The Forgotten Birthday Boy Really Was A Wild Rover

Hey everyone As everyone knows the 25th January as a date when Scots both at home and throughout the world celebrate the birth of Robert Burns the ploughman poet who became our national bard and the international bard for the working class citizens of the world.

However Scotland has another reason to celebrate this particular day and I don’t mean the birthday of my maternal Grandfather Thomas Ingram Russell who was born on this date in this date on 1883. Significant, though that may have been for my family tree as my mother arrived in his 48th year I don’t think auld Tam as he was known to Lambhill folk was as Alex Salmond once referred to Douglas Alexander a household name in his own house. That honour I would suggest belong to my granny.
So I hear you ask, if it wasn’t my grandad who is this forgotten birthday boy that our nation should be celebrating?
The answer for those of you who unlike me, don’t already know was revealed in The National on the Tuesday before Burns Day as it profiled well known singer/songwriter Ewan MacColl who would have reached his century had he still been amongst our number.

Though James Henry Miller to give him his birth name was born In Salford, Ewan MacColl the name by which he became known was a child of the Diaspora. Born in 1915, to Scottish parents his father an ironmonger and his mother a charwoman in area of the city which had a large Scottish emigrant population. With his background it was only natural that as a young man he developed an interest in the songs of the parental homeland and also in left wing politics. Indeed in his youth the young Ewan was an active member of the Young Communist League and though primarily known as a folk singer he remained politically active throughout his life.

A man of many talents MacColl not only wrote and performed his own songs he was also a poet, actor, and playwright. Like many artists it can be said he tried a bit of everything before eventually finding his niche and writing up to 300 songs. These include the article states The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face which he wrote for the love of his life and the women he would eventually become his second wife Peggy Seager, was a chart hit for Roberta Flack and Pogues hit Dirty Old Town. One song of his, for which he seems never to get credit is that well known folk classic The Wild Rover which is often wrongly assumed to be an Irish song and yet it was a child of the Scottish Diaspora who wrote it.

MacColl however was much more than just a Scottish/British artist. This internationalist was also internationally renowned, his talent demand he be so. Not only MacColl known on the shores of native land but far beyond it. Indeed Bob Dylan was an admirer of the his work and the two shared a mutual respect. This despite the fact MacColl criticised Dylan for what he referred to as a lack of conviction in his music. Brave words indeed, when one considers that Dylan was the man who brought us Blowing In The Wind and The Times They Are A Changing.

As he become better known MacColl’s became more political with his topics reflecting the issues of the day. Even though he had his young communist days behind him special branch still kept files on him and monitored his home and some folk I know claim there’s no power in music. I think somehow they may have got that wrong.

It is only right and proper that on the anniversary of what would have been his centenary that a host of stars lined up to honour the man and his music. Those listed included Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker and the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, Norma Waterson, and Elizabeth Carthy as well as four McColl’s own grandsons. The best known in this generation of his bloodline is Jamie MacColl of the indie music band Bombay Bicycle Club however the most prominent family was his late and brilliantly talented daughter Kirsty who died in the year 2000.

As for his politics, it is I think inevitable that people will draw comparisons with fellow birthday boy Robert Burns but like the writer of this excellent article I believe that MacColl was by far the more hard-line of the two fighting injustice wherever he saw it and campaigning by now as a member of the Labour Party, in support of striking miners and against the hideous poll tax right up to the bitter end.
So there you have it, Robert Burns may be the man whose name comes most readily to mind every 25th of January but we should also be proud to celebrate Ewan MacColl and in doing so remember that the forgotten birthday boy really was a wild rover.

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X

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