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EWAN MacCOLL - "Solo Flight" - Topic TSCD810

Review Ewan MacColl? Good grief - there's a challenge. My best qualification for the job is that I was NOT around at the time (at least not in the folk scene) and I can therefore listen to this with neither preconceptions, prejudices nor nostalgia. This is a 1972 album, originally on the Argo label - some time after MacColl had established himself (in the late 1950s and early 60s) as a hugely influential figure. This collection includes some extremely well-known songs ("Bonnie Bunch of Roses", "The Fowler", "Sheath and Knife") that are largely delivered in a robust, declamatory style, with some sparse and sensitive accompaniment from John Faulkner and Peggy Seeger (who else?) on guitars, concertina, mandolin, dulcimer, banjo and whistle. It's a mixed bag of English and Scots songs, mostly traditional, some written.

The most striking feature of the CD is the authoritative, "in your face" singing. Listening to this, I'd love to have heard MacColl live, but I wouldn't have picked an argument with him! This singing style has also been enormously influential. Most of us know someone, or several someones who try to emulate this occasionally snarling, emphatic tone, but here we probably have the source. There is one real oddity here in "The Iron- Moulder's Wedding", a silly (and funny) comic song sung in a Middlesborough accent to fit its setting. This is most odd, everything I have read about Ewan MacColl suggests that he would be pretty purist about singing in his own accent. He does it again on "The Molecatcher" - a Manchester song and another comic song. Did funny songs demand funny voices? Perhaps this was his real accent, and the strong Scots accent that fills most of the rest of this was the affectation?

Who cares? This is seminal stuff from a figure whose importance cannot really be exaggerated.

Alan Murray

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This album was reviewed in Issue 38 of The Living Tradition magazine.