To celebrate her return to recording after 38 Years with the release of Lodestar (released today via Domino Records), Shirley Collins, one of the most respected and legendary folk song collectors and singers, has shared with Folk Radio UK a special Spotify playlist featuring fifteen of her favourite songs which she also talks us through below.
15 Favourites of Shirley Collins
1. BOGIE’S BONNY BELLE– JOHN KIRKPATRICK. Favourite singer, mighty musician, great song originally sung by a Scottish traveller
2. FAREWELL, FAREWELL – FAIRPORT CONVENTION. Heartbreaking song written by Richard Thompson after the Fairport road crash
3. MASTER KILBY – NIC JONES. Wonderful traditional song sung by the folk revival’s finest
4. BABES IN THE WOOD – THE COPPER FAMILY. Tender traditional song from the most well-known and best-loved Sussex singer family whose songs go back centuries
5. 61 HIGHWAY – FRED MCDOWELL. I was there with Alan Lomax in Como, Mississippi, 1959 at the discovery of Fred McDowell
6. RAINBOW MID LIFE’S WILLOWS – ALMEDA RIDDLE. Again, it was on the 1959 Southern Journey recording trip with Alan Lomax, where we met Almeda in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. She sings in that high and lonesome mountain style. A most poignant song, rivetingly sung
7. THE BANKS OF THE BANN – THE VOICE SQUAD. Three Irishmen singing glorious song in equally glorious harmonies
8. WITHERED AND DIED – RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON. Richard a remarkable song –writer, and a soulful performance by Linda. Gorgeous!
9. HEART LIKE A WHEEL– KATE & ANNA MCGARRIGLE. Heart-breaking beauty in the song and the singing. Such unique voices
10. LORD GREGORY – ALASDAIR ROBERTS. Irish ballad sensitively sung without accompaniment by this fine Scottish singer
11. POLLY ON THE SHORE – GEORGE MAYNARD. Back to Sussex for this genuine traditional singer with this sea-battle song dating from the Napoleonic Wars
12. WILLIE O’WINSBURY – ANNE BRIGGS. Much-loved, greatly admired singer from the 1960s. She is best-known for her exquisite singing of this ballad
13. DEAR FATHER PRAY BUILD ME A BOAT – SHEILA SMITH. Sung by a 7-year old gypsy girl on an encampment a couple of miles outside Lewes in 1952. It’s so innocent, but the English gipsy style of singing is clearly there. This is just about the most charming field recording ever
14. AS I ROVED OUT – MARTYN WYNDHAM-READ. I knew this song and suggested to Martyn that he record it, as I knew no-one could do it better. Marvellous singing, fabulous arrangement by Iris Bishop
15. THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN – THE BAND. What a great song, what a great powerful and passionate performance by the Band
Lodestar is a collection of English, American and Cajun songs dating from the 16th Century to the 1950s, it was recorded at Shirley’s home in Lewes by Steven Thrower and Ossian Brown (both Cyclobe) and produced and musically directed by Ian Kearey.
Born in Hastings 1935, Collins was at the forefront of the Folk Revival of the 1950s and 60s when she met Alan Lomax and subsequently travelled to the US with him in 1959 collecting traditional and American folk songs. On her return to England, Shirley cemented her role in the English folk scene, recorded over twenty albums including the influential Folk Roots, New Routes with avant-garde guitarist Davy Graham, and No Roses, from which The Albion Country Band was formed. However, in the 1980s, Shirley lost her singing voice – she was suffering from a form of dysphonia – and withdrew from performing live. It was only in 2014, after coaxing from David Tibet (Current 93), that Collins sung in public for the first time since 1982.
Though Shirley Collins (MBE) has been absent from the live scene for many years, her impact has not diminished, the likes of Graham Coxon, Angel Olsen, Stewart Lee all laud her and a documentary The Ballad of Shirley Collins is currently in progress. Additionally, she was given the ‘Good Tradition’ award at BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2008, elected President of the English Folk Dance & Song Society (also in 2008) and awarded an honorary doctorate in Music from Sussex University this year. Shirley released her first memoir America Over the Water in 2004 and is currently working on her second book.
“Shirley is a time traveller, a conduit for essential human aches, one of the greatest artists who ever lived, and yet utterly humble” Stewart Lee
- Awake Awake – The Split Ash Tree – May Carol – Southover
- The Banks of Green Willow
- Cruel Lincoln
- Washed Ashore
- Death & the Lady
- Pretty Polly
- Old Johnny Buckle
- Sur le Borde de l’Eau
- The Rich Irish Lady/Jeff Sturgeon
- The Silver Swan
Photo Credit: P.C Eva Vermandel