Peggy Seeger, IS the Face of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Now 87, she’s reclaiming the song with a new version of her own, reflecting as an older woman over a lifetime of love and loss. The track- originally written for & about her by Ewan MacColl (Kirsty MacColl’s father) – has been covered over 1000 times to date, including iterations by Elvis, Johnny Cash, Shirley Bassey, The Killers, George Michael, Miley Cyrus, Marlon Williams & James Blake, alongside Roberta Flack’s GRAMMY-winning, number 1 charting version. Peggy’s new recording of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ – recorded with her two sons by Ewan, Calum & Neill MacColl – is now available on all platforms from here. Watch the new video here:
‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ was written for Seeger by her then-estranged lover Ewan MacColl in early 1957. He sang it down a crackling transatlantic phone line to Peggy who had returned to the USA, unwilling to continue an affair with a married man. That was the only time he ever sang the song which went on to become one of the greatest love songs of all time. “It was a hell of a way to woo me back!” says Peggy. MacColl also wrote the infamous, ‘Dirty Old Town, ‘ in 1956 which was covered by The Dubliners, Rod Stewart, Roger Whittaker and The Pogues, to name a few.
With a simple and moving piano accompaniment, Peggy’s new interpretation of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,’ reflects on the memory of overwhelming love, now tempered with a deep mature knowledge of its fragility and fleetingness. The final verse is telling; often recorded by others as “I knew our joy would fill the earth”, Peggy sings the original and far more poignant “I thought our joy would fill the earth and last til the end of time”.
Peggy says, “I’ve had two life partners, one male and one female, and I have three children and 9 grandchildren. I’ve come to realise that the lyrics can be interpreted in so many ways. Ewan wrote the tune to mimic the heartbeat of someone wildly in love and I used to feel like a soaring bird when I sang this song. Now I’m grounded within it and that makes me happy.“
The 2023 recording – released for the 67th anniversary of verse 2 (The first time ever I kissed your mouth…..) arrives today alongside the first segment of a new documentary about Peggy, Scenes From A Life, which details the history of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Now streaming from here.
Speaking about the numerous existing cover versions of the track, Peggy says; I love hearing all the different ways that singers make the song their own. It’s testament to the universal story and the brilliant storytelling – it’s deceptively simple yet so powerful.
Praise For ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’
It’s a perfect song. It’s the kind of song that has two unique & distinct qualities: it tells a story, & it has lyrics that mean something. It can be interpreted by a lot of people in a lot of different ways: the love of a mother for a child, for example, or two lovers. Roberta Flack
The First time Ever I Saw Your Face has that holy quality that all songwriters quietly hope their envoys possess: elegance. It’s as if MacColl drove a tent peg into a distant star, hung a canopy from here to there and inscribed on it his cosmic pledge of love for the universe to see. Marlon Williams
When I first heard this beautiful song, I immediately fell in love with the lyric and I was captured by the spectacular voice of Roberta Flack. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. Celine Dion
Ewan’s three verses encapsulate the most powerful declarations of Love, all set to an original and beautiful melody. Small wonder that so many of us try to sing this masterpiece. It will reverberate as long as people sing. Christy Moore