(1968) Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The Angry Muse

angrymusefinA Selection of Some British and American Protest Songs (1689 – 1968)

Argo issue number:

DA 83 (mono), ZDA 83 (stereo); re-released May 1972 as ZFB 65; released in USA June 1969.

Produced by: ???
Engineered by: ???

Album cover: See notes below

Availability: long deleted, never released on CD

Singers and musicians
Ewan MacColl – vocal
Peggy Seeger – vocal, guitar, English concertina, 5-string banjo, celeste
Jack Warshaw – guitar, 5-string banjo
Dennis Turner – chorus
Terry Yarnell – chorus
John Faulkner – chorus
Sandra Kerr – chorus


4x6EwanMacColl4Side One

1   Ballad of Accounting (MacColl) – EM vocal, PS vocal and guitar
2   Beans, Bacon and Gravy (American trad) – PS vocal and guitar, JW banjo
3   Epithalamium (trad) – EM vocal, PS guitar, chorus
4   The Farmer is the Man (American trad) – (PS vocal and banjo)
5   Grey October (Seeger) – PS vocal and guitar
6   The Coal Owner and the Pitman’s Wife (trad) – EM vocal, PS guitar and concertina
7   Come Live with Me (MacColl) – EM vocal, PS guitar
8   Fragments from Slavery Days / Jeff Davis and Abe Lincoln (American trad) – PS vocal, guitar
9   Sit Down (Sugar) – PS vocal with chorus


peggy1971davidgahrSide Two
1   The Klan Song (American trad) – PS vocal and guitar
2   Fourloom Weaver (trad) – EM unaccompanied
3   China Rag (tune trad, words Kerr/Seeger/MacColl) – EM vocal, PS vocal and banjo, JW guitar
4   In Contempt (Kramer) – PS vocal, guitar
5   Strike for Better Wages (trad) – EM vocal, chorus & PS concertina
6   The Warming Pan (trad) – EM unaccompanied
7   Rockabye Baby (trad) – PS vocal and celeste
8   I am a Union Woman (Jackson) – PS unaccompanied, chorus
9   The Whig (trad) – EM unaccompanied
10 The Whigs of Fife – EM unaccompanied
11 Brother Did you Weep (MacColl) – EM vocal, PS vocal and guitar

“The term ‘protest song’ has a modern ring to it and, indeed, for many people it means a certain type of popular song specifically located in the 1950s and 1960s,” says MacColl in a gallop through the history of the British and American protest song in the sleeve notes to this album.

“The special nature of the protest song lies in the fact that its theme is meant to convey an author’s conscious awareness of important social problems and the position he or she takes in relations to these problems.

“When disc jockeys, pop singers and the executives of the popular music industry use the term, they are referring to a song in which a writer has made a personal comment on a social theme without introducing specific political comment. In other words, they mean protest songs without real protest or (in the words of a recent radio programme): ‘songs in which the protest is contained’.

“The era of the commercial ‘protest song’ appears to be ending not with a bang but with a whimper, and already the term begins to lie uneasily on the tongues of those who earn their daily bread by simulating enthusiasm and sincerity for the benefit of the radio and television teenage public. But the eventual disappearance of ‘protest songs’ from the commercial scene will probably have no affect whatsoever upon the development and continuation of the genre: protest songs will, presumably, continue to flourish where they have always flourished: in the arena of political struggle.”

Presumably. Or not.

Diplomatic with Argo
I’ve been told that the choice of songs on this album doesn’t necessarily reflect what MacColl and Seeger would have wanted.

“Ewan and Peggy had to be somewhat diplomatic with Argo Records and put together a historical survey rather than a propaganda album. I think it would have been very different if it had been issued by their own company, Blackthorn,” says Jim Carroll, who used to be in the Critics Group.

A shame, because it doesn’t work as a historical survey.

No Woody, no Wobblies, no Weavers
Well, it’s OK till the 20th century kicks in and then it goes a bit pear-shaped.

Despite honourable mentions in the sleeve notes, there are no songs of the Wobblies and none of Woody Guthrie. None of the contemporary songs that did the rounds on the Aldermaston CND marches either – when people were still singing (and not just chanting) at protest marches.

No anti-Polaris or contemporary Scottish republican songs that people had been singing at Holy Loch only a few years earlier.

No anthem from the American civil rights protest. No We Shall Overcome. No If you miss me from the back of the bus or Keep your eyes on the prize. Nothing from the repertoire of the Almanac Singers. Or The Weavers. Or Josh White.

Was all that stuff ruled out for ‘diplomatic’ reasons?

And, of course, there’s no Dylan. No Times They Are a Changing. No Hard Rain. No Masters of War. No Blowing in the Wind. But that’s for a different reason. “Only a non-critical audience, nourished on the watery pap of pop music could have fallen for such tenth-rate drivel,” was MacColl’s take.

So that, I guess, ruled out other watery pop pap like Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Universal Soldier or Country Joe’s Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die.

And no Phil Ochs.

So what does the 53-year-old keeper of the Marxist-Leninist folk faith put in the place of all this stuff that’s missing? Four MacColl/Seeger compositions (Grey October, Ballad of Accounting, Come Live With Me and Brother Did You Weep) and one – China Rag – co-written with fellow member of The Critics Group Sandra Kerr.

