Ruth Ewan

Did You Kiss the Foot That Kicked You?

London
07 October 2007 - 12 October 2007

Ruth Ewan's Did You Kiss the Foot That Kicked You? involved the co-ordination of over one hundred buskers around London. Performing both under and above ground, the buskers incorporated Ballad of Accounting by Ewan MacColl into their usual repertoire. Their individual acts shared a collective purpose. The week-long series of performances slipped quietly into the rush-hour routine, as the scattered recitals filtered into the subconscious of those passing by.

The entirety of Did you kiss the foot that kicked you? could not be experienced by any one person. We may or may not have become aware of the song’s fleeting presence in the city: a bold brass section as we cross the Thames or a quiet voice accompanied by a guitar as we turn off the main street. Busking is about something other than just being an able musician or a street entertainer; it is a raw performance, an autonomous act.

Legislation has almost eradicated busking; by-laws and policing keep all but the hardiest musicians from the streets, while others pursue bureaucratic routes into designated areas. The recent introduction of music licensing has restrained the natural spontaneity of performances across a range of live venues.

Ewan MacColl wrote Ballad of Accounting in 1964. The lyrics follow a simple structure, considered to be unique among his three hundred compositions. The song offers criticism as self-reflection, repeatedly posing provocative and direct questions:

Did you stand aside and let them choose while you took second best?
Did you let them skim the cream off and then give to you the rest?

Government records released in 2006 through The National Archive show that from 1932, security service MI5 held a file on MacColl. One report claims that he was ‘a communist with very extreme views’ who needed ‘special attention’. The file also states, as a cause for concern, that MacColl had ‘exceptional ability as a singer and musical organiser’.

Give me the making of the songs of the nation, and I care not who makes its laws. — Andrew Fletcher, 1703

Music is doing something to everyone who hears it all the time. — Arnold Perris, Music as Propaganda, 1984)


Image: Ecstatic Mourning on London Bridge, October 2007. Photograph: Ruth Ewan.

Audio: selected recordings of buskers playing Ballad Of Accounting

Fang and David Coulter: 4 minutes 42 seconds
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Audio

One hundred buskers attended a training day in August 2007 at Cecil Sharp House and, the following day, a selection of these participants gathered in a studio to record their versions of Ballad Of Accounting. These recordings constitute a glimpse of the collection of creative responses the musicians brought to this project.

The recordings are available to listen to on Soundcloud and also on limited edition vinyl.


Image: Fang (unknown — October 2014) at Kings Cross, October 2007. Photograph: Thierry Bal.

Making Did You Kiss the Foot That Kicked You?

Auditions at Conway Hall
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Making Did You Kiss the Foot That Kicked You?

In July 2007 over two hundred musicians attended auditions at Conway Hall - a landmark of London's independent intellectual, political and cultural life and the starting point for the anti-fascist battle of 1975. The buskers presented a rich variety of stories and styles, from groups of young musicians at the start of their music careers to lone banjo players who have been performing on the streets of London for over 30 years.

One month later a hundred buskers attended a training day at Cecil Sharp House, home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. This day brought together a group of diverse individuals from the same walk of life who were invited to perform Ballad of Accounting. The following day fifteen buskers gathered in a studio to record their versions of the song. These recordings constitute a collection of creative responses that offer a momentary glimpse into the wide variety of interpretations that the musicians brought to this project.

A selection of recordings is available on limited edition 10” vinyl.

