Art & Culture

Long-lost verse from iconic local folk song to be debuted at FREE Salford festival next weekend

It'll be a "once in a lifetime opportunity" for those lucky enough to hear it.

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 3rd June 2024

A long-lost verse from an iconic local folk song is to be played for the first time ever at a free festival in Salford next weekend.

And it’s gearing up to be a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for those lucky enough to hear it.

Almost 75 years after it was written about the Greater Manchester city of Salford, ‘Dirty Old Town’ by legendary folk singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl is now the subject of a new BBC Radio 4 documentary.

During the documentary, an abandoned verse from the iconic song can be heard sung for the first time since 1951 – and next weekend, MacColl’s folk-legend widow, Peggy Seeger, is bringing that same abandoned verse to life in a one-time-only performance at this year’s We Invented the Weekend festival.

In a bid to reclaim the song back for the city it was originally written about, Seeger will be taking to the stage at the free-to-attend festival – which is back by popular demand at MediaCity and Salford Quays on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 June.


Born in the Salford suburb of Broughton in 1915, MacColl came from a family with socialist roots, and started life as a young communist playwright.

He first released ‘Dirty Old Town’ in 1952, after originally using the melody and abandoned verse in a play in 1951, and the song quickly made waves in the UK’s burgeoning folk scene due to its emotive melodies and lyrics – which documentary host, proud Salfordian and broadcaster, Mike Sweeney, discovers as he follows along with Seeger’s recreation.


During the documentary, Sweeney explores the myths around the song, and hears from Seeger about how MacColl’s rigorous approach to songwriting resulted in the abandoned verse being cut. 

Salford’s popular We Invented the Weekend festival is returning next weekend / Credit: Mark Waugh (via Supplied)

Sweeney also traces the relationships that led to the song being covered several times, most-notably by bands like The Dubliners and The Pogues – who took it from 1960s folk clubs to audiences around the world, and subsequently led many music lovers to believing it’s an Irish song rather than about Salford.

Peggy Seeger said ‘Dirty Old Town’ is “more than just a song”, adding that it “speaks to those who live anywhere in dirty old broken down industrial cities everywhere”.


She continued: “Salford City FC fans bawl it out, thousands of them. It has been covered by hundreds of singers. Salford was in Ewan bones. He took me to his dirty old town within a week of our three decade partnership. It is a perfect song, a beautiful melody, four economical verses, and has been covered by hundreds of singers each in their own way.”

Seeger and her son, musician Calum MacColl, will take part in an ‘in conversation’ event with Mike Sweeney at the We Invented the Weekend festival to tell the story of the song in the city it was created in.

This will then be followed by an acoustic performance in front of a live audience – with Seeger singing the abandoned verse which never made popular renditions.

We Invented the Weekend 2024 is happening down at MediaCity on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 June, and you can find out more here.

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The documentary, titled Archive On 4: Dirty Old Town, will be available to listen to BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds from 6 July.

Featured Image – Wikimedia Commons