WHILE Robert Burns’ birthday was being celebrated the world over, there was a cosy corner of Glasgow reserved for marking the centenary of esteemed folk songwriter Ewan McColl, whose recorded version of Burns’ A Man’s a Man for A’ That opened proceedings and set the lyrical tone for this tribute.
Blood & Roses: The Songs of Ewan MacColl
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Rating: * * * *
Though pitched as a birthday party, curated and hosted by MacColl’s sons Neill and Calum with warm, witty memories from his wife Peggy Seeger recited in absentia, many of the songs selected for interpretation were written to challenge and provoke; others, such as The Battle Is Done With, delivered with great storytelling character by Jarvis Cocker, were written to bear witness to a lifestyle.
There were ample fine examples of his radio ballads inspired by the travelling community, including Freeborn Man of the Travelling People, led by Martin Carthy, and The Moving On Song, wonderfully rendered by his wife Norma Waterson, in remembrance of the late Sheila Stewart and Ray Fisher.
MacColl’s ability to write straight from the heart was keenly captured in Eliza Carthy’s sorrowful singing and fiddle playing on Alone, Paul Buchanan’s husky take on The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and his sons’ tender rendering of Sweet Thames Flow Softly and The Joy Of Living.
Keeping it in the family, MacColl’s grandsons joined a lusty male voice troupe for a trio of shanties and there were massed renditions of Dirty Old Town and The Manchester Rambler to round off a big-hearted evening which was truly an education and a pleasure.