Matthew McGinn was born in Glasgow in 1928 and grew up in the Gallowgate in the Calton district of the city. Near the Gorbals this was a tough neighbourhood and Matt was one of nine children (5 sisters and 3 brothers). He went to the local Catholic School but at the start of the Second World War all inner city children were evacuated to the city’s outskirts for safety. In his brief stay at Newton Mearns Matt witnessed privileged living compared to his own humble home and that gave him a lifelong resentment of privilege. Keen to get back to the city and return to the nefarious activities during the blackouts Matt returned to the Gallogate and was soon embroiled in a life of juvenile crime. The young tear away, aged 12, was sent to St. Mary's Approved School for eighteen months after being caught stealing from a fruit shop. In the correction facility Matt experienced first hand the tough regime which made him realise crime was not the life he wanted. The experience was not without humour however the stark existence was something he never forgot. After release he did a series of menial jobs until eventually he ended up in a factory where he organised a strike. Determined to make something of himself he attended evening classes and became an avid reader. Interested in the Trade Union Movement Matt abandoned Catholicism and joined the British Communist Party in 1949. An active party member he was also critical of its regime and resigned several times over the next few years. Matt was and continued to be a champion of social justice and equity and became the factory’s Shop Steward. His hard work paid off when he won a Trade Union scholarship (T&GWU) to attend Ruskin College, Oxford. There he studied for a Diploma in Economics and Political Science then completed his teacher training at Huddersfield’s Teachers’ Training College. In his spare time at Ruskin, Matt wrote poetry and songs and when won a song competition with The Foreman O'Rourke, he was given a recording contract and released his first folk album called, The Iron Muse in 1963.
Matt returned to Glasgow and took a job as a teacher in Rutherglen before becoming the organiser of the Gorbals Adventure Playground. During this time he became a firm favourite on the UK folk scene sometimes writing up to six songs in a day, many of which were poignant parodies. Matching his wicked sense of fun with the sometimes unjust situations which he observed befall his working comrades he was soon dubbed the Woody Guthrie of Scotland.
Touring the UK folk circuit of the early sixties he met Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan among others. His talent and general irreverence won him many admirers not to mention adoration form his loyal fans. At the time Matt was quite unique because he preferred to sing his own songs based on his personal experiences combined with Glasgow wit and to that effect, predated Billy Connolly who would later overshadow him with mass global audience.
Many of Matt’s songs like Red Yoyo and Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede became favourite children’s songs which are still recorded today.
Matt was a luminary and role model to many and throughout his short life he remained committed to socialism and passionately believed in the overthrow of capitalism.
A principled man he supported many union disputes as well as helping the needy. Sadly the singer /playwright and man of the people died in 1977, aged 49.
Worth a listen
The Foreman O'Rourke (1963)
Coorie Doon (Miner's Lullaby) (1966)
The First Man On the Moon (1966)
Gallowgate Calypso (1966)
Red Yoyo (1966)
The Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede
No Nay Never (1968)
On the Beach at Portobello (1971)
Skinny Malinky Long Legs (1971)
The Ibrox Disaster (1972)
My Wee Autie Sarah (1978)