In October 2007, London’s commuters may have noticed the sudden presence of over 100 musicians along their routes to work. This subtle rush hour performance, titled Did you kiss the foot that kicked you?, was a new artwork by Ruth Ewan, commissioned by Artangel as the first of the four Jerwood/Artangel Open commissions.
Did you kiss the foot that kicked you? is a line from the song Ballad of Accounting by the late English singer, songwriter, socialist, actor, playwright and record producer Ewan MacColl. Recently released files from The National Archive show that MI5 considered MacColl to be ‘a communist with very extreme views’ who needed ‘special attention’. His file states, as a cause for concern, that MacColl had ‘exceptional ability as a singer and musical organiser’.
MacColl wrote Ballad of Accounting in 1964 as a summing-up song: an accounts sheet of life. Did you stand aside and let them choose while you took second best? Did you let them skim the cream off and then give to you the rest?
For Ruth’s performance, Ballad of Accounting was slipped into the musical repertoires of over 100 buskers from an Oompah band on Waterloo Bridge to a delta blues singer at Marble Arch tube station. The musicians performed during the morning and evening rush hours for one week.
By way of documenting the project, Artangel has produced this limited edition vinyl containing five diverse renditions of Ballad of Accounting by different buskers, plus the original 1972 recording by MacColl and Peggy Seeger.
Limited, numbered edition of 500.