Universally known and respected as a songwriting and feminist icon, Peggy Seeger is so much more than anything a label can box. With over six decades of touring and singing songs to look back upon, the woman famous for being the ‘face’ of folk icon Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ still has a lot to say. And she’s said it all in a new book. By Alan O’Hare. 

“The songs are my mental geography.” Peggy Seeger, folk icon and muse, is talking about songs. She always is: “I am theirs and they are mine… while I’m here. I have nurtured them like children and brought them forth with me in time – they form my core.”

Seeger is in town this week to perform at The Music Room, inside Philharmonic Hall, as part of a UK tour to coincide with the publication of her memoir, ‘The First Time Ever’. The tour sees Seeger and family members perform songs spanning the six decades the queen of folk has been performing. “It was exhausting writing the book,” says the 82 year-old. “I’m lucky, though, my memories are all like a gallery in my head and I can recall aspects of my life with great clarity.”

‘The First Time Ever’ is a fantastic read and focuses on the singer’s relationships with people, places and prose over the years. Legends like half-brother Pete Seeger and brother Mike both feature, but it’s her personal and professional bond with folk legend Ewan MacColl that carries the weight. “We lived out of each other’s pockets,” she says. “But I was never bored with him – maybe because I was twenty years younger and he didn’t want to get complacent!”

There’s a spark in Peggy Seeger that refuses to diminish. She sings great songs, has written a few herself and knows how to live inside a story. The concert at the Phil this week will intersperse tunes and readings from her memoir and promises to be a great night…

‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ is such a famous song. Tell me about Ewan MaColl…
He had a strong fire within him and I really miss his creativity. When he died, back in 1989, I’d been part of a duo so long that I’d forgotten who I was.

The book is there now to remind the rest of us!
I wrote 200,000 words and they left 130,000 in! I’d write daily installments and it was around six years bubbling under.

Did you have a definite idea of the stories you wanted to tell?
It was just ramblings at first and then I began to hone it. I used to keep diaries and letters, but I didn’t use them in the end because I wanted the book to be from the present. It was still exhausting, though, I’d be getting up at 2am just to write! I’m 82 so I just wanted to get it all out.

You’re on tour at the minute with lots of family members. How does that work?
Oh it’s lovely touring with my sons and it’s great to be able to spend time with them, as a mother, on the road. I’ve been playing live for sixty two years and it’s lovely to be able to play and sing with your family.

Speaking of family, you lost your half-brother Pete back in 2014. What was your relationship with him like?
We spent much of our lives on different sides of the Atlantic, but I miss him greatly. There were periods of time when we wouldn’t see that much of each other, but we were both busy getting on with our lives.

What would Pete or Ewan think of the book?
Well, they’re snapshots of my brain and memories and how I describe them. I’ve been honest, but not slammed anyone. Songs run all the way through it, so they’d both like that!

Peggy Seeger
Tuesday, November 28th 2017, 7pm
The Music Room, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Get tickets

Pic by Vicki Sharp