Lomax, Maccoll, and Lloyd

  December 20, 2023   Read time 5 min
Lomax, Maccoll, and Lloyd
While Lomax and MacColl had become involved with skiffle, they were more interested in pursuing other, more traditional, music projects. Lomax, for example, continued to work on the Columbia World Library record series, issuing 14 LPs in 1955, with more to come.

He also worked with Peter Kennedy on ten volumes of The Folksongs of Britain, based on field recordings, which finally appeared on the Caedmon label in the early 1960s. Some of his recordings from the United States, Spain, and Italy were incorporated in his short-lived BBC radio program Memories of a Ballad Hunter in early 1957, and the next year he launched A Ballad Hunter Looks at Britain. The latter included songs collected throughout the British Isles. He would soon return to the United States. Lloyd and MacColl began to record LP records, starting with The Singing Sailor for Topic in 1955. Finding it difficult to release much more in the U.K., with Lomax’s assistance they found a ready audience in the United States. As a start they recorded nine albums of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) and Great British Ballads Not Included in the Child Collections for Riverside Records in 1956. Kenneth Goldstein, a record producer for Riverside, was anxious to introduce the American market to British traditional ballads.

Along with Lloyd and Seamus Ennis, MacColl began performing at the Ballads and Blues Club in London in 1954, launching the folk club movement. “While the greater part of our programmes consisted of the kind of songs which even the most strict traditionalists would class as folk material, that is, country songs, versions of the English and Scots popular ballads, sea shanties and forebitters,” MacColl has written, “we were also attempting to extend the national repertory by introducing children’s street songs, industrial songs and ballads, epigrammatic squibs, popular melodies, broadside ballads and new songs written in the folk idiom.” His eclectic approach captured the expansive nature of the unfolding folk song movement. Folk clubs soon sprouted throughout the country. The Edinburgh University Folk Song Society started in 1958, followed the next year by one at Glasgow University; they were the beginnings of a proliferating movement in Scotland that expanded through the 1960s.

Eric Winter and John Hasted launched a national folk magazine, Sing, in 1954, focusing on topical songs that promoted peace, international fellowship, and workers’ rights. The third issue, for example, included Ewan MacColl’s “Ballad of Ho Chi Minh,” which praised the leader of the rebellion in Vietnam against the French occupation. Labor songs, old and new, were well represented, including many from the United States. Some associated with the magazine, including editor Winter, Bert Lloyd, and Fred Dallas, were also members of the more traditional EFDSS, who were attempting to create a broad folk music movement. Their agenda, heavily political and present-oriented differed somewhat from the society’s leading members, such as Peter Kennedy, who preferred the more traditional songs and singers.

Peggy Seeger, daughter of musicologist Charles Seeger and composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, and half-sister of Pete, first arrived in England in 1956, when she met Ewan MacColl. An accomplished banjo and piano player, steeped in traditional songs and ballads, she returned in 1958 and married MacColl the following year. She next learned to play the autoharp, concertina, and dulcimer, began to write songs, and would record numerous albums with MacColl. She would live in England until MacColl’s death in 1989, serving as a vital link between the British and American folk song communities. But she was certainly not alone.

Jack Elliott, born Elliott Adnopoz in Brooklyn, New York, in 1931, the son of a doctor, early in life decided to become a cowboy. He learned to play the guitar and wound up meeting Woody Guthrie in early 1951, who became his friend and musical role model. Jack arrived in London in 1955 and soon connected with Alan Lomax, who gave him a role in his BBC production The Big Rock Candy Mountain; and with Lomax’s help he quickly recorded for Topic Records, first an album entitled Woody Guthrie’s Bluesthen various singles.

He briefly joined a skiffle group, The City Ramblers, but preferred to accompany his old friend from Portland, Oregon, Derroll Adams, who had also arrived in London. With Jack on the guitar and Derroll on the banjo they made the rounds of the skiffle clubs, the Blue Angel, a fancy nightclub, and even performed for Princess Margaret. They also recorded for Topic and appeared on various radio programs. “Imagine the impact that these two urban cowboys must have had on me in 1958,” budding musician Jeff Cloves later explained. “[T]hey both wore Levis, highheeled, tooled cowboy boots and stetsons.” Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, as he was now known, returned to the United States in early 1961. Along with Peggy Seeger, he was particularly influential on the style of many British folk performers. Cloves, who first saw Elliott at the Round House in London, later testified that he was “the greatest club entertainer I have ever seen.”

While Sing magazine covered folk happenings in the United States, Caravan, a folk magazine published in Greenwich Village beginning in 1957, for a brief time was keen to follow events across the Atlantic, further connecting the two folk scenes. In early 1958 Sandy Paton, a young musician just arrived in London from the United States, reported in Caravan that he attended a party at Alan Lomax’s with another American, Guy Carawan, as well as Peter Kennedy, Shirley Collins, and Seamus Ennis. “Shirley does a lot of American material and does it well, but we think she really stands out when she does the English ballads of her own folk tradition,” Paton concluded. In May 1957 John Brunner reported that Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee have been touring with the Chris Barber skiffle band. During Carawan’s brief stay he also met MacColl, Lloyd, and even Maud Karpeles at the EFDSS’s Cecil Sharp House. The close ties across the Atlantic would only grow in the following decade.

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