Shirley Collins talks to Dave Freak for Folking

Shirley Collins
Photograph by Eva Vermandel

“It’s been a sort of fairy story!” is how Shirley Collins describes her unexpected return to the spotlight with a studio album and live tour after 30 years of silence.

The singer and song collector was at the forefront of the so-called folk revival, releasing a string of well-received and influential albums in the 1960s and 1970s as a solo artist, and with Davy Graham (the seminal Folk Roots, New Routes), sister Dolly Collins, and the Albion Band. But the shock of her marriage break up to Fairport Convention and Albion Band’s Ashley Hutchings in the early 1980s led to dysphonia, and she effectively lost her singing voice.

But after 20 years of polite pestering David Tibet, of Current 93, managed to get Collins on stage in 2014, at London’s Union Chapel, and the (former) singer (and a hushed audience) discovered she could hold a tune after all!

“Then two filmmakers approached me at one of my talks about gypsies, and wanted to make a film about me, so this started up as well,” Shirley reports on her surprising return to the spotlight. “I guess people wanted to meet me before I died!” she laughs, before quickly adding: “No! I don’t mean that … but there seemed to be enough people out there that remembered me, and it all snowballed.”

Hence the home recording and release of Lodestar at the end of 2016 – via the ever excellent Domino label – and a run of hugely acclaimed live shows.

“I couldn’t tell you how, but it’s been such a surprise. I’m glad it happened, it’s lovely to sing again,” enthuses the 82-year-old. “Domino have been so supportive. They do help promote the album and support you, unlike some record labels that just put out a record and watch it slip away. They’ve all become such friends, I’m so happy to have made this at this point … I do feel so blessed by it all.”

After so long away from recording and singing (Collins says she didn’t even sing at home, in private), it was decided to record Lodestar in the comfort of the folk doyen’s own home in Lewes, Sussex. Pulling together a collection of English, American and Cajun songs from the 16th century to 1950s, highlights include ‘Death And The Lady’, which Collins initially recorded over 45 years ago on Love, Death And The Lady.

“Yes, that was recorded with my sister, Dolly, in nineteen-sixty-whenever-it-was. I always loved that song and I sang that at the Union Chapel, so it was my first song in public again. Of course the key had to be lowered. When it came to doing it Ian [Kearey, Lodestar’s producer] wrote a new arrangement – I love the slide guitar.

“I love Muddy Waters, I love the blues, and there was a point when it suddenly turned into a Muddy Waters song where I’ve spelt death – D.E.A.T.H.” she chuckles. I did that song at Rough Trade [store in London] for the record launch and I did ‘Death spelt … T.R.U.M.P! It got a great cheer! I shouldn’t do it to that song, it’s a bit of mischief … I love the song anyway. It felt so right with the slide guitar on it, it made it sound mysterious, but strong.”

Taking Lodestar out on tour, Collins has created a full show which sees her perform the album in its entirety, plus film shorts, Morris dancing, and guest musicians.

“We’ve had guests like Graham Coxon – it’s unbelievable. Here’s this guitarist from Blur, and he sings, and plays, so beautifully – who’d have thought he’d be so into folk music? When we visit Warwick Arts Centre [29 April 2017] we’ll have John Kirkpatrick [who] is just about my favourite singer, and Lisa Knapp – she’s a really gorgeous singer. At other shows, we’ve got Olivia Chaney, who is very good too, and others.”

In her time away from music, it would be wrong to suggest Collins was invisible. She published a memoir in 2004, America Over The Water, documenting her song collecting expedition with Alan Lomax; picked up an MBE for her Services To Music in 2007; curated a South Bank festival in 2008, and received a Good Tradition Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards the same year; and created a series of spoken word-based shows exploring Gypsy singers, Bob Copper, music from Sussex, and her trip to the USA.

Now back as a bona fide ‘recording artiste’, she’s full of praise for many younger performers (such as Knapp, Chaney, Alasdair Roberts and others), but finds the current popular use of the term ‘folk’ to seemingly describe anyone with an acoustic guitar somewhat misleading.

“People who write their own stuff – that’s not traditional music. I have to say that I don’t find it very interesting, I know that sounds harsh, but it’s not traditional folk music.”

Perhaps ‘singer/songwriter’ would be a better term?

“Exactly!” she agrees swiftly. “I get these messages from Amazon, and there was one about Folk Singers and number one on the list was Adele! Adele!” she repeats, exasperated. “I do like her as a singer … but she is not folk music!

“So I have to put proper folk songs in front of people – that’s my challenge. Folk … it gives us our music, it’s not global, it’s not about making money. I don’t like globalisation – everything is the same everywhere. I want variety. I want choice. I hear these kids singing with American accents and that saddens me … everything becomes a blur to me. I like difference, I like distinctiveness, I like the fact [folk is] still surviving, it’s working class music … and I don’t care if it’s not working class people recording, but I work to be part of that.

