PEGGY SEEGER – First Farewell (Red Grape Music)

First FarewellHalf-sister to Pete Seeger, married to Ewan MacColl from 1977 until his death in 1989 (though she actually married Alex Campbell in 1959 in a  short-lived platonic marriage of convenience in order to gain British citizenship after her US passport was withdrawn),when she struck up a relationship with  Irene Pyper-Scott, and mother to  Neill, Calum, and Kitty (not to be confused with Kirsty, her step-daughter), now 85, based in Oxford  and celebrating an unbroken 68-year career, First Farewell is her 19th and, so she says, final studio album. Featuring eleven new songs about the personal and political, it finds her spark, passion and fire undiminished as she variously   addresses old age, loneliness, modern slavery and not giving a damn.

The first to be written and recorded entirely with immediate family members Calum and Neill and daughter-in-law Kate St John, it’s also her first to reference her roots as a classically trained pianist, opening as such with a meditation on mortality (“Soon …. It will be over …all over”) and a cor anglais-polished rumination on childhood  loves in ‘Dandelion Wine’, of when she was seven and the little boy “who fell asleep on the school room floor” and of another who “cut out my heart” when they went off with her friend and who “died long ago on a highway/A beautiful father of children”,  and how they live on and return in her memories, just as her songs will always invite you out to play.

It seems a logical progression to then consider how we tend to disappear from sight the older we get in the fingerpicked, violin-accompanied Neill co-write ‘The Invisible Woman’ which journeys from her being “a beautiful baby” through an attention-seeking teenager (“the whole world revolved around me me me”), to motherhood and then old age (“80 years have gone by in the blink of an eye/Now it seems that I’m not here at all”), evolving into a comment on how you get  “put on the shelf” and labelled  ‘has been’, one of the ghost army.  Naturally, being Seeger and still full of life, she’s not about to disappear, declaring “We may not have a choice, but we still have a voice/The invisible gals love a fight”.

There’s a further musing on ageing with wistful gently swaying, accordion-shaded Calum co-write lullaby duet ‘All In The Mind’ (“She lives on her own, the children are gone/They talk on the phone but they don’t talk for long/She tells herself stories, sings herself songs/Turns back the clock and tries to hold on”), offering the wisdom that “Whatever we’re seeking and hoping to find/Is already here, all in the mind”.

Like Pete, Seeger, in tandem with MacColl, made an early impression with songs of protest and social commentary, and continues do so there, first up with the  slide and piano backed polka ‘Lubrication’ which concerns fossil fuels and how “with the mining and frackin’ the crust is crackin’/We’re putting our money on luck” because “the earth needs oil and water and gas/To regulate the state of her tectonic plates”, though when she talks of keeping the moving parts lubricated it could equally apply to old limbs seizing up!

On a different note, written with St John, ‘Lullabies For Strangers’ is a jazz-tinged piano number sung in the voice of a woman who’s had to leave her own family behind and travel to “live in a room in the grey country” caring for “children in a stranger’s home”, while, another duet with Calum, the spoken verses piano waltz tempo ‘We Are Here’ skewers social media addiction (“Me on my phone, you on your phone/We’re sitting at the bar, together apart, together alone… You swipe left, I swipe right”) while also taking a poke at the ‘orange man’ strutting off the edge of the world (“So many little lies tell one big truth about a liar”).

Less whimsical is ‘One Of Those Beautiful Boys’ which, another St John co-write arranged for piano and oboe with an introspective show tune ballad feel, was written in response to the alarming increase in the rate of young male suicides (“The walls of my room are above me/Don’t want to leave but I have to go”), while ‘The Puzzle’ with its spare piano notes and guitar mingles themes of love, mortality and ecology (“Till less and less is left in reserve”).

Elsewhere, rounding out the remaining numbers, ‘Tree Of Love’ an Appalachian-hymnal coloured 90-second organ and wheezing concertina piece about finding love in unexpected places (related to her 30-year from friends to lovers’ union with Pyper-Scott, which she describes as the only time she’s ever been really in love).

That simple backwoods folk style continues with the simple piano-accompanied self-explanatory ‘How I Long For Peace’ where Judy Small; meets The McGarrigles, the album ending with a spin on the Cinderella story  in an upbeat playful riff on ageing in reverse, the jaunty and friskily sung rag ‘Gotta Get Home By Midnight’ where she wakes up a hundred years old and gets younger by the hour (“And I’m sixty four/In my new red shoes/My kitchen is a dance floor/Lunchtime and I’m in my prime/Fifty and I’m heading for 49”) before nature resumes its “gravitational plan” and ending up with an elderly Prince Charming arriving to put on the glass slipper. She has plenty to say and she won’t go away.

Of the ‘Invisible Woman’ she sings “She has plenty to say and she won’t go away”. Indeed, still in her musical prime, let’s hope there’s more farewells yet to come.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘The Invisible Woman’ – live: