On this day: October 22

Singer Ewan MacColl was the writer of many enduring folk songsSinger Ewan MacColl was the writer of many enduring folk songs
Singer Ewan MacColl was the writer of many enduring folk songs

Ewan MacColl, Scottish socialist, folk singer-songwriter and playwright died.

MacColl was a pivotal figure in the British folk revival during the 20th century and the writer of such enduring songs as Dirty Old Town, Shoals of Herring and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

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He shared a birth date with that other great songwriter and collector, Robert Burns.

Ewan MacColl at home, singing.Ewan MacColl at home, singing.
Ewan MacColl at home, singing.

George Bernard Shaw said of him in 1947, Apart from myself, MacColl is the only man of genius writing for the theatre in Britain today.

Born Jimmy Miller, in Salford, to fiercely politically minded Scots parents, Ewan MacColl adopted the name under which he would become famous in 1945 when he was deeply involved with Theatre Workshop.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was written for his wife, Peggy Seeger (another folk singer), but made most famous by Roberta Flack.

His talents, of course, stretched far beyond his singing and his politically driven songwriting.

He and Seeger were avid song collectors, including from Scotland’s travellers, publishing a notable study of the Stewarts of Blairgowrie, Till Doomsday in the Afternoon.

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He was a playwright, actor and producer – not least as co-creator with Seeger and Parker of those Radio Ballads, which brought ordinary working people’s experience to the airwaves, combining their own accounts with songs written by MacColl which sounded so authentic that years later interpreters were claiming them as traditional.

The singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl was his daughter.