Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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COLLINS, Shirley

(b Shirley Elizabeth Collins, 5 July '35, Hastings, Sussex) Singer, broadcaster with pivotal role in English folk revival. First tracks on HMV anthology Folksong Today '55; met Bob Copper, then researching his '50s BBC broadcast As I Rove Out, leading to work in USA with Alan Lomax as editorial assistant on his Folk Songs Of North America and Folk Songs Of Britain (on Caedmon), also field researcher in the USA South (encounters with racism and sexism curing her of any 'romantic notions'). Her debut album Sweet England '59 appeared on Argo (on See for Miles '87), other tracks from the sessions on False True Lovers (Folkways): typical of the era but with strong American influence. Other now-rare folk-cum- skiffle anthologies incl. A Jug Of Punch, A Pinch Of Salt, Rocket Along; then charming Heroes In Love EP '63 on Topic, a distillation of her style at the time; then ground-breaking Folk Roots New Routes '64 with Davey Graham, an important fusion of exotic and British folk with jazz and blues (reissued on Righteous '80), also EPs on Collector and Selection labels that year. The Sweet Primeroses '67 on Topic (reissued '95 with Heroes In Love) was transitional: with her sister Dolly (see above) playing portative organ, it attracted a whole new audience and defined her singing style, which had become synonymous with Southern English (especially Sussex) tradition. Their The Power Of The True Love Knot '68 incl. Robin Williamson and Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band; in August '68 the sisters premired Anthems In Eden on BBC programme My Kind Of Folk; the '69 album had an uncompromising suite on one side (with unlinked folk and contemporary songs on the other) about how the Great War (WWI) changed rural life for ever: the fusion of folk and early music was unprecedented, the latter from David Munrow (1942--76) and his Early Music Consort, then the foremost band of its kind; her then-husband John Austin Marshall contributed the poignant 'Whitsun Dance', rounding off the suite (original LP on Harvest, later on See for Miles; Harvest reissued the suite with a side of new material '76, and in its entirety '93). Love, Death And The Lady '70 was overshadowed by its predecessor, though 'Plains Of Waterloo' and 'Death And The Lady' showed remarkable powers. (A CD reissue on Beat Goes On was superseded by EMI's own '94 with added tracks.) She helped found the first Albion Country Band, which then developed into one of the first important folk-rock bands, their debut No Roses among the best of the genre; she worked on Morris On '72, first of series of side-projects of husband Ashley Hutchings. A Favourite Garland '74 was a sampler of new and old work, incl. (with 4. Folk Festival auf der Lenzburg) the only commercially released tracks by Hutchings and Collins's Etchingham Steam Band, an acoustic dance band. Quiet charm of Adieu To Old England '74 and For As Many As Will '78 (the sisters' swansong) should not be overlooked. She worked with various Albion permutations, guesting on LPs, appearing in National Theatre prod. incl. The Passion (became trilogy The Mysteries, an edited version recorded by Home Service '85), Lark Rise and Candleford. She gave up performing early '80s, though contributing to broadcast documentaries. Anthems In Eden was revived '86 for a concert on London's South Bank with Dolly on flute organ, Catherine Bott of New London Consort taking Shirley's part. A compilation on Topic appeared; she did a track for Voices on Fellside, an anthology of unaccompanied songs; and Fountain Of Snow culled 24 tracks from Tpoic, all '92; For As Many As Will was reissued '93 on Fledg'ling.