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Matthew McGinn was born in Ross Street at the corner of the Gallowgate in Calton, Glasgow in 1928. Born the eighth child of a family of nine in The East End of Glasgow, his formal education ended when he entered an Approved School at the age of 12. Despite this, Matt an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable individual was, by his early 20’s, recognised as a highly political charismatic debater of left-wing politics. On his release from approved school he worked in the Hillington factory of GKN, spending his spare time at evening classes and reading. He gained a Trade Union scholarship to study economics and political science at Ruskin College in Oxford when he was 31. After graduating, he trained to become a teacher at Huddersfield Teachers' Training College and went on to work as a teacher in Lanarkshire for three years before becoming the organiser of the Gorbals Adventure Playground.
McGinn joined the folk scene after winning a song contest with a song entitled "The Foreman O'Rourke". He met Pete Seeger in 1961 when Seeger was touring the British Isles. Seeger championed McGinn's music in the United States and arranged for McGinn to be part of a concert performance at Carnegie Hall, where McGinn met a young Bob Dylan. His career in music began during the folk revival of the 1960s but whilst others leaned towards traditional song, McGinn carved his own niche as a humourist and playwright as well as a singer/songwriter. He was a prolific songwriter, drawing on his experiences of Glasgow life for much of his material. He was a communist and republican, who passionately believed in the overthrow of capitalism and supported Scottish Independence, in many trade-union disputes and always sided with the oppressed and down-trodden. His performances in clubs and concert halls were hugely popular. One song, "Coorie Doon," a lullaby for a miner's child, was frequently performed by The Corries & Luke Kelly
In his own inimitable fashion Matt McGinn embraced the “Folk Song Revival” of the 60’s and brought to this his talent as a poet, his humour and his wealth of knowledge and experience of the ordinary folk of Glasgow and West of Scotland. It was never his ambition to be a singer/songwriter but considered tunes and melodies as a vehicle on which to express and propagate his beliefs and politics.
Perhaps a recent description of him as a PEOPLES' HISTORIAN is fitting. Matt brought together his musical abilities, perception, humour, knowledge, politics and personal experience, to leave us a history in words and music of the life and times of Scottish people, in particular Glasgow and the West.
Matt McGinn died in a fire at his Glasgow flat in 1977 having fallen asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand.
There is a wealth of information about McGinn, as well as the words and music of some of his songs in the book McGinn of the Calton, collated by Janette McGinn, and published by Glasgow District Libraries in 1987 (ISBN 0 906169 15 1).
McGinn's songs are still performed by folk musicians in Scotland and America at tribute concerts. A cover version of his song "Troubled Waters" appears on Rachel Unthank and the Winterset's first album Cruel Sister.
A partial list of musical recordings:
Matt McGinn 1966 Transatlantic
Matt McGinn Again 1967 Transatlantic
The Boys From Lisbon 1968 Transatlantic
I Have Seen The Highlands & I’ll Be Coming Home To Glasgow 1968 Transatlantic
Honesty Is Out of The Fashion 1968 Transatlantic
Little Ticks of Time 1969 Transatlantic
The Matt McGinn Sampler 1969 Transatlantic
Take Me Back To The Jungle 1971 RCA INTS
Tinny Can On My Tail 1972 RCA INTS
The Two Heided Man 1972 Emerald Gem
Magic Shadow Show 1973 Moonbeam
The Two Heided Man Strikes Again 1974 Emerald Gem
Screwtops Are Falling On My Head 1975 Pye
Ma Wee Auntie Sarah & Granda 1975 Pye
Currently available CDs
- Revival In Britain Volume 1 (first side only, other side various artists - compiled by Ewan MacColl in 1962) (download only)
- The Best Of Matt McGinn (comprising around 50% of Matt's 1966-69 output on Transatlantic Records)
- The Best Of Matt McGinn Volume Two (comprising Matt's albums Take Me Back To The Jungle (1971) and Tinny Can On My Tail (1972)).
- The Return Of The Two Heided Man (comprising most of the live albums The Two Heided Man (1973) and The Two Heided Man Strikes Again (1974))
- Simmonds, Jeremy (2008). The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches. Chicago Review Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-1-55652-754-8.
- "Linlithgow Folk Festival Association". Linlithgowfolk.com. 6 March 2010. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- Site compiled by McGinn's family with 101 songs.