Celtic Connections review: Peggy Seeger with Calum and Neill MacColl, Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow

The folk legends just keep coming at Celtic Connections 2020. The great Peggy Seeger of the clan Seeger (and the Crawfords from Crawford) is still writing and performing into her 80s and will shortly embark on her impishly titled First Farewell Concert Tour with her younger son Calum.

Peggy Seeger
Peggy Seeger

Peggy Seeger with Calum and Neill MacColl, Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow ****

For this festival one-off, she was also joined by elder son Neill to form a playful family trio with much gentle joshing, including a running joke on Seeger’s tuning up abilities – and with guitar, banjo, autoharp, concertina and piano in her repertoire, that was a potential minefield. Her sons added guitar and mandolin to her autoharp for Hard Times, a song of labour injustices. But there were no hard times in the company of Seeger and sons, who encouraged the capacity audience to sing along while still appreciating the family harmonies.

Up In Wisconsin catalogued ravages to the countryside, while Mike Waterson’s Jack Frost was a snapshot of nature fighting back during the Napoleonic Wars. But in a wide-ranging repertoire there was plenty room for humour and play.

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Seeger had a high old time accompanying her sons’ rendition of Big Rock Candy Mountain on piano, while they provided their own fine acoustic blues backing to Go On Old Gator, an “animal folk song” once transcribed by their grandmother Ruth Crawford Seeger.

Message trumped melody on a witty ditty about the menstrual cycle with barbershop harmonies from her boys, who kept straight faces as Seeger unleashed the wry flipside about the male hormonal imperative. Expectations were also smartly subverted on a seemingly twee dialogue between a bride-to-be and her intended.

Seeger is far from sentimental, describing falling in love as “the best two-and-a-half days of your life” and mincing no words on Right to Life, her pro-choice song on the thorny morality of what constitutes being pro-life.

The second half featured a couple of Ewan MacColl gems, Sweet Thames, Flow Softly (“lovely,” judged Seeger of Calum’s rendition) and his bittersweet The Joy of Living, while Garden of Flowers was Seeger’s composition for her husband in the year before his death. The life and death theme continued with fratricidal tale The Two Brothers(Neill’s lullaby of choice as a boy), 19th century murder ballad Naomi Wise, a droll reflection on the start of life – specifically the innate advantages of being born a boy – and a singalong about growing old, before Seeger returned to deliver one final sinister lullaby for Donald Trump. Fiona Shepherd