Sunday Music – Dirty Old Town (Original Version)

Posted on Sun 04/30/2017 by

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Today’s music video is Dirty Old Town and the song is performed here by the original composer of the song, Ewan MacColl, and his partner at that time, the American folk singer Peggy Seeger.

Link to Video at You Tube

This video was posted to You Tube by arosegrowingold

Sometimes, it’s good to go back and check information about a song you like. I first heard this song in 1985 when it was recorded by an English (Irish) Celtic Punk group, The Pogues, and for some reason, I really liked the song, I suppose because of the gravelly and rough voice of the band’s vocalist Shane MacGowan. This cover version of the song has often been referred to as the definitive version of this song, and it was also sung by another Irish band, The Dubliners, and others as well. During this last week, I heard the song again, only this time, it was done differently, and (luckily) the announcer came on at the end and said that this was performed by the man who actually wrote the song, Ewan MacColl, and his partner at the time, the American English Folk singer Peggy Seeger, who was a sister to Mike Seeger, and half sister to Pete Seeger, icons of American folk music. I really liked the song, well, I always did like it, but this original I liked even more than the cover I was so used to, and luckily, these days, songs can be easily tracked down on the Internet.

While performed mainly by Irish bands, the song was composed in England by an Englishman, Ewan MacColl, about his home town of Salford, a city that is part of the Greater Manchester area in the Central North West of England. The song was written around 1949, and, at the time drew the wrath of the local City Council, for one line of the song, giving an impression that the song was indeed about Salford, and the people objected to that inference. That line in the song, ‘smelled a Spring on the Salford wind’, was changed after the protest to ‘smelled a Spring on the smoky wind’.

MacColl was a noted Socialist at the time leading up to the Second World War, and in fact was considered a Communist, having some radical views in a Conservative era. He was closely watched by authorities, and even had a file as early as 1932 with the English counter intelligence bureau which later became MI5. His songs at the time were themed with his radical views, and he was constantly being observed for his beliefs.

While he wrote this song around 1949, and recorded it himself, it was not a hit anywhere at all. However, as folk music began to take a hold, the song did become popular.

Ewan MacColl met Peggy Seeger when she was touring the UK in 1956. Seeger was, a little like most of her family, socialist or communist herself, and was on a watch list even then in the mid 1950s. While she was in the UK, she met MacColl and the two fell in love, which was a scandal in itself, as she was barely 21, and MacColl was 20 years older than she was, and he was also married as well, and he didn’t divorce his wife until just before he married Seeger in 1977, while all the time, carrying on the affair, and indeed, having three children.

MacColl and Seeger recorded this song together in 1956, (and that’s the version in the video for today) and then she went back to the U.S. even while the relationship continued.

Ewan MacColl actually won a Grammy Award much later in his life (in 1972) for a song that is as far removed from Communism, and protest songs as you can possibly get. His Grammy Award winning song was written at a time during that controversial affair with Peggy Seeger, and that song was The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which he wrote in 1956 specifically for Peggy. He told her the lyrics and how to play the song via long distance phone calls, as, being a communist, he was actually banned from entering the U.S. and she had gone back there for a series of concerts.

That song was picked up many years later by Roberta Flack in 1972, and made into a huge Number One smash hit. Flack won the Grammy that year for Record Of The Year while MacColl won the Grammy for Song Of The Year, as the song’s composer. That song, has been recorded more than 100 times over the years, and the family of MacColl said that he hated every single cover version of that song with a passion.

It’s hard to believe that Ewan MacColl recorded more than 50 albums, either solo, or with other artists and bands. On top of that, he recorded more than 40 albums with Peggy Seeger alone. She was still with him when he passed away in 1989, and Peggy Seeger remained in England, where she still lives to this day, now 81 years old.

Sometimes, when you hear the original of a more recent cover version, you like that original even better, even though the cover is the version you remember most.

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Posted in: Music, Videos