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From the archive: Matt McGinn

It is 85 years since the birth of the late Glaswegian songwriter Matt McGinn and to celebrate we're taking a look back at the life and career of the Scottish folk raconteur.

Matt McGinn in 1970

McGinn was regarded as the founding father of Scottish folk so today is a doubly special day as it also marks the launch of the 20th Celtic Connections festival.

Special gig to open Celtic Connections

McGinn was born in Ross Street, Calton, on January 17, 1928 and attended St Aloysius School.

At the age of 12 he was sent to St Mary’s Approved School for 18 months after being caught shoplifting and worked in the Hillington factory of Guest, Keen and Nettleford on his release.

He gained a prestigious trade union scholarship to Ruskin College in Oxford aged 31 and went on to work as a teacher in Rutherglen for three years before becoming the organiser of the Gorbals Adventure Playground.

However, McGinn, who was interested in socialism and trade unionism, will always be best remembered for his songs, books and plays.

His career began after his track, The Foreman O’Rouke, won a folk songwriting competition in a Sunday newspaper. The prolific songwriter wrote 500 songs during his career and drew upon his experiences of life in Glasgow for much of his material. His performances in clubs and concert halls were hugely popular and often left audiences in tears of laughter.

McGinn defined Scottish folk music in the 1960s and 70s with classic songs such as Skinny Malinky Long Legs and Bingo Bella and achieved iconic status in the Scottish protest and activist folk scene.

He is regarded as one of the great poets of the 60s protest era and was once described as ‘Billy Connolly with a conscience’.

Two of his songs, Coorie Doon and Three Nights and a Sunday Double Time, are listed in Washington’s Smithsonian Institute’s Top 100 folk songs of the 20th century.

McGinn sadly died of smoke inhalation in 1977 after he accidentally dropped a lit cigarette and set fire to his house. He was 49.

However, his songs are still remembered to this day and in 2006 a theatre show to commemorate his life called ‘Matt McGinn’s Magic Song Book Show’ was performed at The Village Theatre in East Kilbride.

Folk musician and organiser Wallace Cameron, who organised the show, said: “Matt McGinn was one of the most loved songwriters in the land.

“His songs could make people laugh and cry. And he was a man of the people who cared about politics.”

Jeannete McGinn, Matt’s widow, said:Matt has never really gone away from the affections of people, but I am very happy that he is enjoying this renaissance. He deserves it.”

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