Shirley & Dolly Collins
The Harvest Years
2008 EMI (UK) 50999 2 28404 2 4
A brand new documentary, The Ballad of Shirley Collins, directed by Rob Curry and Tim Pliester – was just released to rave reviews in the UK. Since I sadly don’t live there yet, I can’t see it and am not sure when I will have the chance. Meanwhile I am getting my hands on Curry & Pliester’s other film about Morris dancers, “Way of the Morris”, which led rather naturally to their current project. But I’m excited that this Collins biopic exists, and just feel like posting something in connection with her to celebrate the fact that she is being celebrated. Besides all of the above reasons, I need to post something autumnal on the blog. Searching for “autumnal funk / soul / jazz” in my digital meta-data brings up precious little. In Brazil the season only exists in theory and no evocative music springs to mind there either at the moment. I had once attempted a sub-blog called ‘Flabbergasted Folk’ but abandoned it because of the finite nature of time and space. However I have opened up the ‘genre niche’ nature of this blog a little and decided I can post about anything I want, and you all can either dig it or skip it.
This collection of the great duo of Shirley & Dolly Collins is one that I was ready to feature last year to help incentive people to listen to seek out Shirley’s new album Lodestar (released November 2016), but for some reason did not. Perhaps because I think “Anthems In Eden” is not the best place to start for people unfamiliar with her sizeable body of work. It is atypical, and very innovative when you realize what they’ve done. Both records featured in this two-disc set are worthy of separate write-ups, but there are a number of music journalists who have already had the pleasure and done a pretty good job at the time that Harvest reissued this almost a decade ago. I’m taking an unusual step of keeping my mouth shut and letting them present the material in the space below after the break. As a bonus, I have featured the two pages of text that Shirley contributed to a box set of Harvest artists called Harvest Festival. This box consists of 5 CDs, with really inconsistent sound quality and bad mastering – the best thing about it is the 120 page book. Also, Shirley was featured in the great series “Mastertapes” on the BBC in January where she revisited “Love, Death & The Lady” and talked about it at length. You can listen to it here. I’ll track down my own vinyl copy of that LP someday, as I did with Anthems In Eden, and on that note I have to point out that the CD collection omits the one contribution from Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson to “Anthems” – God Dog. I’m assuming it has something to do with publishing or label conflicts, since it could not have been left off “due to time constraints” (that old refrain from CD reissues of the 90’s) on a set that includes bonus material that wasn’t even on the original records.
All Hallow’s Eve / Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and since adjectives like ‘haunting,’ ‘melancholic’, ‘plaintive’, and ‘evocative’ get trotted out anytime a receptive person attempts to describe the stirring experience of listening to Collins’ recordings, I can also consider this a “seasonal” post. I might have another surprise on the 31st if I can finish it by then.
1-1 A Beginning 2:03
1-2 A Meeting – Searching For Lambs 2:43
1-3 A Courtship – The Wedding Song 4:04
1-4 A Denying – The Blacksmith 3:57
1-5 A Forsaking – Our Captain Cried 2:51
1-6 A Dream – Lowlands 2:35
1-7 A Leave-taking – Pleasant And Delightful 5:14
1-8 An Awakening – Whitsun Dance 2:52
1-9 New Beginning – The Staines Morris 1:47
1-10 Rambleaway 4:23
1-11 Ca’ The Yowes 3:27
1-12 God Dog 3:25
1-13 Bonny Cuckoo 1:55
1-14 Nellie The Milkmaid 2:42
1-15 Gathering Rushes In The Month Of May 3:30
1-16 The Gower Wassail 2:52
1-17 The Sailor From Dover 3:20
1-18 Young John 6:24
1-19 Short Jacket And White Trousers 2:59
1-20 The Bold Fisherman 4:39
2-1 Death And The Lady 4:10
2-2 Glenlogie 3:47
2-3 The Oxford Girl 1:59
2-4 Are You Looking To Leave Me 2:53
2-5 The Outlandish Knight 5:05
2-6 Go From My Window 2:36
2-7 Young Girl Cut Down In Her Prime 3:42
2-8 Geordie 4:58
2-9 Salisbury Plain 2:41
2-10 Fair Maid Of Islington 2:16
2-11 Six Dukes 2:28
2-12 Polly On The Shore 3:11
2-13 Plains Of Waterloo 8:03
2-14 Fare Thee Well My Dearest Dear 3:27
2-15 C’est La Fin / Pour Mon Cuer 2:16
2-16 Bonny Kate 3:25
2-17 Adieu To All Judges And Juries 3:10
2-18 Edi Beo Thu Hevene Quene 3:42
