Rory McEwen


Some of you will recall the name – and you might enjoy some of the clips on this website video


This evening, BBC4 are presenting a 30 minute programme about him, presented by Jools Holland. The stories of the influence of Leadbelly on his performing are very interesting and the musical clips are typical of the rather ‘jolly’ approach that British folkies of the late 1950s had to American ‘roots’ stuff. There is one ensemble clip which clearly includes Davy Graham and Martin Carthy and maybe (?) Shirley Collins

There is one odd point in the Radio Times blurb about the programme where it says that McEwen is “widely credited with introducing blues music to Britain”.

Is he? Widely? By 1959 he was only 17 years old (apologies he was 27 – please see Comments) and following on from the initiatives of Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, George Melly, Alexis and Cyril (etc). Blues singers Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters and others had already toured Britain by then and my real point is that since he was clearly a very remarkable man (check his plant paintings), I don’t understand why people need to make up stories that just ain’t true. Even if he did introduce the blues to Britain (which I doubt) he is certainly not “widely credited” with doing so …

Nonetheless he is a really fascinating guy and I suspect it will be a programme worth catching – as is this website video.


Author: pompeypop

University lecturer, longtime local musician and recently historian of popular music - especially in and around Portsmouth. My blog is entirely about that topic

23 thoughts on “Rory McEwen

  1. I’ve just discovered that it’s not Shirley Collins – it’s Lisa Turner (about whom I know nothing).

    • Apparently he was born in 1932 so he would’ve been 27 in 1959 which does give the claim more credibility
      I have a vague memory of him on ‘Tonight’ with the likes of Ewen McColl and Cy Grant
      Lastly Dave as it says on the clip that he did light installations has Martin any knowledge of him?

      • http://whirligig-tv.co.uk/tv/adults/tonight/tonight.htm……………………..good old black and white nostalgia….
        Found this bit of info about “Tonight Show” and was intrigued by the reference to Humphrey Lestogue “Whirlygig” …………..Who else remembers that great kids prog ???? A couple of things stick in my mind , one of which involves ,shall we say a ‘topical aussie’ , by the name of Rolf Harris , who had perhaps his first boy , drawn on an artists drawing sheet with whom he would have a ‘good old chat’…..Willerby
        I also seem to remember a bunch of short /stubby little characters with long noses called The Bumblies ,who lived on the ceiling and werebest friends with the slightly mad Michael Bentine……………….I digress and am apparently reflecting some kind of early drug habit !!!!!!

      • http://www.turnipnet.com/whirligig/index.htm
        Ladies and Gentlemen Here are The Bumblies………………..(ref my whirligig posting)

        Phil, it seems I can’t reply to this (no idea why) so just to say that yes, I do remember the Bumblies … (Dave A)

      • O.K. This relative piece of info for anyone brave (or stupid) enough to click my second link to ‘the turnipnet/whirligig site’ Check out all your favourites from the day on the list , screen left…..b for bumblies

  2. I share that vague memory from Tonight and thanks for getting the maths right Mr G. As someone who’s tried to sing the blues for about 50 years and was an art teacher I am full of admiration for the work displayed on these websites – the guy was clearly incredibly talented so I’m not having a go at him or his legacy in the slightest. In fact he is so remarkable that my key point is WHY do they have to construct this other story about his influence?

    For example Bob Brunning’s well-know history of the “Blues in Britain” mentions all the usual early candidates including Colyer, Korner, Davies as well as the acoustic guys like Davey Graham or Mike Cooper and says that the “one man” at the “heart” of bringing the blues to Britain is Chris Barber – but he says nothing about McEwen. On the website video, Van Morrison wonders why McEwen does not get (more) credit, and maybe he deserves it – but that merely goes to confirm my point that he is NOT “widely credited” with introducing the blues to Britain”. He’s just not.

  3. I can remember him on TVS in the 50s and 60s. I believe that he hosted a folk programme. Didn’t realise he was an artist though.

