Folk legend Peggy Seeger releases The Invisible Woman from her new album accompanied by a video recorded with her two sons.
It’s the first song from what is ‘likely’ to be her final album of original material, First Farewell, released on April 9 via Red Grape Music. But typically mellowing is not Seeger’s style and she’s not going quietly. Her 24th solo album is yet another reminder of her importance and continued relevance as a songwriter and performer.
Peggy remains a hugely influential figure in UK and USA folk music and remarkably is still writing and touring at 85. She remains an innovator as aged 77 she was a vocalist on dance single England by Broadcaster, a Radio 1 Record of the Week, designer Bella Freud naming a sweater after her in 2019, she has won numerous international awards, and is still an active campaigner on the environment alongside social and feminist issues.
The Invisible Woman is a co-write with her musician son Neill MacColl, and takes a long, hard look at all the ways in which society pushes older people into the margins.
It is full of Seeger’s gift for both off-beat wit – making reference to an older person walking the high street ‘In clown shoes and lace underwear’ – to seek acknowledgement. There’s plenty of self-knowledge – ‘Don’t know how I became so unseen / when my tangible self was put on the shelf’ – the track is delivered with a vitality that belies an artist with a six-decade career at the top of the folk world.
“My older son Neill MacColl was hesitant for ages about co-writing with me, he turned up at my home one day, laid his 6’1” self along my two-seater sofa and laconically offered a possible subject for a song,” recalls Peggy.
“The Invisible Woman strolled in gradually, wearing clown shoes and lace underwear. We ended up with a song that expressed an uncomfortable new feeling that was creeping up on us both but that echoed the folk songs that I’d sung to him since birth.”
Seeger is still a passionate advocate of the ability of music and community to change lives, with storytelling running through her bones and an unshakable belief that music is activism. First Farewell is full of powerful tales both personal and political, squaring up to life-long love, loneliness, young male suicide, modern slavery and social media addiction. But despite the tough subject matter the album still expresses Peggy’s indefatigable optimism, inquisitiveness and lust for life.
The album is the first to be written and recorded entirely with Peggy’s immediate family members – sons Calum and Neill MacColl who are established musicians and songwriters in their own right – and daughter-in-law Kate St John who was a member of Dream Academy. It’s also her first album to reference her roots as a classically trained pianist rather than her stellar career as a folk musician. The simple piano arrangements hark back to the avant-garde compositions of her mother, the Guggenheim fellowship composer Ruth Crawford Seeger.
Words by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here.