“It’s music from the labouring classes provided by people who’ve kept it going, learning it off by heart and passing it down. That’s a great achievement – people who’ve been exploited by the wealthy providing this glorious music.”

She agrees that the rise of gloablisation and dominance of pop music would make a song collecting exercise like she embarked on in 1959 virtually pointless today.

“Big business has encroached on everything and everywhere. I don’t think I want to go there now. It was bad enough in 1959, but now? I wouldn’t feel safe – would you? America feels sad to me now. It was dangerous in 1959,” she recalls of her trip as an outsider in her mid-20s. “It was right on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement and we were going to places like Mississippi State Penitentiary, where we recorded these work songs, and black communities, but we were always welcomed, we always felt welcomed by the old blues men and the true, old mountaineers. They wanted to meet us, they wanted to meet people from the old country. But we were held up at gunpoint – we stopped to take a photograph of a chain gang. There we had a gun pointed at us and we were told ‘get those wheels rolling!’”

Collins also recalls a run-in with an aggressive Kentucky Baptist who took offence to her short hair and clothes

“I had to run to escape,” she says. “There was something scary … but if we’d been there a year later, I might have ended up as a pile of bones in the Mississippi mud. There was this sense that people were watching … always watching …”

Dave Freak

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Shirley Collins – Lodestar link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.shirleycollins.co.uk

VARIOUS – From Here: English Folk Field Recordings (From Here Sitw005)

From HereThey may be newcomers to the scene, but Stick In The Wheel are certainly making their mark, not just with their own recordings and associated artifacts, but in their involvement with the folk world in general, and the traditional in particular.

Band members Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey serve as curators, collaborators and producers for this collection of new live recordings by both the great and good and some of the lesser known luminaries in the genre. The remit for those involved was to record songs that explored either place or their musical identity, culminating in a gathering of field recordings captured in locations as diverse as a stone cottage in Edale, a bank vault and a garden at Robin Hood’s Bay using just two stereo microphones and with no subsequent overdubs.

As you would imagine, the tracks are stark and raw, first up being ‘Bedfordshire May Carol’, chosen by performer Jack Sharp, leader of psych-folk outfit Wolf People, as it supposedly originated just a few miles from where he grew up. Next up, Eliza Carthy leads a flurry of more familiar names with a self-penned number, ‘The Sea’, a new setting of the broadside ballad found in Manchester’s Chetham Library and featuring on her current album, the initial pizzicato fiddle giving way to more robust playing. She’s followed by one of the veterans of English folk, John Kirkpatrick, applying his accordion to a song from his lengthy repertoire and a folk club staple ‘Here’s Adieu To Old England’, while his sometimes musical partner, Martin Carthy, also chose a number he’s recently reintroduced back into his sets, ‘The Bedmaking’, a familiar tale of the abused and cast aside servant girl. fingerpicked here to a halting rhythm.

Sandwiched in-between is one of the rising stars of the few folk firmament, the Peak District’s Bella Hardy, who went to 19th century collection The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire for ‘The Ballad of Hugh Stenson’, setting it to a more upbeat tune than the hymnal adapted by Jon Tams, while, another member of folk royalty, Jon Boden puts his squeezebox to work on a contemplative take on 19th century drinking song ‘Fathom The Bowl’.

There’s a couple of spokes from the Wheel, both unaccompanied, Kearey delivering glottal version of the much covered ‘Georgie’ and Fran Foote ‘The Irish Girl’. They’re not the only numbers to be sung naked as it were. BritFolk alumnus Lisa Knapp has a lovely treatment of the tumblingly melodious ‘Lavender Song’, while, also from the female side, Fay Hield tips the hat to Annie Briggs with her choice of ‘Bonny Boy’.

On the other side of a capella gender fence, Geordie folkie Stew Simpson mines his Newcastle roots for ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’ (which the accompanying booklet helpfully translates as “Oh Yes, I Could Pick At The Coals”), Sam Lee turns the evergreen ‘Wild Rover’ on its head to transform it into a slow, sad lament rather than more familiar rollicking rouser of Dubliners and Pogues note, and, from Wales, a deep-voiced Men Diamler closes the album with ‘1848 (Sunset Beauregard)’, a self-penned political protest ballad about Tory policies. The remaining unaccompanied track is actually a duet, Peta Webb and Ken Hall joining voices for an Irish in London in the 50s marriage of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Just A Note’, about the building of the M1, and Bob Davenport’s account of the dangers of ‘Wild Wild Whiskey’.

