[1970:] Written in 1946 for a Theatre workshop production, 'Landscape With Chimneys', a documentary play about Salford, Lancs. (Notes 'The World of Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger')
[1989:] Over in the Salford Workers' Arts Club (the 'croft' of Dirty Old Town) the talk down by the bar was of Marx and philosophy [...] and even teenagers found themselves discussing politics and art. (Denselow, Music 19)
Another MacColl drama was 'Landscape With Chimneys', which dealt with life back in Salford. On the opening night, Joan Littlewood found she had a problem. There was an awkward scene change, and MacColl was asked to produce an instant two-minute song to cover it. He sat down and wrote Dirty Old Town on the spot, and performed it (singing the words from a piece of paper) two hours later. The play has long been forgotten, and MacColl had forgotten the song until he found that it was being sung in the USA and Czechoslovakia. It has reappeared in an off-Broadway musical, on a Rod Stewart LP and (best of all) as a single by the Pogues. (Denselow, Music 21)
[1990:] Sometimes from the vantage point of the Peel Park reading room I would gaze out over [Salford] with its endless streets of identical houses, its rampart church spires and its innumerable factory chimneys pointing accusing fingers at the sky. Even from a distance it looked moribund, a 'place much decayed', and yet I was stirred by it, filled with a disturbing kind of enthusiasm. In the shabby wilderness, with its mean streets and silent cotton mills looking like abandoned fortresses, in those geometrically arranged warrens and occasional clusters of bug-infested dwellings built in the reign of daft George for 'the better class of artisan', in that wasteland of rotten timbers and rusting iron, of a fouled river and an abandoned canal, a quarter of a million people are born, live and die. It is my Paris. [...] What is it I feel for this place? Hatred? Yes, most of the time, but not all the time. Not all the time. [...] Sometimes lying in bed at night I am overcome with the awful fear that I will never escape from this place, that I am trapped and destined to live out my life in this awful ratpit. [...] Of course I hate it, I loathe it, I am scared of being devoured by it; and yet, though I live to be a hundred, it is unlikely that I will ever come to know any place as well as I know this one. That smoke-encrusted brick was among the first things I ever saw. I have absorbed this place through the palms of my hands; the soles of my feet have walked, run, slid, hopped, jumped and skipped along its flagstones and cobbles, through its roads and alley-ways, ist detours and short cuts, its dumps, cinder-crofts and parks.
My nose is equally familiar with the place. If I were to walk blindfold through this labyrinth of odours, my nose would guide me like a well-trained bloodhound. [...] There's smells and smells, of course. On the whole, the smells of winter are bearable; half the time we don't even notice them. After all, you've had them in your nostrils since the day you were born. In the summertime they are less easy to put up with because then, in addition to the smell of this or that factory or industrial process, there is the stink of sewers and - even worse - the stench that issues from the few houses in the street where the struggle against dirt and squalor has been abandoned. It isn't easy to live in a constant state of siege, with dirt as the enemy. (MacColl, Journeyman 180ff)
[1990:] This song, written in 1950 to facilitate a scene change in a Theatre Workshop production, has been covered by many singers. It celebrates Salford, Lancashire, the northern industrial town where Ewan grew up. Salford bears the same relationship to Manchester as does the Piraeus to Athens; it was the town of Friedrich Engels, the classic industrial revolution slum city much of which has since been torn down and replaced with new slums. (Notes Ewan MacColl, 'Black and White)
[Woraus klar werden dürfte, daß es unter 'irisch' eigentlich nicht ganz richtig steht ...]
See also Help: Dirty Old Town? Meaning???