TThe New York-born folk musician Peggy seegerThe 85-year-old has been working and traveling non-stop since she was 17. In 1958 she married a friend so she could stay in the UK with her already married lover, Ewan MacColl. She and MacColl made more than 40 albums together, married and had three children. Seeger’s partner for the past 30 years is traditional singer Irene Pyper-Scott, who lives in New Zealand; Seeger lives in Iffley, Oxford. She just released her 24th solo album, First farewell – the first to be recorded only with family members.
How has the pandemic been for you?
I was destined to be on tour last year with my son Calum. Traveling with our whole team in the back: 26 dates, a fantastic tour, everything cut out, bang. I was doing tours on my own until I was 79, including standing at my merchandising table. That is why I have so many gray hair. Now I am very sorry for the people who have died from this pandemic. I am also sorry that people my age have lost their last years to Covid-19.
Your partner lives in New Zealand. How did it go?
We talk twice a day in the three-hour windows where we are both awake, trying not to despair. He couldn’t cope with living in the UK. [before the pandemic]. It was too crowded for her and it was too cold, and she couldn’t live there. She is living a completely normal life there, more of a normal life than ever, I would say. They are lucky in New Zealand. Unlike us, they have a sensible prime minister.
Your new album First farewell, it is moving and playful. A song, Lubrication, has a lyrics about older bodies needing “fat to help them do their jobs.” You enjoy euphemisms while singing, right?
I’m! Folk is full of obscene songs, but they are not sung often. I have another song called The Young Virgin, where a woman has 40 lovers who bring with them the tools of their trade: the anvil of a blacksmith, the gleaming pipe of an apothecary, the spear of a doctor … [laughs]. I looked for things men called penises when I did that and was impressed. They are all action. Women call their vaginas comforting things, about home, confinement, hugs. Although my favorite is one from Eve Ensler’s Monologues of the vagina: coochie snorcher.
Another song, The invisible woman, it’s about women getting old and being ignored. What inspired that?
Walking down Oxford Street when I was in my 60s with my daughter, who was in her early twenties. I watched man after man approach us, look at my face, then move on to hers, then his eyes look down and up her body. It was a pattern and I realized that I was no longer receiving that treatment. Not that I liked it. They have pushed me against a wall, they have illuminated me, they have groped me underground, all those things that we are now talking about with good reason to try to stop men doing. As an older woman, people also ignore what you say. It’s like you’re not there. I keep talking.
She has long been an activist for women’s issues. Do the vigils that followed Sarah Everard’s murder give you hope?
We have been talking about this for hundreds of years. Hundreds. Meanwhile, another woman is murdered and another woman is murdered and another woman is murdered. Nothing will happen until men organize men to stop it. You’d think that men who don’t do horrible things would be pissed off enough to get crossed out with the same brush. [as physical abusers] tell other men, “Hey, stop it, guys!” They don’t listen. They should. Instead, they just wait for the anger to fade and fade.
Political people are great again. What voices do you recommend?
I like [singer] Diana Jones, [guitarists] Sand calculator Y Jack williams, but I also enjoy Portuguese fado, Cesária Évora, what a voice! – and Dolly Parton. She is smart and funny. Have you heard her parody of Jolene, changing the lyrics to Vaccine? That will save hundreds of thousands of lives. People will say, “If Dolly thinks it’s okay, I’ll do it.”
Kirsty MacColl, Ewan’s eldest daughter, made music as moving and fun as yours. Did you meet her? [Kirsty was born to Ewan’s previous partner, Jean Newlove, only six months before Peggy gave birth to Neill, her first son with Ewan. Kirsty died in 2000.]
I didn’t know her well, but I recognized her musically. What a loss she was. His songs were impressive: I love those in which he destroys a man, like England 2 Colombia 0 [from MacColl’s last album, Tropical Brainstorm]. I still play them for pleasure. Her mother was determined that she would not come to our house when she was little, which was hard. On the other hand, I have never had someone leave me for a woman 10 years younger.
It is First farewell your last album?
The title has many meanings to me. My brother mike’s band [the New Lost City Ramblers] He met every year for an annual farewell concert and I loved the contradiction there. There are also always some goodbyes when you take someone to an airport. One is when he’s in a hurry and leaves them next to the luggage carts. The second is when you see them walking down the hall, and just before they leave, they turn and say hello. This title opens up the possibility of that second goodbye, although it could be the last. Who knows? I’m still upright and breathing at almost 86. How much more could I ask for?
First Farewell is now available on Red Grape Music
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism