Music Notes – April 2015

Ewan McColl

Celebrating Ewan MacColl

The centenary of Ewan MacColl is being observed in the U.K. with a host of tribute concerts, radio broadcasts, and feature articles. MacColl was a folk singer, songwriter, poet, actor, playwright, record producer and cultural organizer, as well as a labour activist and militant communist. He was born James Henry Miller on January 25, 1915 in Manchester, the son of a socialist iron worker and Gaelic-speaking charwoman. As an unemployed teenager Miller educated himself at the public library, joined the Young Communist League, and immersed himself in writing songs and scripts for agitprop theatre. His partner for many years was actress and director Joan Littlewood. The two became influential figures in England’s alternate theatre world, establishing what eventually became the world-famous Theatre Workshop. While Littlewood went on to become the doyenne of radical theatre in the U.K., MacColl (who changed his name in 1945) branched out into folk music. In 1953 he founded the Ballads and Blues Club in London’s Soho district, and thereby exerted a powerful influence on the 60’s folk revival. In 1961 he married the young American folksinger Peggy Singer (Pete’s half-sister). Their partnership, musical and personal, flourished until MacColl’s death in 1989. Besides their recordings together, they founded and hosted the Critics Group, an innovative collective of folk music and theatre artists who met regularly in the sixties and early seventies. Ewan MacColl’s most famous compositions are ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ and ‘Dirty Old Town’, but all of his recordings are worth exploring, both for his consistently fine singing and for his passionate commitment to the working class. For more info:

Legend & Common speak out at Oscars

The Oscar acceptance speech for Best Original Song by R&B singer, John Legend, and hip-hop artist/actor, Common, was one of those moments when the reality of the crisis of American democracy breaks through the fog of the mainstream media. After having just performed ‘Glory’, their theme song for director Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed film, Selma, the Oscar recipients drew the parallel between the courageous civil rights campaign led by Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma fifty years ago and the contemporary struggle for racial justice in America. Referring to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the Bloody Sunday incident dramatized in the film, Common said, “This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but it is now a symbol of change”. He left it to Legend to drive the point home. “We wrote this song for a film about events that took place fifty years ago”, the singer said, “but Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised today. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” Look online for the official video, with lyrics, of ‘Glory”.

SXSW: No to ‘Hipster Apartheid’

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has blasted SXSW, the annual Austin -based festival of film, music, and interactive media, for its participation in the Israel government’s “Brand Israel” propaganda campaign. Local groups, including, Austin Artists Against Apartheid, Jewish Voices for Peace-Austin, and Code Pink-Austin, have joined in the protest, launching a “No Hipster Apartheid” petition campaign against the festival, which blithely ignores the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. SXSW, held annually in March, attracts more than 130,000 visitors to Austin and they spend a lot of money. In recent years SXSW has been criticized for abandoning its original grassroots focus and becoming increasingly commercial. Its board of directors has no qualms about helping to put a pretty face on Israel, scheduling events with slogans like “Israel: Land of Creation” and “Israel: Small Country, Big Ideas”. “Brand Israel” is a marketing campaign that was launched in 2006 to combat growing global solidarity with Palestinians. Its founders have specifically targeted liberal communities with a strong “creative class” for their message. For more info visit

Todd Serious 1974-2015

Western Canada’s rock music community lost a bright light on March 7th when Todd Jenkins (aka Todd Serious), lead singer for the punk band The Rebel Spell, was killed in a rock-climbing accident in Nevada. He was 41. Jenkins was described in a Georgia Straight tribute as “one of the most articulate and passionate members of the Vancouver punk scene”. His song lyrics covered a wide-range of social and ecological justice issues, including police brutality, prisons, colonialism, native rights, and animal rights. Since the band’s inception in 2002 The Rebel Spell has produced four albums: Expression in Layman’s Terms (2003), Days of Rage (2005), It’s a Beautiful Future (2011), and Last Run (2014). They’ve also released an EP: “Four Songs About Freedom” (2007). For info:

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