They’re not bad songs, but it makes you think…

Ah well.

Album cover
The photo on the cover is brilliant, but who are they and where’s the demo? For a moment I thought it was Leeds City Square, but I don’t remember seeing a tree there ever. And those white coats – the only people who wore those were the Dutch and the FBI.

The guy on the horse is George Washington, I reckon, and the guy in the forefront (the one who’s been avoiding MacColl’s ‘bleeding barbers’) is a junior lecturer in English from the University of Columbia. He’s got a pal in the Progressive Labour Party, who thinks he should join, but he’s not sure.

This isn’t a student demo, though. There’s no chants of ‘Up against the wall, motherfucker’ here. It’s the kind you can take your baby to on an autumn day, as long as you keep him wrapped up nice and warm in a woollen blanket.

Mom has her hair tied back, neat but modern. She’s into peaceful resistance. She still likes Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez, but hubby goes all sullen and moody when she puts that kind of pop pap on the record player. He’s into Mingus at the moment.

Straight after the demo they’re going round to his folks (Dad’s a senior partner in a law firm) for supper, where they’ll get heated about Fidel and Mao. It’ll end in tears, you mark my words. "I DO like your hair tied back," says mom-in-law to daughter-in-law, patting her arm and raising her eyebrows at the menfolk.

Up at the front of the demo – where’s he’s looking – they’re singing, but it’s not one of the songs on this album.

Generation gap
China Rag (track 3, side 2) gives a nice insight into MacColl’s head at the time. Pro-Mao, pro-Uncle Ho and pro the Cultural Revolution. Anti-Daz, anti-Bingo and anti-Coronation Street. Young People? Don’t know they’re bloody born.

Hey, but what was that little red book those long-haired anti-consumerist kids were carrying as they cavorted round Paris, London and Berzerkley in 1968, arms linked, strung out on LSD, creating mayhem? Whose faces were on those placards they were carrying? And what was that they were chanting? Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win! Bloody kids!

China Rag….
…or to give it its full title The Freedom Loving Peoples of the West Will Not be Overtaken by the Revolutionary Hordes of the People’s Republic of China – Rag.

Come all you loyal Britons who complain about your lot
Count your many blessings and you’ll see what you have got
Compare your life with others, go down upon your knees
Thank god you were not born an underprivileged Chinese

China, me old china, your kids have gone astray
Send them over here to us and we’ll show them the way.
We’ll help ‘em to get with it, we’ll stop ‘em being square
With LSD that’s almost free, we’ll banish every care

It’s great to know you’re British, to know that you are free,
To know that Uncle Harold’s looking out for you and me.
Just consider China, she’s really had it now.
Who’d exchange our Harold for the thoughts of Chairman Mao.

When we rebel we’re careful, we know how far to go
It’s the bleeding barbers we’re against and not the status quo.
But over there in China they don’t know when to stop.
And even party leaders have been known to get the drop

Thank God for our newspapers, we’ve got a press that’s free.
Thank God for King and Thompson and for Auntie BBC.
Thank God we’ve got Prince Philip to give us good advice,
To tell us to work harder for our little bowl of rice.

They’ve got no Heath, no Callaghan, no other clever bods,
No psychedelic happenings, poor oriental sods.
No pot-green stamps or bingo, no Batman in Chinese,
And unlike good old Britain they have got no wages freeze

We’re proud of our traditions our British way of life,
And flower power and woman’s hour will shield us from the strife
The Chinese they have Mao Tse Tung, Vietnamese have Ho
But we’ve got Coronation Street and Daz and Fairy Snow

They can have their revolution and yet the time will come
When led by LBJ and Harold we shall overcome (We Shall Overcome)
With Harold’s Little Yellow Book we’ll strike opponents down
And Britain will be stronger through the thoughts of Georgie Brown.

Let a hundred flowers blossom
"Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting the progress of the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.

"Different forms and styles in art should develop freely and different schools in science should contend freely. We think that it is harmful to the growth of art and science if administrative measures are used to impose one particular style of art or school of thought and to ban another.

"Questions of right and wrong in the arts and sciences should be settled through free discussion in artistic and scientific circles and through practical work in these fields. They should not be settled in summary fashion."

Mao Tse Tung – On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People (February 27, 1957), Little Red Book, 1st pocket ed., pp. 49-50

~ by folkcatalogue on June 14, 2009.

3 Responses to “(1968) Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger – The Angry Muse”

  1. Two lyric corrections…

    Stanza 3, line 2, “It’s the bleeding barbers we’re against…” should read “bleeding farmers“.

    Stanza 5, line 4 (a bit of nitpick, this one, but…) “And unlike good old Britain they’ve got no wages freeze” should read “…Britain they have got no…”

  2. Reads like the reviewer harboured a grudge against MacColl, Seeger and Critics Group members who performed on the album. Especially re. 20th century representation. I counted 12 out of 20, all varied, specific subjects not tackled elsewhere. Far greater value than just “covering” Dylan et. al.

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