As song collectors, musicians, political activists, and folk revivalists, Ewan MacColl and Alan Lomax each played critical roles in the British folk revival of the mid-20th century. Both born in 1915, the lives, work, and talent of these two men are being celebrated during TradFest with two centenary events.
On Tuesday 5 May, folk musicians Jimmy Ross and Finlay Allison will lead Re-Source: The Gifts of Ewan MacColl as part of their Folkumentaries series. In addition to performing songs written and collected by MacColl, the duo will guide participants through the legend’s life, from his roots in a ‘Dirty Old Town’ to his days of song writing and collecting.
Born James Henry Miller (changed to Ewan MacColl in 1945) in Salford, England to Scottish parents, McColl was an actor, playwright, musician, songwriter and song collector. As part of the folk revival themselves, Allison and Ross met with MacColl personally on many occasions and attended several of his workshops, with Ross commenting that ‘Ewan took folk music very seriously and had an intellectual approach to it.’
In regards to MacColl’s influence, Ross states that: ‘folk music today owes Ewan MacColl a great debt, which for the most part goes unacknowledged.’ Hopefully MacColl’s induction into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame in Cardiff on Wednesday will go towards ensuring his influence is not forgotten.
MacColl would not have made such a lasting impact on folk music, however, if it were not for Alan Lomax. According to Ross, Lomax ‘was pivotal in MacColl’s development as a folksinger. It was Lomax who persuaded him to take folk music seriously as a project.’
Author, songwriter, and storyteller Ewan McVicar will be exploring the folk song collecting career of Alan Lomax at Re-Source: Alan Lomax – Dunkin Their Heels in the Corn and Custard on Wednesday 6 May. McVicar, who has edited several CDs for the Lomax Foundation and Rounder Records, as well as transcribed and written song notes for three CDs of Lomax’s work, will lead participants through Lomax’s career, not only in Scotland, but across the globe.
The son of folklorist John Lomax, Alan began his song-collecting journey early and eventually became a folklorist himself, as well as an archivist, writer, historian, ethnomusicologist, and filmmaker. When asked to explain what separates Lomax from other collectors, McVicar replied that he ‘was not only interested in the songs, but in the song contexts, from whom and how they were learned, and particularly in the stories of the singers’ lives.’ During the event, McVicar will focus on Lomax’s work through CDs and books as well as a guide through the Association for Cultural Equity Alan Lomax Archives.
These two events are sure to be educational and celebratory as they honour the legacies of MacColl and Lomax, two men who made lasting impacts on folk music.
You can read more about Ross and Allison’s wide range of folk music knowledge as well as their Folkumentaries on their website.
Ross and Allison are also taking part in a celebration for folk activist Pete Seeger, who would have been 96 this May, alongside Gillian Frame & Penny Stone on Friday 8 May.
You can read more about Ewan’s influences on his website.
For a full list of workshop sessions where you can dig beneath the surface and learn more about activists, instruments or a general overview of the music and songs of Scotland click here.