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Remembering a legendary folk singer

When I heard of Pete Seeger’s death late yesterday, I recalled the one time I had the pleasure of seeing the legendary folk singer and songwriter in concert.

It was a cold February night in London in 1978 and I was anxious to see the singer who had written so many inspirational songs about justice, freedom and peace, such as ‘If I Had a Hammer’ and ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, which The Byrds so wonderfully popularised.

Indeed, we were taught many of Seeger’s songs in primary school back in the sixties by a young nun who loved the American folk singer’s protest songs, and, over the years I had grown to love his music and identify with many of the causes he sang about.

His campaigning for workers’ rights, his anti-war protests, and commitment to environmental causes made him much more than an entertainer of which he was one of the best.

But back to that night in London.

After losing my way to my designated seat in the Royal Albert Hall, I had inadvertently wandered into one of the private boxes that have the best views in the concert hall.

A memorable and remarkable concert

But my embarrassment was soon forgotten as my new-found friends made me feel welcome and I stayed in my VIP seat throughout what was one of the most memorable and remarkable concerts I have ever attended.

My ticket for Pete Seeger Concert with support Quilapaun from Chile in Royal Albert Hall, Tuesday, March 7th, 1978.
My ticket for Pete Seeger Concert with support Quilapaun from Chile in Royal Albert Hall, Tuesday, March 7th, 1978.

Pete Seeger didn’t have a backing band.

His powerful singing voice, accompanied by his banjo, and engaging story-telling, was more than enough to hold a packed Albert Hall spellbound

I recall he was joined that night by a folk group from Chile, Quilapayun, who had been exiled during the brutal dictatorship of General Pinochet.

It was common for Pete Seeger to use his concerts in the US and worldwide to highlight some social injustice of the day.

And on that night in London, those singers from Chile represented the kind of people Pete Seeger sang about all his life – the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised.

But Pete Seegar didn’t just sing about justice and freedom, the inequalities of the world, and environmental causes.

He practised what he preached and his liberal, pro-union views, often got him in trouble with the US authorities.

He may have passed on, but his songs will live on and be sung by many more generations.

I can highly recommend a tribute CD

For anyone interested in finding out more about the songs of Pete Seeger, I can highly recommend a tribute CD ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger’.

It’s a wonderful double CD, featuring such singers as Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt. And Ireland’s Dolores Keane and Tommy Sands, give a beautiful rendition of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”. The late great Tommy Makem, along with many more talented singers and musicians, give a new lease of life to many well known Pete Seeger songs.

One of the stand-out performance on the CD is Ani Difranco’s magnificent interpretation of Pete’s Seeger’s great anti-war song, ‘My Name is Lisa Kalvelage’.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

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