"McGinn of the Calton". Once met, never forgotten.
He constantly played the clown but behind that mask lay an extremely sharp mind with a deep knowledge of the history of the Scottish working class. I served as accompanist to Matt for a short time in the late 60s and played on his album "Take Me Back to the Jungle". It was quite an experience.
He had a highly idiosyncratic attitude to performance, particularly to pitch. He would begin by giving the audience a long and hilarious preamble to whatever the song was, which might or might not have any direct relevance to the song, and launch himself into the first verse without warning. I would spend the first couple of bars finding what key he was approximately singing in and just when I had managed to catch up with him, he'd stop and start talking, wander up and down the byways of wherever his mind took him before firing into the next verse of the song. By this time, I would be falling about laughing as helplessly as the audience and would struggle to regain some kind of composure and try to find whatever key he was singing in this time, usually far away from the initial key. This was the pattern for the evening.
Comparisons are always a bit of a waste of time but if I were forced to make one, I would say that Matt is probably as close to a Scottish equivalent of Woody Guthrie as we've produced. His songs had the same deceptive simplicity but always with the same objective - to instill a sense of pride. In his song about the new Cunard liner being built at John Browns (codenamed Q4, later named QE2) there are quite profound ideas lurking behind the apparent simplicity of the literal text. He pays homage to the skills of older generations of workers and shows how these skills are passed on and improved upon -
"Thank you dad for all your skill
But the Clyde is a river that'll no stand still
You did gey well but we'll do more
Make way for the finest of them all, Q4"
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©Dick Gaughan February 2001. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, material or electronic, without the written permission of the author.
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