Musicians: Joseph Aquilina, Tom Arthurs, Paolo Atzei, Sean Barr, Sarah Bear, Jim Bermingham, Sean Bhèar, Simon Billington, Lucy Blunden, Hannah Bristow, Bunty, Jim Cartwright, Martin Cassini, Jonathan Cope, Wlademir Costa Da Silva, Jon Curtis, Alexander Dayo, Rosanella Di Costanzo, John Drain, The Ecstatic Mourning Revue (Mark Brown, Sue Keen, Rob Hider), Kevin Edge, Edward Emmett, Pippa Evans, Fang, Julian Ferraretto, Tim Flitcroft, Stephen Foster-Pilkington, Akinoro Fujimoto, GAM (Glen Alexander McAllister), Louise Gilbert, Ella Grace, Ruben H, Handshake, Nev Hawkins, Sally Anne Hickman, Jacquelyn Hynes, Duncan Kane, Bob Karper, Michael Kirkpatrick, Ryan Koriya, Francesca Laneri, Kien Lim, Juliana Lisk, Brona McVittie (Forestbrook), Yusef Martin, Christian Miller, Terry Miller, Sara Mitra, Hamisi Mumba, Bucky Muttel, Wayne Myers, Joe Myles, Anna Neale, Daniel Nisbet, David O'Connell, John Paul O'Flynn, Octoberfest Oompah Band, Alice Offley, Spencer Pearce, Carla Pecorelli, Yshani Perinpanayagam, Liz Price, Christopher Prosser, Randan Discotheque, Rob Robson, Will Saunders, Judith Silver, Skint and Broke, Billy Smith, Daniel Spiller, Anna-Maria Tkacz, Marie Tueje, Keir Vine, VoiCe (Victoria Couper, Clemmie Franks, Emily Burn), Wasi, Watchoutmary, Pete Watson, Jane Wilkinson, Cy Winstanley.


Image: Performer playing Ballad of Accounting on the guitar, part of Did You Kiss the Foot That Kicked You? 2007. Photograph: Gautier Deblonde

A Man to Be Watched

Ewan MacColl by Ben Harker
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A Man to Be Watched

By Ben Harker, 2007 


In the final decade of his life, Salford-born Marxist polymath Ewan MacColl (1915–1989) succumbed to feelings of failure, and began to wonder whether radical political transformation was possible, and whether his own brand of cultural agitation had made any real difference. His bulging dossier at MI5 might have given him heart. Though fading health and the dark days of Thatcherism caused him to doubt himself, Britain’s secret services were long convinced that he was a dangerously creative activist. The file they kept on MacColl – an edited version of which was declassified in 2006 – is a chronicle of his lifelong commitment to radical cultural politics.

They first picked him out as a seventeen year-old communist involved in organising the 1932 Mass Trespass, a direct-action stunt in which radical ramblers collectively asserted their right to walk in the British countryside. MacColl would write his first enduring song, The Manchester Rambler, shortly afterwards. In the late 1930s an undercover police officer infiltrated a Communist Party fundraiser event and reported on a young man who ‘showed exceptional ability as a singer and musical organiser’. The following year MacColl and his first wife Joan Littlewood were under frequent surveillance. Enquiries had revealed that he was ‘a man to be watched.’

They did their best to watch him, though he proved an elusive quarry. MacColl was a complex character whose theatrical flair extended to vivid bouts of self-dramatisation. The tall stories that tripped from his tongue inadvertently laid false trails for the constabulary – at one point they believed they were dealing with a professional balloon rigger who’d spent many years in the Soviet Union. MacColl was also a contradictory man, a salty working-class hero who enjoyed the finer things in life, and a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who feared physical violence. He deserted from the British Army during the Second World War, and the plot thickened when he assumed the name Ewan MacColl, which he borrowed from a minor nineteenth-century Gaelic poet (Ewan MacColl had spent his first thirty years as Jimmie Miller).

Read the rest.


Image: Ryan Koriya at Blackfriers,October 2007. Photograph: Thierry Bal.
 

Press

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The project marks a clear continuation of the two major themes of Ewan's work to date - the struggle for social justice and the transformative power of sound and music. — Wayne Meyers, The Guardian, 25 October 2007

Selected Press

The project marks a clear continuation of the two major themes of Ewan's work to date - the struggle for social justice and the transformative power of sound and music. — Wayne Meyers, The Guardian, 25 October 2007

The song will be dropped into the city for two hours in the morning, and two in the evening’, Ewan explains in the week prior to her busker action. ‘We recruited buskers by advertising and also, fortunately, there was an event on the Southbank [led by Billy Bragg] called ‘Billy’s Big Busk’ where we went and handed out flyers. We had three audition dates.’ Peggy Seeger, MacColl’s third wife, widow and long-term collaborator, gave them permission to use the song on the understanding that they did it justice. — Ruth Hedges, Map Magazine, 1 November 2007

100 buskers were taught MacColl’s ‘Ballad of Accounting’ (1964) to work into their normal routines. For one week throughout London, rush-hour commuters might have caught some of the song’s confrontational demands: ‘Did you learn to keep your mouth shut, were you seen and never heard? Did you learn to be obedient and jump to at a word?’ — Chris Fite-Wassilak, Frieze, May 2009.

