Ewan MacColl (photo via The Guardian)
Well known Cork folk singers, John Nyhan and Mick Treacy will present the songs of Ewan MacColl at the Maldron Hotel Bar on Friday night 3rd August at 9.30pm.
John Nyhan was born in Cork City, he now lives in North Cork. He was heavily influenced by the Folk music revival of the 60s and 70s and has been playing and promoting music for over 40 years. In the 1970s he was a founding member of the Shandon Folk Club in Eason’s Hill, within earshot of the Shandon Bells. John worked as a peace campaigner in Northern Ireland in the 70s as a member of Voluntary Services International. He is well known for his involvement in the Bluegrass and Folks concerts which take place at the Village Arts Centre in Kilworth in North Cork.
Along with Mick Treacy he has played at several Mother Jones festivals and his song themes have included the songs of Joe Hill, songs of the mining communities and in 2017, the songs of the Spanish Civil War. Mick Treacy was a familiar figure in the folk clubs across English which resulted from the Folk revival. He was a member of the famous “Munstermen” folk group which played and sang on the UK folk circuits. The Munstermen had their own club known as the “Holy Ground” in the Cambridge Inn. Mick’s knowledge of folk ballads is encyclopaedic and his powerful performances along with his old friend John Nyhan are always memorable at the festival.
Ewan MacColl, born James Henry Miller (Jimmie Miller) in Salford in 1915, became one of the best known and influential folk singers in Britain over many decades. Largely self-educated, MacColl became an active and lifelong Communist and took part in many unemployed worker campaigns during the great depression years.
He was an actor, folk singer, songwriter, song collector and poet. He wrote over 300 songs during his life, many classics and a few of questionable worth. Some of his songs were recorded by Irish folk groups such as the Dubliners, the Clancy Brothers, the Pogues and Luke Kelly. Dick Gaughan also recorded several of his compositions.
Classics include “Dirty Old Town“, which was written in 1948 for a Theatre workshop production, “Landscape with Chimney’s”, a documentary play about Salford in Lancashire. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“, (1958) “The Shoals of Herring“. (1961) and “Freeborn Man” written in 1966 for a radio ballad entitled The Travelling People.
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger album cover
An avid collector of material, he worked closely with his good friend Alan Lomax, who recorded some of his material, he also worked with A.L. Lloyd (Bert Lloyd), who collected a vast trove of working class and coal mining ballads. MacColl also met up with uilleann piper Seamus Ennis, who himself was a collector of traditional music.
He wandered folk music clubs and singing clubs, a few outstanding and a few in questionable locations (in public houses) and many with dubious atmosphere. MacColl questioned why some trade unions seemed unaware of their cultural responsibilities and urged them to provide a base for the vibrant sub-culture in folk music that was then taking shape in the 50s.
His daughter with his second wife, Jean Newlove, was the late singer Kirsty MacColl. His third wife Peggy Seeger (Half-sister to the American singer Pete Seeger) collaborated in many of his songs and albums.
His gritty and honest autobiography, “Journeyman” (Sidgwick & Jackson) completed just before his death in 1989 is dedicated to Peggy and states “The names of a number of people who appear in this book, especially in the early days, have been changed to avoid hurting feelings”
In her introduction to this book published in 1990, Peggy in turn reflects on the Ewan MacColl she lived with for 25 years and their three children Neill, Calum and Kitty. She laments on how much fascinating material was not included in what were his memoirs. He failed to claim credit for many of his achievements and neglects to mention his connections many of the people he knew and worked with such as Brendan and Dominic Behan, Sean O’Casey, Paul Robeson, George Bernard Shaw and Billie Holiday as well as a host of screen stars.
Ewan MacColl’s influence on the folk music revival was enormous and remains so today.
John Nyhan and Mick Treacy will tell his story and sing some of his songs on Friday night 3rd August at 9.30 pm at the Maldron Hotel Bar.