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The radio ballads were the joint creation of Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger.

A radio ballad is a sound-tapestry woven of four basic elements: songs, instrumental music, sound effects and the recorded voices of those with whose lives each program deals.

These programs were revolutionary for their time, using as they did the actual spoken words of the ‘informants'. Up until this time, this 'actuality' (as the trio dubbed it) was transcribed and then interpreted by trained radio speakers. The radio ballads lead you effortlessly from to song to music to sound effect to the spoken word and back again, revealing the effect of a way of life upon those who lead it. They are entertaining, informative, musical, poetic and educational.

There were eight radio-ballads, created, between 1957 and 1964.

The sixth Radio Ballad, On the Edge, deals with young people on the cusp of childhood and adulthood. The youngsters embraced the field recording techniques now perfected by the team and, contrary to expectations that young people would refuse to talk freely about their hopes and fears to adults, held nothing back. MacColl noted that "the problem was not to get them talking, but to stop them."

In the summer of 1982, conversing in coffee bars and dance halls, youth clubs and college rooms plastered with pin-ups, teenagers expressed their hopes and fears, dreams and observations with a stark honesty that reveals much about growing up in the 1960s. The team watched the youngsters sense their budding powers of articulation and become, as Parker observed, "truly self-aware and almost, it sometimes seemed to us, adult before our eyes as we sat and listened".

Boldly, for such a subject in such an era, MacColl deliberately used the quest ballad, an ancient form of traditional music, for his musical direction. He understood that the traditional folk style used throughout the series was perfectly valid for these young people, who spoke so honestly of their feelings in their own language, uninfluenced by their pop idols and the contemporary concerns of adolescence in the 1960s. Praise from the press was fulsome though MacColl thought it unmerited, saying that "the team had allowed itself to be overcome by the richness of the actuality". Nevertheless, the broadcast was followed by hundreds of requests for copies from teachers and those concerned with the welfare of teenagers.


released February 13, 1963

Script, song lyrics and music - Ewan MacColl (with Peggy Seeger)
Orchestration and music direction - Peggy Seeger
Production - Charles Parker
Actuality recording - Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (with Charles Parker)
“℗ 1964 BBC [(BBC Worldwide Ltd)]; this recording ℗ and © 2019 Ewan MacColl Limited”

Lorna CampbelI, Rae Fisher, Louis Killen, Ewan MacColl, Gordon McCulloch, Peggy Seeger

Jim Bray - double bass
Brian Daly – acoustic and electric guitar
Alf Edwards - English concertina
Alfie Kahn – harmonica, clarinet, piccolo, flute
Tony Martin – bongos
Colin Ross – Northumbrian pipes, fiddle
Peggy Seeger – autoharp, guitar, mandolin, 5 string banjo, Appalacian dulcimer


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Ewan MacColl London, UK

This site is maintained by the MacColl family, aiming to make Ewan's catalogue available to download.
Ewan MacColl is known to most as a songwriter and singer, but he was also of significant influence in the worlds of theatre and radio broadcasting. His art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, greater numbers through his recordings and untold millions through the radio. ... more

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