Shirley Collins: The voice of England’s true soul music

Think about what fires and inspires great literature. Passion, intensity, strong characters,  gripping stories, powerful imagery, a timelessness of theme and emotion that can make something written in, say, the 18th century still seem fresh and relevant today.

The same ingredients also apply to great music, meaning that a crossing of the genres often provides memorable creations: Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road are arguably the highest profile examples, but did you know that T’Pau’s China In Your Hand is about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein?

It’s usually at this point that the quote, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” is trotted out and attributed to Frank Zappa (although it seemed it was actually the American actor and musician Martin Mull who first used the phrase), but although it’s a nifty bit of word play it’s also bollocks.Music has inspired some incredible writing, from the pioneering rock journalism of Lester Bangs to chroniclers of music history such as Greil Marcus to the current crop of outstanding memoirs, especially from women such as Tracey Thorn, Viv Albertine and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Continue reading

Strangers In The Room: A Journey Through The British Folk Rock Scene 1967-73

British Folk Rock 1967-1973 – the tip of the iceberg but an interesting and varied collection from the Grapefruit genre anthology series.

And that’s despite the confession of folk brigand Eliza Carthy (Louder Than Words festival interview, Manchester, 2018) that she can’t stand Folk Rock and has never knowingly listened to a Fairport Convention album.

She’ll not be interested then to hear how sixty tracks gather together the familiar with the less so. Songs that you’ll know from the folk tradition and plenty of others which  again, might be less so. If there’s anyone who could lay a claim to knowing all the bands and all the songs then you perhaps deserve a place at the head of the table if not the Eggheads team. Steeleye Span, Ralph McTell Continue reading

Give Us a Tune: “Fare Thee Well My Dearest Dear”

Traditional Lyric

Fare thee well, my dearest dear, fare thee well, adieu,
For I must go to sea for the sake of you.
Love, bear a patient heart, for you must bear the smart,
Since you and I must part, my turtle dove.

“You’ll have silver and bright gold, houses and land,
What more can you desire, love? Don’t complain.
And jewels to your hand, and maids at your command,
But you must think of me when I am gone.”

“Your gold shall count as dust when that you are fled,
Your absence proves me lost and strikes me dead.
And when you are from home, your servants I’ll have none.
I’ll rather live alone than in company.”

So nimbly then she’s dressed all in man’s attire,
All for to go to sea was her heart’s desire.
She cut her lovely hair, and no mistrust was there
That she a maiden were, all at the time.

To Venice we were bound with our hearts’ content,
No thought of ship being wrecked, away we went.
From London but one day, our ship was cast away,
Which caused our lives to lay in discontent.

For our ship was cast away, misfortune it did frown,
For I did swim to shore but she was drowned.

More about this ballad at

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The rise, fall and return of Shirley Collins, heroine of English folk music

The postwar folk revival in Britain, decreed that, henceforth, folk singers should only sing material from their own national culture. Given his stance, you’d think that MacColl would be supportive of Shirley Collins. A young, working-class woman, she was born and bred in Sussex and many of the songs in her repertoire were learned from the county’s traditional singers. Alas no. MacColl, hiding behind the pseudonym “Speedwell”, penned unflattering rhymes about Shirley, printed in the pages of his own magazine, Folk Music, likening her to a lumbering Jersey cow.What was it that so offended MacColl’s sensibilities? He had a Marxist perspective on folk music, his material evoking a macho world of hewers and haulers. Shirley’s songs gave voice to women, often in rural settings, yet were no less concerned with issues of class and gender. Propositioned by the local squire, “Lovely Joan” accepts his golden ring in return for her maidenhead. As soon as it is placed in her hand, Joan leaps on his horse and rides off to her lover’s house. In the Dorset ballad “A Blacksmith Courted Me”, the singer complains that her man should not have to go overseas “fighting for strangers”. [ . . . ]

Read full story at THE STATESMAN: The rise, fall and return of Shirley Collins, heroine of English folk music

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