  4. Dave, re your reference to Shirley Collins, is this is the clip -with it’s Lisa Turner? Pete McGurk is there too….

  5. Reference your reference to my reference Mr Spider Man, can you please reconstruct that sentence? I’d said above that it’s Lisa Turner and yes that’s the clip – there’s also a bit of it on the McEwen biographical video. My speculation about Collins was merely on the basis that she recorded with Davy Graham.

  6. O.K, OK…. I KNOW some people are gonna say “Oh no, the spider is on about Dylan again” but this interview with Martin Carthy is very enlightening about the folk scene in the U.K in the early 60’s – and once you’ve got the youtube link up there’s another nine parts of this interview. Fascinating stuff.

  7. Nice interview with Dave Kelly, now of The Blues Band (a band I find very dull indeed) – but more importantly, he played with Son House, John Lee Hooker. Howlin’ Wolf etc etc. In this interview he mentions Lisa Turner and puts her contribution into perspective.


  8. They might indeed say that, as you weave your web which always has BD at its heart. OK here’s a challenge (and there may be more). Steve Strange of Visage (“Fade to Grey”) died yesterday. Find a link there to Mr Bob … (his ‘Glam Rock’ days perhaps?)

  9. Sorry, Dave, I’d started to reply to this thread before you made your comment re Lisa Turner…. That’s what happens when you go off and have a cup of coffee!

  10. That Dave Kelly thing is good – thanks for that. He played solo in his early days at the Brave New World and was fab – interesting about Lisa Turner and I agree with you about the Blues Band – given Kelly’s all round skills and Jones’ harp playing, they are less than the sum of their parts

  11. Dave, surely he was more like 27 in 1959? born in 1932.

  12. You’re quite right but I’m confused by the timing of your comment Emmett as by the time you posted it I’d already amended the post some hours before to note that. I assume other people can see my bracketed change to 27 and Mr Greedy’s correction?

  13. Actually Emmett what interests me more is that you were a significant player in the early 1960s British acoustic folk-blues scene. So you’re better placed than any of us to comment on whether McEwen was the man who brought the blues to Britain. I’d love to know what you think.

  14. Oh, sorry about the time lag, but certainly at time of posting the original was all I saw, apologies.

  15. I just checked the article again, saw the ‘bracketed’ amendment and for sure it was not there when I wrote. re Rory McEwen, unless memory fails, me and my mates, (all folkies) had never heard of or seen him and we ‘did’ all the haunts. (bit of trivia…me and Ray Sone opened for Jesse Fuller at Studio 51 and we actually had the gall to do San Francisco Bay Blues, bothers me even now, the ‘gaucheness’ of youth.)

  16. No worries Emmett’s and many thanks for the comment. I’ve seen the programme now – very interesting and a remarkable man but they repeated the claims about his influence and described him being the first Brit to go in search of the blues roots yet he clearly went to USA some years after Ken Colyer’s famous trip to New Orleans and at least a couple of years after the film of Ottillie Patterson singinging blues with Chris Barber. McEwans achievements were remarkable so I see no need to reconstruct history.

    • very early ’60’s we would frequent a small cellar folk club, “The blues & barrel house”, and Baldry was often the performer doing nothing but great blues, using a guitar with a’D’ shape sound hole as I remember, I think he was definitely a blues trailblazer.

  17. Yes, he would play in Pompey at the Railway Folk Club with just an acoustic guitar. There was a shot of him in striped TShirt on the set of “Hootenanny” in that show last night. That acoustic UK scene isn’t as well known as the electric R&B – other names that spring to mind include Wizz Jones, Cliff Aungier, Gerry Lockran …

    • Having watched the programme last night,I’d first like to say that I thought his paintings of plants and especially the later vegetable stuff are amazing!
      As far as the music or more accurately the way it is performed I find really boring.
      It just reminds me of duffel coats and college scarves and as you so rightly said Dave the rather middle class jolliness of the whole thing!
      It’s like these people weren’t aware that lots of young men around the country were listening to more up to date black American music and forming groups performing it!
      Later in the film McEwen has become part of the privileged Kings Rd hippy scene.
      It seems like what happened in this country between 1962/67 (despite his friendship with The Beatles)had passed him and the rest of that uni/folky/beatnik crowd by!

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