Feeling My Age

Getting older has its drawbacks – but it's a lot better than the alternative.

Ewan MacColl

James Henry Miller (1915 – 1989), better known by his stage name Ewan MacColl, was an English folk singer, songwriter, communist, labour activist, actor, poet, playwright and record producer. A Guardian article to mark the centenary of MacColl’s birth contained warm tributes from his family and associates. But also these recollections from English folk singer Shirley Collins:

“Ewan had quite a pernicious influence on folk music, I think. People who went to the Critics Group [a study group for singers held at MacColl’s home] ended up being moulded by him, sounding the same. Folk music should be about reflecting music from the regions, the different voices, the roots of it. You couldn’t differentiate anything with his approach.

I first met him when I was 20 and my antenna went up straightaway. I genuinely don’t want to be unpleasant, but he was unpleasant to me, quite sexist, and pretentious and pompous – words that should never be applied to a folk singer. He said to me that I shouldn’t wear nail varnish. What a wretched thing to say to a young woman with an interest; what a way of putting someone down.

He was self-invented; there seemed nothing truthful about him, and that’s always concerned me greatly. He was an actor, really, even as a singer. The way he’d turn his chair, sit astride it, put his hand to his ear… my heart would sink. I know it’s not fair as he’s not here to defend himself, but I’ve had my opinion since I first met him, and I’ve not seen any reason to change it.

He was a talented man, yes – you can’t get away from that – who made some fine pieces of work, but he could never reach me like a traditional singer could, someone like George Maynard or Harry Cox. His influence now? Things have opened up. Nobody has to listen to what other people are saying. People are going their own way. That’s the way it should be.”

Shirley Collins
The Guardian 25 Jan 2015
Ewan MacColl: the godfather of folk who was adored – and feared

Write a Comment