Festival of Ideas – Peggy Seeger

I went to see Peggy Seeger live a couple of years ago in the Lantern at Colston Hall. I was amazed that night by her warmth, humour and vitality (she was 80) as well as her talent as a multi instrumentalist and singer. She sat in the audience, right in front of me, to hear the support act Sam Gleeves as a lover of music, and as she saw herself as no more important than any of us. She was sat next to Big Jeff and a more surreal image of musical legends together I have yet to see.

She sang songs about mothering, motherhood and the pain of losing her Mother young. She read a poem about her mother dying aged just 52, when she herself was only 18. It touched me. Whenever you find another member of the club who lost their Mum young you know you share an awful bond. I told her so afterwards and we shared a moment together, Peggy taking my hand in hers and offering words of comfort.

She told stories between songs and talked about writing her memoirs then, and I’ve been waiting to read them ever since.

A few months ago, checking the listings for the Festival of Ideas I saw Peggy’s name and excitedly bought myself a ticket, knowing this also meant that the book was finished and I would finally get the chance to read about her fascinating life.

Tonight she was on sparkling form. Witty, warm, giving, generous and brilliant. Reading extracts of the book to paint such vivid pictures of her life. She has clearly written the book in the way she writes her songs, narrative storytelling has been her life blood for 60 years after all. I asked and Peggy confirmed that she has recorded the audio version of it too, which I cannot wait to hear when it is released. Frequently I was on the verge of tears as she spoke so movingly about love, relationships, recording and preserving the stories of the 99%, how folk music is the baton passed between generations. At every point she checked in to make sure we all had the references (the only one universally known was Senator McCarthy), she was inclusive, given to wonderful flights of fancy and made me feel like I was in the presence of both greatness and of family.

Music is the thread that binds us, preserves us, holds us up and connects us to people we will never meet or know across time and space. Folk music is powerful stuff in the right hands. Hands like Peggy Seegers.

I don’t have the money right now to buy the book, and I would prefer the paperback and audio versions anyhow, but I did take the opportunity to talk to Peggy again. I reminded her of when we had previously met and of her words to me “I hope you find what you are looking for.” I told her I had, that I had found the courage to be myself and the courage to begin writing. She held my hand again and we shared another moment.

I would never have found the courage, or confidence, to begin a project like #40gigs or all it led to (including the regular discipline of writing) or discovered a deep, deep joy and love of folk music without that evening seeing Peggy Seeger sing in September 2016. Thank you Peggy, thank you Colston Hall for that original gig and thank you Festival of Ideas for bringing Peggy back to Bristol tonight. What a treat to hear her talk and sing!

I’ve checked the gig listings and Peggy is playing in Bath in November. Shall I see you there?