The three remaining tracks are all instrumentals. Bristol’s acoustic instrumental quartet Spiro are the only band on the collection and provide their self-penned ‘Lost In Fishponds’, apparently about getting lost en route to a gig, joined here by North Wales violinist Madame Česki, while Sam Sweeney brings his fiddle to bear on two tunes. ‘Bagpipers’, one of the first things he played with his band Leveret, and ‘Mount Hills’, an English dance tune from the 17th century. Which leaves Cumbrian concertina maestro Rob Harbron to provide the third with a pairing of ‘Young Collins’, a Costwolds’ tune learned from Alistair Anderson, and, another from the Morris tradition, ‘Getting Up The Stairs’, which, by way of a pleasing synchronicity, he actually learned by way of John Kirkpatrick on the influential Morris On album.

It more than does the job it set out to achieve, and, likely to loom large in end of year awards, fully warrants a place in any traditional folk fan’s collection.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the From Here: English Folk Field Recordings link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artists’ website: www.stickinthewheel.com

Stew Simpson – ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’:

HOME SERVICE – A New Ground (Dotted Line DLCD002)

a new groundAfter quite a hiatus in band history Home Service march on with their terrific new album A New Ground. Losing three band members in a short space of time might have meant calling time on their 25 year history but no, Home Service are back, refreshed and folk rocking like never before.

It has taken a while to fit the band jigsaw back together but the result was worth waiting for with a vibrant set of songs fronted by the well-travelled John Kirkpatrick whose precise delivery of lyrics resonates with feeling throughout the album.

Home Service recognises the writing of A New Ground as a team effort. Such collaborations can result in disaster by committee but not here; each track is as strong as the next and each has the individual characteristics of a bunch of highly talented experienced writers challenging each other.

‘Kellingley’ opens the album with hints of a medieval riff, a philosophical tribute to miner’s strength and bravery but recognising the need for a cleaner planet; a familiar eco-ode but delivered with the passion only folk folk can do. Another familiar theme shines through in the moving ‘The Last Tommy’ written by a lady of many talents, Issy Emeney. Many a song and complete works have questioned the futility of war but this is something different, simple and powerful. “Three million young men marched away to war, a generation later, three million more”. Why? “I’m Free” is the refrain.

After such a thought provoking start the album moves on in a lighter tone with a great version of ‘Papa Joe’s Polka’ that allows the band to flex themselves; this is followed by a more traditional tone set with ‘Arthur McBride’.

We then turn to 1683 with the album’s title track ‘A New Ground’ being based upon Henry Purcell’s ‘Here The Deities Approve’, a simple arrangement of keys and tenor saxophone hold the track together behind Fitzpatrick’s great delivery. John’s son Benji, freshly released from his own Bellowhead big band duties has penned ‘Wallbreaker’ expertly arranged by the Home Service team.

Our band of writers draw inspiration from diverse sources; ‘Dirt, Dust, Lorries and Noise’ was written by John Kirkpatrick for the 1990 anti-British Coal protest play The Dirty Hill which is followed by ‘The Kings Hunt’ a rousing 17th Century work given the full Home Service treatment with the band displaying their individual talents as the track builds; this will sit well with a festival crowd.

On it goes, each song a gem sitting beautifully in this wonderfully constructed album. Things mellow a little with ‘Melting’ which could have been picked from many a West End play but was actually written by Derek Pearce for his solo album Paradox. A fine piece follows with an uplifting arrangement by John Kirkpatrick of ‘Ten Pound Lass’ that seamlessly flows into ‘The Skies Turned Grey’; more cracking lyrics from Issy Emeney handled with tender care and affection by the Home Service arrangement.

The album exits on another high with ‘Cheeky Capers’; hints of Ska and early Specials – surely not! But this is what you get with A New Ground; it really is a delight at every turn.

Simon Goodale

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the HOME SERVICE – A New Ground link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artists’ website: www.homeserviceband.co.uk

‘Arthur McBride/Chaconne’ – no new videos yet:

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Plans for new archive of Shropshire folk tunes revealed

archive of Shropshire folk tunes
John Kirkpatrick

Plans to create a unique archive of traditional music from Shropshire have been revealed by Shrewsbury Folk Festival.

Organisers of the annual music event have commissioned county folk musician John Kirkpatrick to pull together the first ever collection of music that has its origins in the county as part of its All Together Now project.

All Together Now is the festival’s two-year programme of activities for musicians, dancers, schoolchildren and communities to introduce a new audience to folk and world music.

The project received an £86,410 investment from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, a £5,000 Arts Development award from Shropshire Council, and £2,000 from Shrewsbury Town Council. The festival will meet the remaining cost. 

John, who lives near Bishops Castle, will put together a collection of tunes that are specific to Shropshire. It will form an online teaching resource pack including music, notes and short video demonstrations that will be available to Shropshire schools and others and he will perform some of the music at the 2017 festival.

