Ten Thousand Times Adieu review – beautiful old songs sung with love

‘Bobstock’, in honour of the folk singer Bob Copper, assembled a fine and exciting lineup featuring Shirley Collins, Linda Thompson, Robin Dransfield and Martin Carthy, writes Colin Irwin

It’s nearly 11 years since Bob Copper died, four days after receiving the MBE at Buckingham Palace, but with a new generation revelling in his legacy, his role as English folk song’s genial and unwitting patriarch has never been more cherished. Much of the revered treasure chest of traditional song lovingly preserved by his Sussex family for more than 200 years was refreshingly reinvented during an ambitious event – dubbed Bobstock – marking the centenary of his birth.

“Keeping a toehold on the past adds another dimension to the present and the future,” Copper said in one of the documentary films preceding the big evening concert, and the strands connecting “the authentic voice of ordinary people”, as Billy Bragg called the Copper family, with modern times were joyously underlined every time the nine-strong present incumbents of that family tradition stepped on stage. The link even extended to their trademark tuning forks, trusty songbooks and self-mocking humour, emphasising the irrelevance of vocal perfection when beautiful old songs with an historic role in rural local communities are sung with love and conviction.

At the evening concert, nostalgia blended with youth and modernity. Rabbits out of the hat were Shirley Collins and Linda Thompson, overcoming the dysphonia that has effectively kept them both off stage for decades, to remind us of Bob’s adoration of blues with an enjoyably ramshackle The Soul of a Man. Other blasts from the past included an Oak reunion (Peta Webb still singing with spine-tingling beauty); Robin Dransfield ably performing Spencer the Rover with his sons; Heather Wood reviving the spirit of Young Tradition with Jon Boden, Fay Hield and

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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

Richard and Linda Thompson: Hard Luck Stories 1972–1982 review – a tempestuous tale worth retelling

The highlight of this eight-CD box set is 31 previously unreleased tracks

Box sets often exist merely to evacuate the wallets of the faithful. Here, though, over eight CDs (or a big download) is the story of one of the most intriguing partnerships in British music: the silvery folk-rock duo Richard and Linda Thompson. It is a tale worth retelling – and shelling out for.

As vocalists, the Thompsons shared a startling contralto directness that, squared, offered up a vision of often spare, unfussy beauty at one remove from convention or theatricality. This chronology kicks off with the pair’s first casual rock’n’roll experiments for a low-key ensemble project. It ends with the duo’s live immolation, when the Thompsons fulfilled lucrative 1982 tour dates despite their relationship having, as one of their most famous songs goes, “withered and died”.

A little like Fleetwood Mac – a more lucrative British late-60s outcropping – these former soulmates sang songs about their curdled love at one another across blasted North American stages. But Stevie Nicks never gave birth in a Sufi squat without hot water or electricity, or stole a car in Canada on a bender; she may never have kicked Lindsay Buckingham’s shins while he soloed – unlike Linda Pettifer, who, pre-Richard, performed as Linda Peters.

“After I hit Richard on the head with the Coca-Cola bottle it was fine,” Linda Thompson reminisced about that final tour to Rolling Stone in 1985. “I suddenly went from being this lady with three children – covered in scarves, with my eyes turned to the ground – to stealing cars and living on vodka and antidepressants. And I felt fabulous! Hitting everybody. You know, people’d say good morning to me and I’d say, ‘Fuck off.’ It was great therapy.”

The ballad of Richard and Linda has been rehearsed a great many times before of course, and the Thompsons’ work has been amply bootlegged and box-setted previously. But there are many great verses here not previously aired.

Key to the excitement of this collection is its 31 unreleased tracks – such as Amazon Queen, an early Richard Thompson psych-pop outtake, or the demo of Dimming of the Day, unadorned and devastating, on a CD devoted to the duo’s 1975 album Pour Down Like Silver and its outtakes.

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