Ewan MacColl: “My Old Man”

English folksinger Ewan MacColl, who was born January 25, 1915, wrote a number of great songs like “Dirty Old Town” and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” One of his most touching songs combines his political work with a personal story about his father, “My Old Man.”

In “My Old Man,” MacColl sings about his father. Socialist parents raised MacColl, who was born with the name James Miller, and their own activism surely influenced their son’s political work.

MacColl’s father was a Scottish foundry worker who was blacklisted by most factories because of his union activity. In “My Old Man,” MacColl uses song to indict the capitalist system that can destroy human lives.

In “My Old Man,” MacColl also reveals his fondness for the man who helped bring him into the world. But he also reconsiders his father’s life: “He abandoned hope and the will to live / They killed him, my old man.” And he sees the life as a warning that he can pass on to his own son: “And my advice to you, my son,/ Is to fight back while you can.”

“My Old Man” is a tragic story and a touching song about fathers. I first heard the song during a performance by folksinger Charlie King.

MacColl’s performance of “My Old Man” below was made for Grenada Television in 1984. It features MacColl’s usual style of singing while cupping his ear. The recording was made only about four years before MacColl died in October 1989.



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