Mother Jones Festival remembers Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014)

Mother Jones Festival remembers Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014)

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pete Seeger, John Nyhan and Mick Treacy will sing some of the songs associated with this legendary folk singer at the Maldron Hotel on Friday 2nd August at 9.30pm.

 

Pete Seeger remained committed throughout his long life to basic principles such as defence of trade unions, the rights of workers, social justice, peace and protection of the environment. An activist at heart, a songwriter, he wrote hundreds of songs, saved many “lost’ songs and popularised dozens of others.

“Songs won’t save the planet, but neither will books or speeches. But songs are sneaky things, they slip past borders, they proliferate in prisons”.

His main influences were Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax and Aunt Molly Jackson. Pete listened in awe as Leadbelly talked to his guitar, he sang for his next meal with Guthrie and he marvelled as Aunt Molly veteran of Harlan County mine wars sang out “I am a Union Woman”.

 

Almanac Singers album “Talking Union”

He studied sociology in Harvard, yet he wanted to be a journalist. The Harvard Class of 1940, including John F Kennedy, graduated without Pete who had dropped out. Abandoning his efforts to become an artist he discovered the songs and music of the people which allowed the working class to express themselves.

He was an integral part of the initial fusion and synergy of folk music with social and union activism, IWW songs, communist and leftist politics in the post-depression years. His first public appearance as a singer in 1940 ended with Pete forgetting how to play his 5 string banjo and then forgetting the words. Yet his dedication, belief and resilience saw him found the Almanac Singers and play Madison Square Garden in May 1941 before thousands of striking workers from the Transport Workers’ Union, led by Kilgarvan born Mike Quill.

The Almanac Singers “Talking Union” album featuring Pete and Woody became a musical bible for thousands of union activists and ensured the survival of songs such as Solidarity Forever (Ralph Chaplin), Which Side Are You On (Florence Reece) and We Shall Not Be Moved. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and the entry of the Americans into World War 2 ensured the demise of the Almanacs.

Pete Seeger in concert

Seeger was drafted into the Army and served the war out in Saipan. Tragically, his baby son Peter, with his wife Toshi died at 4 months while he was in Saipan. After the war, he helped to organise People’s Songs, a huge collective of musicians and union activists which shared songs and promoted left-wing causes. Later he established Sing Out.

In 1949, Pete along with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman established The Weavers. They achieved popular success with hits such as Goodnight Irene (written by Pete’s old friend Lead belly), Wimoweh and Tena, Tzena, Tzena.

The advent of the McCarthy witch hunts ensured Pete became a target for the FBI and informers. Labelled a “Commie” and “Stalin’s Songbird”, the notorious and feared blacklist brought about the demise of the popular Weavers, with work drying up. Pete considered himself a communist with a small “c”, he supported many communist causes, was a member of the Communist Party and defended them in the 40s and 50s but claimed to be a musician first rather than a politician.

Pete Seeger at  HUAC

Pete Seeger in a forthright stance at the US House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

Through the grinding 1950s, Seeger became a lightning rod for the FBI and was relentlessly investigated for sedition by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  1961 saw him cited for contempt of Congress and sentenced to ten one year periods in jail to run concurrently. Finally in May 1962, a Court of Appeal dismissed the charges.

His plight aroused a worldwide campaign. The Pete Seeger Committee in England had Paul Robeson as president, Ewan MacColl as secretary and Benjamin Britten, Doris Lessing and Sean O’Casey as sponsors. 4000 people packed the Royal Albert Hall in his support in 1961. A young Bob Dylan accused the authorities of framing him and described Seeger as a “saint.” Tommy Makem publicly supported Pete.

The 1960s saw the folk/rock boom take off and groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio had huge hits with If I Had a Hammer and Where Have All The Flowers Gone. Turn Turn Turn and his adaption of the Cuban poem Guantanamera is embedded in the public consciousness. Pete’s version of We Shall Overcome an old gospel hymn adapted by striking tobacco workers in the 40s and published in People’s Songs became the anthem of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. He marched at Selma with Dr Martin Luther King and encouraged Bernice Johnson and the Freedom Singers, who brought the spiritual and slave songs of the South to the Civil Rights movement.

Clearwater on the Hudson River

Back in 1949, Pete and his wife Toshi had purchased 17 acres of land on a hilly site overlooking the River Hudson, near Beacon north of New York. There they built a “log cabin” and raised three children (Danny, Mika and Tinya) amidst the woods. Toshi was an activist, “the brains of the family” who shunned the limelight, she organised Pete and organised concerts, festivals and their itineraries (Newport Folk Festival, the Clearwater festival).

A non-drinker and non-smoker, Seeger lived a relatively independent ascetic lifestyle, answering mail from all over the world, writing songs, supporting union and social causes and simply chopping wood.

In the 60s he noticed how the nearby environment was deteriorating and how the Hudson River was increasingly contaminated with toxic materials. Vowing to try to rectify this environmental degradation floating past his remote home, he led a project to build a sloop to travel the river to educate people and society about cleaning up the once beautiful Hudson. In 1969, Clearwater was finally launched and still plies the waterways.

Pete and Toshi

Seeger played his banjo and sang at hundreds of counter culture events through the 70s and 80s and influenced generations of singers and activists, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and dozens of others acknowledged his pioneering influence, Pete in turn acknowledged Huddie, Aunt Molly and Woody. His 90th Birthday concert at Madison Square Garden was a huge event as the folk music world paid homage.

