, and won the 1960 Prix d’Italia for radio documentary. Several of MacColl’s songs for Singing The Fishing quickly entered the repertoire of a generation of folk singers.
This powerful compilation from MacColl’s many recordings made for the Topic label during the 1950s and ’60s gathers ballads and songs of nationhood, crime and punishment, mining and weaving. Many are traditional, but some are MacColl’s own compositions and include such widely known pieces as Dirty Old Town and The Gresford Disaster.
Ewan MacColl vocals
Peggy Seeger accompaniments
Part documentary, part allegory, The Fight Game takes the listener into the gladiatorial arena of professional boxing.
â€˜In The Big Hewer, about coal mining and The Fight Game, about boxing, the radio-ballads find men titanic enough to live up to their pretensions. Listening to these two, you can really believe that there were giants in those days.â€™ THE INDEPENDENT
The first of the radio-ballads was inspired by a steam locomotive driver who died performing an act of heroism. It was based, like its successors, on many hours of tape-recorded testimonies and reminiscences, mixed into a continuous narrative interspersed with MacColl’s songs and Seeger’s music.
‘A generation from now, listeners will surely still be moved by this recording’ NEW STATESMAN
‘The Ballad of John Axton was ostensibly about the life and death of a train driver but, like ensuing ballads about the building of the M1, herring fishing and coal miners, it was really about the complex relationship between men and their professions.’ TIME OUT
‘No wonder it knocked England out that July evening.’ THE OBSERVER
Just as groups like The Beatles were about to redefine youth culture, the radio-ballad team produced this powerfully revealing account of the lives and dreams of British teenagers. MacColl harked back to the ancient song-form of the quest ballad to create a match with the frankness and sincerity of the young people interviewed.
Sea songs and shanties
A treasure-chest of seafaring songs delivered by such fine inter-preters as Louis Killen, The Watersons, Bob Davenport, Ian Campbell and Cyril Tawney. The two dozen performances include some of the best-known of all British sea songs and shanties, evoking a long and turbulent history of shipwrecks and sea-battles, of tall ships and whalers and the men who sailed in them.
The folk ballad,’ wrote A.L.Lloyd, ‘is a folk tale put into verse and set to music. Among British ballads are some of the oldest as well as greatest folksongs we have.’ His claim is trenchantly justified by this exceptional collection, as dramas of the distant past are restaged in vibrant performances by Ewan MacColl, Anne Briggs, Louis Killen, Mike Waterson, Norman Kennedy and Lloyd himself.
Gamblers and sporting blades
These songs of sport and betting evoke a packed landscape of hunts and racecourses, boxing rings and football pitches, cockfighting pits, card tables and poolrooms, in boisterous renditions by Ewan MacColl, A.L.Lloyd and Roy Harris.
The second of the remarkable Radio Ballads Song of a Road tells the story of the making of the M1, Britain’s first motorway. The road building was a suitably iconic and newsworthy project for Parker, MacColl and Seeger to develop their ground-breaking radio techniques. Among the songs MacColl created for this radio-ballad was Hot Asphalt.