“Kilroy Was Here” by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - album review

TJR says

So who was this funny little man with wide-open eyes and a huge U-shaped nose peering over a wall? There’s no definitive account of his origin, but it’s clear that he rose to worldwide prominence in the late 1930s, gaining infamy during World War II. The Australians claim that he emerged in the first World War; they called him Foo. In Britain he was called Chad. He appeared on walls of buildings, on shop windows, and in newspaper cartoons. Below him were the words: “Wot no sugar?” / “Wot no tea?” / “Wot no cigarettes?” or whatever else was in short supply due to rationing. It was the Americans who called him Kilroy. Touring GIs would make their presence felt by drawing him with the slogan “Kilroy was here” or, if they were artistically minded, would simply let the character represent with no words necessary. The artistically challenged would simply scrawl the phrase itself. In the spirit of the Grand Alliance, British soldiers soon adopted Kilroy’s name over Chad. The ubiquitous graffiti would give a boost to those who would follow in the footsteps, a symbolic universal soldier as it were.

“Kilroy Was Here” – the album – delivers another fine set of contemporary songs mostly written and sung by Peggy and Ewan with accompaniments by their sons Calum & Neill MacColl, Ian Trimmer, Jim Bray, and supporting vocals from Susan Davis and daughter Kitty MacColl. It’s to be hoped that the offspring were suitably rewarded with pocket money raises commensurate with a job well done.

All throughout the set, Ewan and Peggy appropriate the image of Kilroy – the anonymous WWII soldier – as the everyman who does all the hard graft, the menial work, does all the fighting, does all the dying. In short, Kilroy represents your dispensable working class Joe, he always has done, and he always will do.

In 1980, “Thatcherism” was coming for Kilroy, and a horrified MacColl could see it all before him; tax cuts for the rich, Britannic jingoism, privatisation, the marginalisation of the trade unions, removing the power from local authorities. With rising unemployment came civil unease and the monster was growing steadily.

In his extremely serious, but very funny, liner notes, Ewan calls out the propaganda machine which was in overdrive all around us in our daily lives at the time:

The windy rhetoric of politicians, the eructations of flatulent pundits of both sexes, the gobbledygook that issues nightly from the talking heads which occupy ten million illuminated screens throughout this island… those pink smooth faces, cosmetised and barbered, each wearing it’s public mask of concern, enthusiasm, confidence, impartiality, honesty, love of truth, public spiritedness…

[We interrupt Ewan’s broadcast for some party political bobbins…]

With the chip on the one hand and nuclear energy on the other, the future is certain. We are about to witness technological changes the like of which the world…

[Right, that’s quite enough of that, thank you very much. Carry on Ewan…]

And the words roll on, the magic phrases, the gilded cliches, the diamond-dusted patter, the con-talk, the endless rhapsodising about a world of a chip with everything. The chip and nuclear energy! And if the one don’t get you, then the other will, says the Widow Twankey as she pats her perm and prepares to lecture us kiddies on the benefits of mass unemployment, war and a larger police force. And Kilroy, who has heard it all before and who is accustomed to getting the shitty end of the stick begins to wonder whether the world wouldn’t be a safer place without all those talking heads and this shrill pantomine dame whose verbal diarrhoea threatens his world with imminent inundation.

[The Widow Twankey! The shrill pantomine dame! LOL, I’m literally hanging off my chair here; they’re right up there with Attila the Hen! On ye go Ewan…]

Almost all the bands on this disc are about this or that aspect of Kilroy’s condition: Kilroy old, Kilroy young, Kilroy male, Kilroy female, Kilroy hoping, Kilroy despairing. Above all it is about the terrifying dangers that confront Kilroy now. NOW!

NOW he says – feel the urgency! Sadly, not everyone had his foresight and Britain would stumble from one crisis to another for years to come, the working classes bearing the brunt of the hardship as usual. The title-track closes side one and is the killer highlight of the set, featuring some excellent prose from Ewan and some mean banjo from Peggy, who made the arrangements and sang backing vocals. Kilroy’s being bled dry but it’s going un-noticed and very few care. It’s songs like this which cement legacies.

The Jukebox Rebel
(originally 14-Aug-2018)

A1 [03:12] 7.1.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Seven Days Of The Week (Ewan MacColl) Folk
A2 [02:36] 7.5.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Miss Heroin (Ruthie Gorton) Folk
A3 [03:19] 7.8.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - In Praise Of Famous Men And Women (Ewan MacColl) Folk
A4 [03:25] 6.5.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Ladybird (Ted Edwards) Folk
A5 [02:22] 5.8.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Lullabye For A Very New Baby (Peggy Seeger) Folk
A6 [05:48] 7.1.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - The Plutonium Factor (Peggy Seeger) Folk
A7 [02:29] 7.0.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - The Vandals (Ewan MacColl) Folk
A8 [03:40] 9.1.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Kilroy Was Here (Ewan MacColl) Folk
B1 [05:02] 8.1.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - The Androids (Ewan MacColl) Jazz
B2 [02:40] 7.7.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - What The Poet Called Her (Ewan MacColl) Folk
B3 [03:58] 7.0.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Nobody Knew She Was There (Ewan MacColl) Folk
B4 [03:33] 6.8.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - My Old Man (Ewan MacColl) Folk
B5 [04:25] 6.5.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Get Rid Of It (Ewan MacColl) Folk
B6 [02:08] 7.6.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Swallow And Trout (Fred Rooke) Folk
B7 [04:07] 7.3.png Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - Four Minute Warning (Peggy Seeger) Folk


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