Posts Tagged ‘Shirley Collins’

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“On Heart’s Ease”, Shirley delivers a record even stronger than Lodestar having completely regained her confidence, and singing so well that you can’t believe she was away for so long. As Shirley put it, “Lodestar wasn’t too bad, was it? But when I listen to it, it does sometimes sound rather tentative. I had to record it at home because I was just too nervous to sing in front of somebody I didn’t know. This time I was far more relaxed – even though I went into a studio.” Recorded at Metway in Brighton, Heart’s Ease is as compelling and original as Shirley’s great albums from the Sixties and Seventies. There are traditional songs, of course,  from England and the USA, but there are also more new songs than in the past (four non-traditional tracks) and there’s even a burst of experimentation that hints at possible new directions to come.

Shirley Collins – “Sweet Greens and Blues”, from ‘Heart’s Ease’, released 24th July 2020 on Domino Recordings.

In 1964, still bruised after turning down The Beatles, Decca Records released an album by the woman who helped make the discovery of blues musician Mississippi Fred McDowell, whose music she had been discovered in Tennessee in the late 1950s and recorded McDowell for the masses: 29-year-old Sussex folk singer Shirley Collins.

Collins may not have looked like much of a rebel on the cover of that 1964 album, but she was. Five years earlier, she had crossed the Atlantic alone to visit prisons and remote Appalachian communities, meeting there with folklorist Alan Lomax to collect folk songs.

Collins’ 1964 album, Folk Roots, New Routes, is an uncompromising work that spearheaded innovation in the middle of the folk music revival. It set a template for all the folk-rock that followed it, and inspired 21st century psych-folk decades later. Bands like Pentangle and Fairport Convention would have been very different without her, while Will Oldham, Blur’s Graham Coxon and Angel Olsen are among the contemporary fans who have recorded her songs.

It was one of the best 1960’s folk music revival albums of the 20th Century. “Folk Roots New Routes” it is a beautiful, highly respected and often the go-to British folk album which has earnt a great deal of admiration from many musicians, critics and fans around the world. At the center of this extraordinary record is Collins’ startling voice. It is clear and stark, pure but free of prettiness, a vehicle for a song and its sentiments, entirely without ego.

Davy Graham and Shirley Collins’ pioneering arrangements and playing is unyielding and timeless, yet their uncompromising approach was also very innovative.

Pressed on 180grm vinyl, analogue remastered with many tracks in stereo for the first time, directly from tapes for RSD 2020.Comes with new additional liner notes and rare photos printed on the inner sleeve. Some tracks are released in stereo for the first time ever.

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Davy Graham was quite a pioneering guitar player, starting in the ’50s. He was the first guy to really play a range of styles. He’s influenced by traditional music, he’s influenced by jazz, influenced by North African music, and he’d blend all these things together into this very hybrid style that he had. And he did this record with the wonderful English traditional singer Shirley Collins, and they would do interpretations of traditional songs, songs like ‘She Moves through the Fair’ and ‘Nottamun Town.’ In these interpretations you’d have kind of jazzy guitar influences coming in, and it really—it showed the possibilities to the next generation of what can be done with folk music. I think it’s a hugely successful record. I don’t know how many it sold at that time, probably not that many, but a lot of people who went on to have folk music careers really paid attention to that record and saw many, many possibilities on the horizon. As a guitar player he influenced people like Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, John Martyn—the next generation of acoustic guitar players all paid attention to Davy.”

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July 2015 saw Shirley Collins celebrate her 80th year – an age that would seem frankly ridiculous for a woman as spritely as her, had it not been for all she’s achieved. From her seminal field-recording trip to America with Alan Lomax to her lauded musical career, to her role as historian and protector of the folk tradition – all of these things are testament to the breadth of her influence.

And so we arrive at ‘Shirley Inspired’. It would be almost lazy to the talk about the resurgence of folk music or the ‘new folk’ sound – the recordings issued here by Earth Recordings are so much more than that. This is the very essence of folk – songs handed down from person to person, interpreted by modern musicians – as a way of keeping these songs alive.

Make no mistake these are modern versions; we’ve the soulful dirge of Bitchin Bonnie Billy Bajas’ ‘Pretty Saro’; the rabble- rousing minimalism of Stewart Lee (yes him) and Stuart Estell’s ‘Polly On The Shore’; the prism-like vocals of Ela Stiles’ ‘Murder of Maria Marten even Graham Coxon’s traditional affair evokes something altogether more rebellious, his clawing, feral style is much in evidence here. This compilation was an inheritance of sorts: borne to us from the kickstarter appeal that funded ‘The Ballad of Shirley Collins’ – a film that is currently being made about the First Lady of Folk Music’s life. We here at Earth now have the privilege of giving these songs a tangible existence in the shape of this special recording.

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The woman herself had this to say: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of the singers and musicians who responded to the invitation to be part of the Shirley Inspired collection. Their choice of songs is fascinating, the interpretations of them fresh and various, beautiful and sometimes challenging! Listening to these recreations shows me again that English folk music has timeless power and significance.”

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Proceeds of this album go directly towards the production of ‘The Ballad of Shirley Collins’, a film by Fifth Column. Tracks kindly donated by the musicians involved.

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