Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Freeborn Man

This song was written by Ewan MacColl for the radio ballad Travelling People which was originally broadcast in 1964 and was the last of eight radio ballads broadcast between 1959 and 1964.

The radio ballads were the original creation of Charles Parker, a BBC radio producer together with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger who between them created a form of documentary which mixed the voices of the actual participants involved with sounds recorded in the field and songs written by Ewan MacColl and arranged by Peggy Seeger.

The radio ballads were groundbreaking in using the actual voices of participants involved in the events which the radio ballad was based on. Previously, in documentaries about ordinary working people, participants were interviewed and then the topic of the interview would be scripted and actors would then be used on the actual programme. The format devised by Parker was very successful and the BBC had to repeat them as a result of requests from listeners after they were first broadcast.

I first came across them in the late 1960s when I found the first one, The Ballad of John Axon, on an LP in the local library. I was captivated and went back looking for more. The local library had two more, Singing the Fishing and The Travelling People and there was reference to a fourth, The Big Hewer. I found the mixture of dialogue and song compelling and there were some wonderful songs.

The Travelling People is concerned with the gypsy and tinker population who were, and are, a people who live on the margins of our society and are still treated with suspicion to this day by the rest of the population.

You can find out more about the radio ballads on the BBC website or Google "radio ballads" and follow the links.

In my own version of Freeborn Man, I simply accompany myself on a soprano ukulele.

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