This is the autobiography of the English folk song historian, singer, broadcaster, political activist and polymath. He was a songwriter of note too and some of his songs such as “Dirty Old Town”, “Go, move, Shift” and “First Time ever I saw your Face” are internationally famous. Born James Miller in Salford, a suburb of Manchester, the son of Scottish migrants he grew up in poverty. His father was a foundry worker and militant Trades Unionist but his activism together with the economic decline of the nineteen thirties left him largely unemployed from his forties. After leaving school in his teens, McColl worked in many different factories but was often jobless. He wasn’t idle though, and spent his time at self-education in Manchester Public Library and was also active in the Young Communist League and Socialist Drama groups. After a long career as an actor, dramatist and propagandist, during which he was monitored by British security, and a marriage to Joan Littlewood, he developed an interest in the Folk music of Britain and Ireland. He began collecting and recording folk songs and also developed as a composer and singer. Through this interest he met and late married Peggy Seeger. He never lost his political activism and gave his support to the striking miners during the long dispute in eighties Thatcher’s Britain.
It’s an interesting read, though perhaps a bit self-serving as any autobiography is likely to be. It works as a memoir of working-class Britain in the twentieth century.
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.