Peter, Paul & Mary - Carry It On - A Musical Legacy


Reviewed by: Steve Slater

Back in 1964, when I was nine years old, my older brother had an LP, as albums were called then, by Peter, Paul & Mary. I played that LP a lot, mainly for a track called Puff The Magic Dragon - me and many other nine year olds - but, even then, I was captured by the stunning sound of these three voices in harmony, singing songs of which I understood very little.

A few years later, when I came across Bob Dylan, I went back to this album and listened to their version of The Times They Are A-Changin', which, along with Jimi Hendrix's version of All Along The Watchtower, is the only Dylan cover I've ever liked.

I mention this slice of my history because I suspect it's not atypical of many of my generation's view of Peter, Paul & Mary, a trio of Sixties protest singers who were very much of their time and who faded as quickly as they appeared, along with contemporaries such as Tom Paxton, Loudon Wainwright III, Phil Ochs and many others. Consequently, I came to this DVD with a small amount of curiosity and a limited amount of enthusiasm.

How wrong can you be! It is an enthralling 80 minutes, so if your view was like mine, then prepare to be surprised.

Filmed in 2003, as they were preparing to release a new album, this film looks back at their career, starting with their first concert at the Bitter End in New York in 1962 and encompassing the protest years of the Sixties, their amicable break up and subsequent reunion.

What emerges, apart from the sheer quality of their musicianship, is the unswerving commitment to and honesty of their beliefs throughout a career spanning 40 years. It's their willingness to stand up and be counted on issues of civil rights, war and inhumanity that has, at times, lead to great criticism of them as unpatriotic, an accusation they rightly refute.

They tell their own story, effectively interspersed with film footage of their concerts and covering all aspects of their music, including their repertoire of children's songs and their amazing rapport with this younger audience, successful because, as one contributor comments, "They never talk down to their audience". I have to tell you that Puff The Magic Dragon is as good a children's song now as it was all those years ago when I first heard it.

But it is their lifetime commitment to protest and their absolute belief in the power of song, particularly folk song, to highlight injustice that is the most enduring memory of this short film. One of the first songs on the DVD is of them singing Blowing In The Wind at the Washington March of Martin Luther King Jr in 1963. One of the last songs is their recording in 2003 of Jesus Is On The Wire, the story of a young gay man, murdered in the Mid West because of his sexuality and the intolerance towards it. Almost acting as bookends, these two songs seem to encapsulate an entire career.

It's likely this DVD will appeal mostly to those, like me, who remember Peter, Paul & Mary at the height of their career and for whom their music is indicative of an exciting period of our history. Those who are younger probably will not have heard of them and so won't give this a second glance, which is a pity, as their lifetime involvement in humanitarian issues would put most of today's multi-millionaire celebrity "protesters" to shame.

Theirs has been a strong and enduring career and this DVD does it great justice.

By the way, I've still got that original vinyl album from 1964 - don't tell my brother as I didn't tell him I was borrowing it 35 years ago.

Reviewed on: 12 Aug 2004
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A musical history of one of the most enduring and endearing Sixties protest groups.
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Starring: Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, Mary Travers

Year: 2003

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


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