A highlight for Pete came when Barack Obama asked him to perform at his presidential inauguration concert in 2009. Accompanied by Tao Rodriguez, his grandson and Springsteen, they sang This Land is Your Land, written by Woody Guthrie.

Pete passed away on 27th January 2014. Toshi Seeger died on 9th July 2013.

 

John Nyhan

John Nyhan

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 the Mother Jones festivals and his song themes have included the songs of Joe Hill, songs of the mining communities and the songs of the Spanish Civil War in 2017. In 2018 John and Mick honoured Ewan MacColl in an unforgettable performance.

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.

The songs of Pete Seeger will be sung at the Maldron Hotel in Shandon at 9.30 pm on Friday night 2nd August at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2019.

 

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival – Timetable Friday 3rd August

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School

programme 2018.

 

Friday 3rd August

 

11.00.    Dr Emily E. LB. Twarog

The Female Vote: Why gender matters in American politics!”

Cathedral Visitor Centre

1.00.     Music at the Maldron. Jimmy Crowley.

2.30.    Professor Louise Ryan

              “Votes for All Women? The tricky issue of class politics in the Irish suffrage movement” 

 

              Cathedral Visitor Centre.

 

7.30       Mary Manning.

Striking Back……..The story of the Dunnes Stores Workers strike”

Firkin Theatre

9.30      John Nyhan and Mick Treacy present the songs of Ewan McColl at the Maldron Bar

A night of music with the Songs of Ewan MacColl

Ewan MacColl

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

John Nyhan

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.

 

Mick Treacy

Mick Treacy

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.

 

Songs of the Spanish Civil War

Songs of the Spanish Civil War with John Nyhan, Mick Treacy and friends.

This event takes place at the Maldron Hotel on Friday night 4th August at 9.30 pm. All are welcome. Singers and songwriters are welcome to come along and take part but please contact John Nyhan beforehand.

Many people are aware of Christy Moore’s inspiring song and the words of Viva La Quinta Brigada, which he credited to the book, Connolly Column written by Michael O’Riordan, and read while Christy was on holiday in Spain. The words concentrate on the Irish members of the International Brigades who lost their lives during the war, however there is a huge rich vein of songs and poetry associated with the Spanish Civil War.

Mick Treacy and John Nyhan hope to explore this rich vein of songs, stories and poetry during the forthcoming Spirit of Mother Jones festival.

A recent note from Mick indicates their intentions

“I will be working from this list hopefully but not in this order

The Ballad of Kit Conway, Viva la Quinta Brigada, Hans Beimler, Jarama Valley, Venja Jaleo, The Peatbog Soldiers, off to Salamanca, O’Duffy’s ironsides, Jamie Foyer, The Thaelmann Column, The Bantry Girl’s Lament, Come you Anti-fascists, Viva la Quince Brigata(Spanish) and Bandiera Rossa as well as poems by Charlie Donnelly, John Cornford , Donough Mc Donough and others.”

Mick Treacy

Mick Treacy

Mick Treacy.

Mick came to folk music through listening to The Weavers , Delia Murphy, Joe Lynch, Connie Foley and the one and only Margaret Barry in the fifties and then the Skiffle movement in Britain which was spearheaded by Ken Colyer one of the leading exponents of the Classic New Orleans Jazz style in Britain. The revival of interest in Folk song and music happened to coincide with this outbreak of people’s music making and before long there was a natural fusion which led to Skiffle groups becoming Folk Groups like The Ian Campbell group in Birmingham or The Quarrymen from Liverpool becoming the Beatles.

Mick went to England in late 1960 became part of the whole folk revival first listening and learning from Ewan McColl, Bob Davenport, Alex Campbell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and many more.   By 1964 he was singing in Birmingham Town Hall in a fund raising concert for West Midlands Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and later joined an Irish Group called ‘The Munstermen’. This lead in turn to the founding of ‘The Holyground Folk Club’ which had three glorious years and hosted many of the world’s great folk artistes.

In 1967 he came to Dublin and sang in most of the venues of the day such as the Embankment, the Castle Inn, the Old Sheiling and many of the local Folk Clubs before returning to his native Mitchelstown where he settled down, got married and raised a family.  He has always had an interest in the songs of the working people collecting many down through the years.  He feels privileged to have shared the platform and stage with many pacifist and socialist poets, writers, singers and performers who shared his dreams.

 

 

John Nyhan.

 

John Nyhan

John Nyhan

John was born in Cork City and now lives in Lombardstown, North Cork, where he plays an active role in the local community. He was heavily influenced by the Folk revival and has been playing and promoting music for over 40 years.

 

During the 70s he was a founding member of The Shandon Folk Club in Eason’s Hill, within an earshot of the Shandon Bells. Today he continues his voluntary involvement as a promoter of concerts and festivals.  He is especially well known for the Bluegrass and Folk concerts he runs at The Village Arts Centre, Kilworth Co Cork. John is an avid collector of folk, bluegrass and songs of the people and has an encyclopaedic recall of singers and songs.

 

In the 1970s he worked as a peace campaigner in the North of Ireland as a member of Voluntary Service International. He was also a worker with the Simon Community.

 

A regular contributor to the annual Mother Jones festival, John organised the legendary session “The songs of Joe Hill” in 2015 and in 2016 performed his vast repertoire of mining songs along with Mick Treacy.