ABOUT "BRING ME HOME":
After the joyous interruption of an all-star 70th birthday party onstage at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, captured on last year’s "Three Score and Ten" 2-CD set (also available on Appleseed), "Bring Me Home" completes Peggy Seeger’s “Home Trilogy” of CDs, containing indelible songs from the past capped by a tender new original composition saluting the beloved figures of her own personal history.
Like the preceding “Home” volumes, "Heading for Home" (2003) and "Love Call Me Home" (2005), Peggy has chosen songs that, as she says, “tap me on the shoulder,” that are “companions when I am lonely or when I’m on a long solo drive between gigs.” Mostly learned during her childhood as a member of one of America’s “first families of folk,” the dozen traditional U.S. songs on "Bring Me Home," nine previously unrecorded by Peggy, remain potent and plainspoken, rough edges still intact.
With authentically minimal instrumentation (mostly her own 5-string banjo, guitar and English concertina), Peggy sings of timeless situations in less “civilized” times. There are ruffians headed for the gallows (“Hang Me,” “Newlyn Town”), the poor and homeless driven to desperate deeds (“Peacock Street”), young women trying to assert their independence with varying results (“Wagoner’s Lad,” “Home, Dearie, Home,” “Little Birdie”), working class testimonials (“Let Them Wear Their Watches Fine,” “Peacock Street”), and wandering lovers (“Roving Gambler,” “Dink’s Song”). And, of course, what’s traditional music without bloodshed? In “Molly Bond,” one of the two songs Peggy performs in haunting a cappella, the heroine is mistaken for a swan and slain by her lover. In her wonderfully tart liner notes, Peggy summarizes “O The Wind and Rain,” for which her son Calum, the “Home Trilogy” producer, provides an eerie, droning harmonium accompaniment, as “Sister drowning sister, brother stabbing brother, fathers burning their daughters at the stake, mothers strangling their babies . . . ah, family life!”
Peggy brings the CD and trilogy to a gentle close with the self-penned title track, a loving tribute to her own extended family, including her parents; half-brother and international folk icon Pete Seeger; brother and fellow musician Mike; her late husband, the revered English songwriter and activist Ewan MacColl (“The first time ever I saw his face/His heart became my home”); and her current partner, Irene Pyper-Scott. The next generation of Seeger/MacColls is represented by Peggy’s sons Calum (producer, guitar, harmonium, backing vocals) and Neill (guitar, autoharp, mandolin, backing vocals) and daughter Kitty, who co-designed the CD’s packaging.
The “Home Trilogy” completes a chapter of Peggy’s musical life, but she’s far from ready to close the book. There are plans afoot for CDs of lighthearted traditional songs and contemporary material, an informal 2008 release of topical songs on her own homegrown Timely label, plus concerts to play, students to teach (she’s a visiting professor of songwriting at Northeastern University in Boston), family to visit and a home that she carries wherever she goes.
ABOUT PEGGY SEEGER:
It’s hard to argue with genetics. Peggy Seeger was born in New York in 1935 to ethnomusicologist/inventor/ composer/teacher Charles Seeger and his second wife, Ruth Crawford Seeger, a composer, arranger, pianist, teacher and the first woman awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Music. Peggy, her half-brother Pete, older by 16 years, and brother Mike, two years her senior, would all grow up to become beacons of folk music’s traditions and modern usages. The entire family’s achievements were celebrated in March 2007 at a two-day symposium presented by the U.S. Library of Congress, “How Can I Keep from Singing: A Seeger Family Tribute.”
Peggy began playing piano by age 7 and by 11 was transcribing music and learning about counterpoint and harmony. In the years to follow, she became proficient on guitar, 5-string banjo, autoharp, dulcimer and English concertina but, “much to the relief of anyone within earshot,” abandoned her attempts at fiddle-playing.
After studying music for two years at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass., and starting to sing professionally, Peggy headed overseas in 1955, the same year Folkways issued her first album, the 10-inch "Songs of Courting and Complaint." She subsequently studied Russian (in Holland, in the Dutch language) and backpacked across Europe, Russia, and China before arriving in England where, she recounts, “at the age of nearly 21, on March 25, 1956, at 10:30 in the morning, I entered a basement room in Chelsea, London, and sealed my fate. Ewan MacColl was sitting on the other side of the room. Twenty years my senior, he was a singer and songwriter par excellence. . . . We were together 24 hours a day for three decades, two people rolled compatibly into one.” MacColl immortalized that first meeting in his song “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” a future Grammy winner and #1 single for Robert Flack in 1972.
After becoming a British subject in 1959 and settling in London, Peggy moved, with MacColl, to the forefront of the British folk revival, singing and lecturing about the place of folk songs in modern life and emphasizing the connections between traditional song forms and political activism. The highlight of their musical collaboration was the development, with BBC producer Charles Parker, of the innovative Radio Ballad form, a mosaic of spoken-word field recordings, instrumentation, sound effects, and new songs written in the folk idiom. These radio programs have been reissued as an 8-CD set by UK’s Topic label, a book about them is underway, and Peggy will emcee a series of Radio Ballad concerts in England this spring. For seven years, Seeger and MacColl ran the controversial London Critics Group and produced a yearly political theatrical presentation, “The Festival of Fools.” The couple also ran and performed at one of England’s best known folk venues, The Singers Club, and formed their own record label, Blackthorne. Somehow Peggy found time to raise her three children by MacColl, to write music for and perform in films, television programs and radio plays, to establish and edit a magazine of contemporary songs, The New City Songster, throughout its existence (1965-85), and to collaborate on anthologies of folk songs with MacColl, Alan Lomax and Edith Fowke. In 1971, she was the subject of a Granada Television documentary, and in 1995 BBC Radio 2 broadcast an award-winning seven-part series about her life, with subsequent episodes presented in 1996 and ’97.
In 1983, Peggy began to sing occasionally with Irish traditional vocalist Irene Pyper-Scott, with whom, after MacColl’s death in 1989, she formed a professional and personal relationship. The duo recorded and performed for several years as No Spring Chickens. In 1994, Peggy moved back to the States with Irene, settling in Asheville, NC, where they resided until moving to Boston in 2006 to enable Peggy to teach at Northeastern University. In December 2006, Peggy and Irene entered into a civil union partnership in England. Their relationship was recently disrupted by US visa policies that obliged Irene to relocate (to New Zealand), but their bond transcends location.
Considered one of the finest interpreters of Anglo-American folk songs, Peggy has also written several hundred original songs, chiefly dealing with political, feminist and ecological concerns. Among her most famous compositions are “The Ballad of Springhill,” about a Canadian mining disaster, and “Gonna Be an Engineer,” which is now one of the anthems of the women’s movement. One hundred and forty-nine of Peggy’s best pre-1998 compositions are published in her Peggy Seeger Songbook: 40 Years of Songmaking. Peggy has released 22 solo albums, including five for Appleseed (starting with "Love Will Linger On" in 2000), issued several informal CDs of topical songs in her “Timely” series, and participated in an estimated 100 other recordings.
Despite recent physical infirmities and a faraway life partner, Peggy remains true to her credo: “Use what I know to be constructive and useful. And try to keep upright.”