John is one of the most prolific and respected figures on the English folk show, known for performing solo and with groups including The Albion Band, Steeleye Span and Brass Monkey. He also formed one of the county’s leading morris sides, the Shropshire Bedlams.

John said: “I am honoured to have been asked to take on this important project that will preserve and share the music from our amazing county with future generations.

“Part of the appeal of folk music is its ability to give us an insight into how times have changed. Some of this music has been played for dances and social events for many years. Having lived in the county since 1973, I consider myself a Salopian and I am delighted that the festival is making history with the first ever formal collection of Shropshire dance music.”

All Together Now Project Manager Joy Lamont added: “The archive will be a wonderful legacy of this project. As well as commissioning new pieces of work, we felt it was important to make sure that tunes that originated in our county were not forgotten and could be permanently recorded in an archive so they didn’t disappear from our history.”

The All Together Now project has already included new music and dance commissions performed at the 2015 festival, music workshops and mentoring opportunities and the launch of the Shropshire Youth Folk Ensemble for gifted and skilled young musicians.

Future initiatives will see percussive dance workshops in Shropshire schools and dance schools, with a premiere showcase at the festival in August 2016. There will also be a two-week music residency in two Shropshire primary and two secondary schools that will result in a short performance piece to be shown at the festival.

For more information about the festival, go to www.shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk. Tickets are on sale now for the 2016 event that will be held at the West Mid Showground, Berwick Road, Shrewsbury, from August 26 to 29.

Headliners including Grammy Award winning American singer songwriter Rosanne Cash, folk rockers The Levellers, Eliza Carthy And The Wayward Band, Tom Robinson, and world music star Raghu Dixit.

John Kirkpatrick joins Home Service

John Kirkpatrick joins Home Service

John Tams has announced his retirement from Home Service – we thank him mightily for all his work with us and wish him well!

“A combination of circumstance not least and most recently an 8-part television drama series has drawn me reluctantly to leave Home Service effective from September 13th 2015”, said John. “This decision, whilst difficult, aims to avoid compromising the future for Home Service at a time when my restricted diary would make forward planning impossible. There are no issues beyond this and I leave my friends and colleagues, some of almost 40 years standing, in the certain knowledge that they are ‘The best damn band in the land.’ I send them my fondest thoughts and support for their continuing success. I’ll miss you lads!”

We are excited to announce that we have now regrouped with two new members and a revamped brass section.

Replacing Tam would never be an easy task, but with John Kirkpatrick joining our ranks we have found exactly the calibre of character and musicianship required. John will take over the lead vocal role and add his inimitably masterful accordion.

Also, we must announce the emigration of Jonathan Davie to Thailand. Huge gratitude and best wishes are due to Jon, whose replacement has also taken a lot of consideration. However, we can heartily welcome the wonderful Rory McFarlane (ex Richard Thompson band) to join us on bass.

Furthermore, now we have John K on board, Steve King will be not only be gracing the keyboard, but freed to stand tall amongst the brass section and exhibit his skills on tenor saxophone, helping to create an even more dynamic sound. The new line-up has already begun recording a new album at Morden Shoals Studio – watch this space to follow its development!

We shall miss you both greatly Tam and Jon, but know that you both wish the band all good fortune in its future voyage of discovery…

Artists’ website: http://www.homeserviceband.co.uk/index.html

The Steeleye Span 45th Anniversary folking Interview

Steeleye Span 45th Anniversary Tour at G-Live

With a career that has taken in an astounding six decades, Steeleye Span is not just a legendary name in British music but also a link to the classic days of rock and folk music. Contemporaries of the likes of Led Zeppelin and Fairport Convention, they have gone on to change the face of folk music forever, taking it from small clubs and festivals into the world of chart topping albums and international tours.

Part of that incredible story has been the individuals that have contributed to the band’s history. Steeleye Span has provided a home for a long list of some of the world’s finest musicians. The current line up of Maddy Prior, Rick Kemp, Liam Genockey, Julian Littman, Pete Zorn and Jessie May Smart along with older names such as Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Tim Harries, Bob Johnson and most recently Peter Knight have all woven their heraldry into the historical fabric of the folk-rock tapestry.

Paul Johnson and I recently caught up with current band members Maddy Prior, Julian Littman, Peter Zorn and  Jessie May Smart during the 45th Anniversary Tour at G-Live in Guildford to celebrate this 45 year landmark.  Click the play button below to listen to the interview.

 

The video below celebrates the bands most recent album Wintersmith which was recorded in collaboration with Sir Terry Pratchett at the end of 2013. The album is based on Pratchett’s Wintersmith novel, which subject matter is completely appropriate for Steeleye, in its tales of ancient rituals and secret folk dances that perfectly complement their previous work whilst taking the band off again in a new and exciting prog-rock direction.

Darren Beech – folkmaster@folking.com

If you would like to order a copy of the Wintersmith, download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.