How trespassing 'crystallised' Ewan MacColl's songwriting
Published: 24th Apr 2012 08:33:33
On 24 April 1932, hundreds of ramblers walked on to private land in the Peak District to claim a "right to roam".
The mass trespass saw working class walkers from Greater Manchester and Yorkshire scale Kinder Scout in Derbyshire and battle with game keepers and police.
Among them was a young unemployed communist from Salford called Jimmy Miller who, driven by his experiences that day, would go on to become a world-famous political singer.
He would later change his name to Ewan MacColl, the writer of classics like Dirty Old Town and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which won him a Grammy in 1972.
At the beginning of the 1930s though, he was an "angry young man" who was out of work, a member of the Young Communist League and ready to ramble his way to a revolution, according to his biographer Ben Harker.
He said MacColl was "an enthusiastic rambler and a communist" who found himself taking a central role in the run-up to the trespass.
"The communist movement was in control of the British Worker's Sports Federation in the early 1930s and brought a more militant edge to it - it was that the drove the campaign for the Mass Trespass forward," he said.
"MacColl did a lot of pre-publicity for it. He talked about [in later life] duplicating leaflets and giving them out.
"He was himself going rambling every weekend - and during the week as well, as he was unemployed - and he'd try to get people to go along."
Dr Harker said MacColl "felt very powerfully that access to the countryside was a birthright which had been denied to working class people by industrialisation and capitalism".
"He felt that this was robbery and that [in taking part in the trespass] they were simply retrieving a right that was historically theirs," he said.
The University of Salford lecturer said rambling was seen as a militant activity by MacColl.
"He really thought he was going to see a revolution in his lifetime and certainly, MacColl saw the Peak District as an extensive gymnasium in which he was getting into peak physical condition ready for the class struggle," he said.
"It seems extraordinarily romantic now, but he really did see it that way. He was a young guy full of revolutionary fervour."
On the day of the illegal ramble, MacColl was one among the crowd, with the formidable Benny Rothman leading the charge up the hill and being arrested, along with four others, for incitement and riotous assembly.
Dr Harker said the day - coupled with MacColl's experience at the Battle of Bexley Square, which saw police clash with jobless workers in Salford six months earlier - had a profound effect upon him.
"They were two formative moments for a young militant," he said.
"To experience the violence at Bexley Square and the unbelievably harsh sentences following the trespass, these were unbelievably profound lessons for him which added steel to his political convictions.
"They didn't convert him to anything but they ingrained in a decisive way what was already there."
They also brought him to the attention of MI5, who monitored his theatre and musical work, BBC performances and general political activity for the next two decades.
Most importantly for music fans though, Dr Harker said the trespass led to him writing his "first important song", The Manchester Rambler.
"There is another song he wrote called Mass Trespass 1932, which he never recorded," he said.
"It's a very raw-throated rallying cry - a very powerful yawp of outrage and anger.
"But Rambler is the song where it all comes together. He'd written these rather earnest agitprop pieces prior to that, but in Rambler, he manages to pull together a political perspective with a more lyrical style.
"It crystallises his songwriting and that's the first time it happens."
At 12:58:51 in Northern IrelandA Garda (Irish police) officer has been injured after his motorcycle was rammed by a van in Cork.
At 12:56:34 in SportLiverpool trio Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge have received nominations for the Professional Footballers' Association's player of the year award.
At 12:53:13 in SportAlly McCoist concedes Rangers face a stern test in aiming to finish their League One campaign unbeaten.
At 12:49:55 in HeadlinesNigeria's military has admitted that most of the teenage girls abducted by suspected Islamist militants have not been freed as it earlier stated.
At 12:42:39 in SportSpaniard Pablo Larrazabal was forced to jump into a lake to avoid a swarm of hornets at the Malaysian Open, which Lee Westwood continues to dominate.
At 12:41:48 in EnglandA suspected World War Two phosphorus bomb dug up by a seven-year-old girl on a Norfolk beach burst into flames when her mother prodded it with a fork.
At 12:39:34 in SportEverton boss Roberto Martinez expects predecessor David Moyes to be given a warm welcome when Manchester United visit Goodison Park on Sunday.
At 12:32:04 in SportCardiff City manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer defended Aron Gunnarsson after the midfielder was linked with an alleged leak of team details.
At 12:25:26 in EnglandDocklands Light Railway's (DLR) Pudding Mill Lane stop has shut to make way for a much larger station after Easter.
At 12:13:52 in EnglandHillsborough families and supporters will start a 96-mile (154km) walk from Sheffield to Liverpool later.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. How trespassing 'crystallised' Ewan MacColl's songwriting [Online] (Updated 24th Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1424213/How-trespassing-crystallised-Ewan-MacColls-songwriting [Accessed 18th Apr 2014]
News In Other Categories
A suspected World War Two phosphorus bomb dug up by a seven-year-old girl on a Norfolk beach burst into flames when her mother prodded it with a fork.
Barnes & Noble's chairman has trimmed his stake in the bookstore to 20%, by selling shares worth $64m (£38m).
Police investigating two sexual assaults in St Andrews have released a CCTV image of a man they want to question.
Nigeria's military has admitted that most of the teenage girls abducted by suspected Islamist militants have not been freed as it earlier stated.
Liverpool trio Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge have received nominations for the Professional Footballers' Association's player of the year award.
How do you tell the world about your remote-controlled flying fish toys?