About Ruth Ewan

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Ruth Ewan

Ruth Ewan was selected as part of the 2006 Open call for proposals from Artangel and Jerwood.

Ruth Ewan (b.1980) is a Scottish artist based in London. Often working collaboratively with groups or individuals, Ewan is interested in the ways in which radical ideas are transferred, absorbed or lost within popular culture. Several of her recent projects have focused on the transformative power of sound and music and have sought to represent a day-to-day desire for social justice.

Other recent solo shows and projects include A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World, Ancient and Modern, London (2009) and Fang Sang, Nought to Sixty, ICA, London (2008). She received the East International Prize at Norwich Gallery, Norwich (2006). Recent group shows include Younger Than Jesus, New Museum, New York (2009) and Altermodern: Tate Triennial, Tate Britain, London (2009). Forthcoming projects include Art Sheffield 2010.


Image: Close up detail of the neck of a guitar being played. Photograph: Thierry Bal.

Production Credits

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Production Credits

Artangel & Ruth Ewan would like to thank all the buskers and musicians, Peggy Seeger, Ben Harker, Mary King, Fraser Trainer, David Coulter, Will Holder, George Hinchliffe, Nicky Gavron, Barry Gardner, Paul Bennun, Caroline Woodley, Pablo Lafuente, Anna Ewan, Margaret Ewan, Staff at Cecil Sharp House, Ruskin College, Platform for Art, Transport for London, City of London Council, Lambeth Council, Southwark Council, Camden Council, Islington Council, Tower Hamlets Council. Ruth Ewan would like to give special thanks to Artangel, Rachel Anderson, Rehana Zaman and Fang.

Musicians

Joseph Aquilina, Tom Arthurs, Paolo Atzei, Sean Barr, Sarah Bear, Jim Bermingham, Sean Bhèar, Simon Billington, Lucy Blunden, Hannah Bristow, Mark Brown, Bunty, Johnny Cope, Jim Cartwright, Martin Cassini, Jonathan Cope, Wlademir Costa Da Silva, Rosanella Di Costanzo, Jon Curtis, Alexander Dayo, Randan Discotheque, John Drain, Kevin Edge, Edward Emmett, Pippa Evans, Fang, Julian Ferraretto, Tim Flitcroft, Stephen Foster-Pilkington, Clemmie Franks, Akinoro Fujimoto, Lloyd Goulbourne, Ella Grace, Ruben H, Handshake, Louise Gilbert, Nev Hawkins, Sally Anne Hickman, Rob Hider, Jacquelyn Hynes, Octoberfest Oompah Band, Duncan Kane, Bob Karper, Susan Keen, Michael Kirkpatrick, Ryan Koriya, Wasiat Ladimeji, Francesca Laneri, Kien Lim, Juliana Lisk, Yusef Martin, GAM (Glen Alexander McAllister), Brona McVittie, Christian Miller, Terry Miller, Sara Mitra, Hamisi Mumba, Bucky Muttel, Wayne Myers, Joe Myles, Anna Neale, Daniel Nisbet, David O’Connell, Alice Offley, John Paul O’Flynn, Spencer Pearce, Carla Pecorelli, Yshani Perinpanayagam, Liz Price, Christopher Prosser, Rob Robson, Will Saunders, Judith Silver, Billy Smith, Daniel Spiller, Anna-Maria Tkacz, Marie Tueje, Keir Vine, Pete Watson, Jane Wilkinson, Cy Winstanley, Watchoutmary. Recordings John Drain, Hannah Bristow, Mark Brown, David Coulter, Kevin Edge, Fang, Tim Flitcroft, Clemmie Franks, Rob Hider, Susan Keen, Julianna Lisk, Brona McVittie, Christopher Prosser, Anna-Maria Tkacz, Marie Tueje, Cy Winstanley.

Recording Production: David Coulter
Producer: Barry Gardner

Ballad of Accounting by Ewan MacColl © Harmony Music Ltd. Used by kind permission of the copyright owners and administrators Bucks Music Group Limited, London W8 7TQ. The original version of “Ballad of Accounting” sung by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger can be found on the album Black and White, Cooking Vinyl CD (COOK CD 038).


Image: Performer Tim Flitcroft  playing Ballad of Accounting on ukulele and vocals with Chris Prosser on violin (2007). Photograph: Gautier Deblonde

Credits

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Who made this possible?