The First Time Ever UK Concert Tour
Philharmonic Music Room, Liverpool
28th November 2017
Reviewed by Joe Coventry
For the visit of Peggy Seeger there was a sell out crowd in the Philharmonic’s new folk and world music venue. Her acolytes were out in such force that extra seating had to be installed in what would normally be the bar lounge area. Some sight lines were not good and the speaker alignment not perfect, but it seemed as long as you could hear her iconic silky voice no one minded.
When the songstress came on stage she was accompanied by her son Calum. He started proceedings by promoting, then reading from the book that is on tour with the folk singer. First Time Ever: A Memoir (£20), charts her rise to become Queen of the folk genre, life with Ewan MacColl, her three children, political involvements and her philosophy on life.
Much of this comes over in her songbook which, in the first half, looked back across the years and the first song epitomised her journey as she broke out solo with I Been A Bad Bad Girl. Now 82-years-old she should know.
A great inspiration for Peggy was Alan Lomax, American ethnomusicologist, political activist and friend. Their concern for environmental issues, like the indiscriminate disposal of chemical waste, the mindless killing of wolves from the air, or crocodiles shot for handbags, were reflected in her next song.
By then guitar and banjo had been dueting but a solo on the latter had womens rights centre stage for Peggy in the tale of the murdered Naomi Wise. The evening is billed as a family affair and Calum duly got his chance in a song that came out of the Great Depression of 1929, Brother Can You Spare A Dime. They then sashayed into Pretty Little Buffalo Boy and the traps for the unwary in love, before a soliloquy from a mum about her unruly (on stage) son when he was 12.
Such is the breadth of life experiences covered that the dark and dispiriting dementia-laden tale of an old couple failing to find happiness in what they were looking for is not just sad but prophetic. It was Peggy’s turn to read an extract from her biography, before she moved into a seminal song about her mother’s death when she herself was 18, Everything Changes. The sonority of her voice tinged with emotional regret.
They started the second half with electric instruments plugged in, once anathema to her traditionalist symphathies, before Peggy soloed on accordion in a dirge about three poachers found guilty; two were transported to Australia, the other was hung. An inequality song if ever there was one. She followed that up with reminiscences from the book that had her out of kilter with Uncle Sam over the Vietnam War, and a post 9:11 riposte song to those with money and God on their side, The Cavemen.
Calum had the floor with a song about Napoleon being exiled on the Isle of St Helena, his slide guitar adding an edge to the lyrics, before they both swung into dystopian fantasy land with Lou and Peter Berryman’s Do You Believe In Me; Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and all.
All good things must come to an end but a back to the future song about e-mail tweets, the inability of people to just talk to each other anymore, is a sign of the disconnection from reality in peoples lives today.
Calum’s last song about walking in the hills, The Joy of Living, was a homage to his dad, but on her Swansong Tour it is his mum that has brought a breath of fresh air into the world of those lucky enough to catch her silky voice.