Rediscovering the mystic beauty of UK psych-folk outfit Trees

Contemporaries of Pentangle and Fairport Convention, the group is now the subject of a lovingly curated box set reissue.

David Costa’s home sits almost equidistant between Stonehenge and Glastonbury in England’s Somerset county. For the 73-year-old graphic designer, who helped create the cover art for Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Queen’s A Night at the Opera, it’s the perfect location to wait out the pandemic, and to contemplate retirement. His home’s locale is also, as he says with a knowing laugh, “pretty apt” when it comes time to field a Skype call about his days as guitarist in Trees, the acid-folk quintet that bloomed for a brief four years in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The group was one of many British artists in that era who were fusing the traditional folk music of their home country with the psychedelic rock that was being baked to perfection on the West Coast of the United States. Like Costa’s home, the music of Trees stood at the musical midway point between England’s mystical, pagan past and the electric sounds celebrated at Glastonbury.

Though Trees were part of a scene that included luminaries like Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and the Incredible String Band, their two lush, incandescent albums—1970’s The Garden of Jane Delawney and 1971’s On The Shore—never achieved widespread acclaim. In the five decades since their inception, the group’s legacy has been kept alive through the efforts of dedicated fans like Danger Mouse, who built the title track for Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere on a sample of Trees’ version of the traditional ballad “Geordie.” Other artists, like modern folk musician Sally Anne Morgan stumbled upon the band after a night spent going down a YouTube wormhole. Continue reading

In Conversation: Shirley Collins and Linda Thompson

Shirley Collins and Linda Thompson

The legendary folk singer is celebrated by her fan and fellow songwriter.

By: Linda Thompson

Do you know anyone who is putting out great work at 85? Me neither. Shirley Collins isn’t just anyone though. She is an important part of folk music’s history. A scholar, singer, and writer — she is also a riot. We once did the can-can for a select audience at The South Bank in London, culminating in the splits. I still walk funny.

I had seen many of Shirley’s gigs, mostly with her sister Dolly, but really got to know her when she was in Lark Rise to Candleford at The National Theatre. She was the best thing in the show. We struck up an easy friendship.

Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson were our paramours. Earnest, clever and just like converted Catholics where traditional British music was concerned. Shirley and I listened patiently to their pronouncements, having forgotten more about that music than they knew. We didn’t say so though. It was the old days after all. We smoothed our crinolines down and kept shtum (ancient Northumbrian word). Their cottage was charmingly called Red Rose Cottage, long ago that used to be the rent. One red rose.

I got close to Shirley after our respective divorces. We were hard hit, and knew almost exactly how the other was feeling. Faithless love. Funnily enough we didn’t sit around and commiserate with each other, we just got on with it. I’m not sure that’s a good idea though. It takes longer to recover.

I had suffered from dysphonia since my first pregnancy. Shirley suffered from it, too. We both shut up shop in a manner of speaking. We sang very little, we kept in touch albeit sporadically, and life continued apace.

And now. This wonderful resurgence. Shirley’s last record Lodestar was brilliant. Recorded at home, and a startling return to form.

Heart’s Ease, the new record, is even better. Recorded in a studio, with supremely talented musicians. She is confident, and she shines. Folk singers, like blues singers, get better with age.

I know Shirley is a legend, but to me she’s still the beautiful and fun woman with whom I danced at the theatre many years ago. Those days were good. The days after, even better. I am very lucky to know her.

Here are a few questions I asked Shirley about this new work.

Linda Thompson: Some of the songs I love best on the album are new. Was there a reason that you included these particular songs?

Shirley Collins: “Sweet Greens And Blues” — words written by Austin John Marshall, my first husband. He also wrote “The Whitsun Dance,” which I set to The Copper Family’s “The Week Before Easter.” He designed several album covers too. He died in New York in 2013. I decided to record these songs as an acknowledgement to A.J. — partly for the sake of our children, Polly and Robert, a sort of legacy, and to acknowledge his part in my career. In any case, they are lovely songs. The third non-traditional song, “Locked In Ice,” was written by my late sister Dolly Collins’ son Buz Collins, who took his own life in 2002. He was a prolific songwriter and singer, lived on a narrow boat, The Maid In England, on The Grand Union Canal in Loughborough. He was a bit of a loner, yet at the same time was a lively, loyal man. Continue reading

Women speak out over trad music scene ‘misogyny’

Women in the Scottish traditional and folk music scene say it is time for “inappropriate behaviour” by men to stop.

Women working in the Scottish trad and folk music scene are calling for an end to “inappropriate behaviour” and sexism by men.

Glasgow musician and lecturer in traditional music Jenn Butterworth says young women have been sharing harrowing stories online about sexual abuse, harassment and misogyny within trad and folk music in Scotland.

“Everyone is fully aware these things are going on,” she told BBC Scotland’s The Nine, and women are speaking out in the hope it can finally change.

Fiddle player and academic Rona Wilkie says more “hair-raising” stories are coming out every week about what young women especially are subjected to from men in the industry.

Rona, from Oban, won the young traditional musician of the year award in 2012 at the age of 22 but she has been performing since she was very young. Continue reading

#TRADSTANDWITHHER

A growing number of young female musicians are risking their livelihoods and forfeiting their anonymity in order to speak out about their personal experiences of sexual abuse, assault, harassment and coercion by men on the folk and traditional music scene, both in Ireland and the U.K.

We acknowledge their honesty, courage, anger and pain, and their right to seek justice.

As a diverse musical community, and industry, we must not respond with silence, or complicity.

We are calling on folk and traditional music organisations, artists, festivals, industry workers, education establishments, music fans and audiences to support a fundamental culture change that ensures women’s safety, equality and dignity.

We need a code of ethics, which protects women in folk and traditional music from sexual harassment and assault, and sends a clear zero tolerance message to male perpetrators.

This is the moment to redress power imbalances, promotes a culture of respect, trust, and equality and create safe, collaborative environments in which all folk and traditional musicians can share and enjoy the music that we love. – Rachel Newton Music