The Ewan MacColl Memorial award has been established to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Ewan MacColl, a musician, actor, playwright and political activist.
MacColl wrote songs throughout his whole life, and was a key figure in the British folk revival of the 1950s and 60s. By the time he died in 1989, he had left a vast repertoire of songs including ‘Dirty Old Town’, later covered by acts such as Donovan, The Dubliners, Rod Stewart, Roger Whittaker, The Pogues, and Simple Minds.
Another of his songs, ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, became a Number One hit in 1972 when recorded by Roberta Flack, and went on to win MacColl a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.
MacColl was an avid researcher and collector of traditional folk music and the new award is to reflect his interest in the heritage of folk music. It provides financial support to a student on either the Master of Music or the MLitt degree programme at Newcastle University, to help with the cost of carrying out their research.
The inaugural award has been made to Niles Krieger. Niles, from Connecticut in the United States of America, was drawn to Newcastle after discovering the BMus Folk and Traditional Music degree at Newcastle University online.
After completing his undergraduate course, he decided to continue his studies at Newcastle University with a Master’s degree. As part of this, he is currently researching the connections between the folk music of the British Isles and New England and other states in the northeastern USA.
Niles said: “I am honoured to receive this award, as I have always admired Ewan MacColl’s work as a songwriter, performer and collector. Like most people, I first encountered his music through well-known cover versions of ‘Dirty Old Town’ and ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.
“I later discovered the Radio Ballads through the involvement of fiddler Dave Swarbrick, whose playing has been a big influence on mine for years. I was captivated by the dramatic narrative and stark realism of these works, as well as by MacColl’s and Peggy Seeger’s emotive singing. Their work will undoubtedly play a role in my research, and the MacColl family’s generous award will enable me to fund my research costs.”
The award coincides with a concert at The Sage Gateshead later this week to celebrate the music of Ewan MacColl. “Blood and Roses” is a musical performance curated by his sons Neill and Calum MacColl and will feature other family members and special guests including Peggy Seeger, Martin Carthy, Seth Lakeman, Eliza Carthy, Damien Dempsey, Marry Waterson and Newcastle-based Kathryn Williams.
Calum said: “We’re really pleased to be able to award The Ewan MacColl Memorial award for the first time. We’ve always liked what the Music School at Newcastle University does and felt it was the most appropriate department in the country for Ewan’s name to be associated with. In keeping with Ewan's personal beliefs in the importance of education, we wanted this award to help further the study, awareness and propagation of folk music. We’re delighted that Niles is the first recipient and look forward to keeping in touch with him over the course of the year.”
The degree programmes in folk and traditional music offered by the International Centre for Music Studies (ICMuS) at Newcastle University are unique in that they give students the opportunity to carry out research on the social and cultural context of the traditional music and songs of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland while honing their musical expertise. Many of those who have graduated have gone on to enjoy commercial success, which has helped ICMuS gain a worldwide reputation for the quality of its teaching and research.
Catriona Macdonald, Senior Lecturer in Folk and Traditional Music at Newcastle University, said: “We’re immensely grateful to the MacColl family for this generous award which will help our postgraduate students to develop their research.
“This support will ensure that the quality of folk and traditional music at Newcastle University continues to be world-leading, helping our graduates to remain at the vanguard of the new generation of folk musicians.”
For more information about Ewan MacColl, see the official Ewan MacColl website.
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