Keeping traditional music alive: Shirley Collins and Radie Peat on “Talkhouse”

On this week’s Talkhouse Podcast we’ve got a couple of singers who’ve devoted themselves, in slightly different ways, to keeping traditional music alive: Shirley Collins and Radie Peat.

Collins is 88, and she’s had a pretty strange and incredible career. She started performing traditional songs in the mid-1950s, and she notably left England in 1959 to travel the United States with Alan Lomax, recording songs and singers in Appalachia and elsewhere that may otherwise have been lost to history. She recorded some incredibly influential records in the ’60s and ’70s with Davy Graham and, separately, with her sister Dolly Collins. And then Shirley left music entirely. It wasn’t until the 2000s that unlikely underground musicians would coax her back to performing: British apocalyptic-folk-industrial band Current 93 were the first, strangely. It wasn’t until 2014—38 years after her last album—that Collins made a new one, and it was gorgeous and well received. She’s since released a couple more, all for the hip Domino label, fitting for someone who’s been so quietly influential. Her latest is Archangel Hill; check out “Hares on the Mountain” 

Radie Peat, singer for Lankum, is one of the many musicians who’ve been deeply influenced by Collins—and by the traditional songs that Collins helped to keep alive. But while Lankum is definitely part of the folk tradition, they modernize the sound in wildly interesting ways. Their fourth and latest album is called False Lankum, and I love this quote about it from Mojo Magazine: “If modern folk music needs its own OK Computer, its own The Dark Side of the Moon, or indeed its own F♯A♯∞, this may well be it.” (That last album referenced, in case you didn’t recognize it, is the debut from Godspeed You Black Emperor.) If that all sounds intriguing, you’ll probably love it. Oh, and the album was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Prize. [ . . . ]

Peat describes this conversation as “fangirling,” though I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. There’s definitely some mutual admiration happening here—Collins still keeps up with music, and she loves Lankum as well. They talk about Collins’ adventures in America with Alan Lomax, about other singers they admire, and how they share a pretty strong hatred for jazz. Enjoy.

Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to Shirley Collins and Radie Peat for chatting. If you liked what you heard, please follow Talkhouse on your favorite podcasting platform, and check out all the goodness at This episode was produced by Myron Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by the Range. See you next time!

Drawing from the Well with Radie Peat

ITMA is delighted to present singer/musician Radie Peat as she explores some of the dark and subversive themes found in her ballad repertoire. Radie is a member of the widely acclaimed Dublin bank Lankum. Drawing from the Well is a monthly series which connects contemporary traditional artists with archival material to create new art to be shared publicly.

The 2021 series is Supported by Bank of Ireland Begin Together Arts Fund in partnership with Business to Arts. We also thank our funders the Arts Council of Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Find information on previous and future artists in the series here:​​ Every donation, no matter the amount, helps support the preservation of Irish traditional music, song and dance.

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