2-19 Black Joker / Black, White, Yellow And Green 3:23
2-20 The Gallant Hussar 3:17
2-21 Hopping Down In Kent 2:47
from The Guardian
review by Robin Denselow
Thursday 31 July 2008 19.05 EDT
Jazz review: Shirley and Dolly Collins, The Harvest Years
5 / 5 stars
Shirley Collins was a 1960s folk revolutionary. After pioneering a folk-jazz-global fusion style with Davy Graham, she experimented in matching folk songs with early music instruments, with help from her sister Dolly, who played the portable flute organ and was an inventive arranger. Championed by John Peel, they were signed to EMI’s then-fashionable “underground” label Harvest to record some of the finest albums of the 60s and 70s folk revival. They are all here on this double set, which starts with the remarkable Anthems in Eden suite from 1969, in which Shirley’s cool, no-nonsense vocal style was matched against cornett, sackbut, harpsichord, recorder and a male chorus to revive songs such as The Blacksmith or Searching for Lambs, now folk standards. Then there’s the bleaker Love, Death and the Lady from 1970, more songs from Amaranth in 1976, and a rousing reminder of her work with the Albion Dance Band on Hopping Down in Kent. Shirley and Dolly helped transform the English folk scene, and their songs remain powerful and fresh.
Shirley & Dolly Collins The Harvest Years
Uncut August 6, 2008
It is 1969. The summer of loves lease has expired, but British rock is ripening into its rich and succulent autumn. Fairport Convention are hoeing into the folk tradition on Liege And Lief; Nick Drake is completing Five Leaves Left. Enter Harvest Records, set up by EMI to reap the fruits of this bumper crop, a variegated basket that includes Pink Floyd, Third Ear Band, Kevin Ayers, Deep Purple, Forest, Michael Chapman and the folk singing sisters from Sussex, Shirley and Dolly Collins.
Still only 33, by 1969 Shirley Collins had accompanied Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger from Cecil Sharp House to Young Socialist conventions in Moscow; spent a years epic field recording trip in the USA as folklorist Alan Lomaxs romantic and secretarial partner; and cut Folk Roots, New Routes with the high priest of the Soho folk guitar cult, Davey Graham.
In 1968 she teamed up with elder sister Dolly to record The Power Of The True Love Knot, a zeitgeist-friendly folksong concoction produced by Joe Boyd and featuring The Incredible String Band. Dolly studied composition under modernist Alan Bush; by the late 60s she was living in a double decker bus in a field near Hastings, mastering the art of the flute organ, a portable keyboard dating from the 17th century. Mindful of a folk scene that had swelled from 30 nationwide clubs to over 400 in a mere five years, Harvest commissioned the sisters to record Anthems In Eden, a suite of folk tunes already premiered on John Peels Radio 1 show.
While their hippy contemporaries imagined a hemp-smoke paradise in the Hundred Acre Wood, wrapped up in Tolkien, Celtic lore and Lewis Carroll, Shirley Collins was channelling Englands ancestral spirits in song. Anthems In Eden and Love, Death And The Lady (1970), the twin pillars of this double CD set, are built up via a curatorial selection from the motherlode of English traditional song. Side one of Anthems retitles songs like Searching For Lambs, The Blacksmith and Our Captain Cried as A Meeting, A Denying and A Forsaking to weave a patchwork Song-Story in which the agricultural calendar of pre-war working class life is interrupted by the Great War and converted into an unnatural cycle of birth, parting and loss. The underlying message: the Fall from Eden was an empowerment, from the innocence of a deferent underclass that would blithely allow itself to be concripted to fight its masters wars, to the knowledge of a classless modern society. We wont get fooled again.
The records peculiar antique grain is supplied by the young firebrand who did so much to kickstart the Early Music movement, David Munrow. In a stroke of genius, Collins and husband/producer Austin John Marshall invited Munrows Early Music Consort of London to the sessions, featuring future stars of the authentic instruments movement such as Christopher Hogwood, Adam and Roderick Skeaping and Oliver Brookes, who arrived laden with crumhorns, sackbuts, rebecs, viols and harpsichord. They repeated the trick on 1970s exceptional Love, Death And The Lady. It may begin with the time-honoured folk lines As I walked out one morn in May, but Collins hardly sounds full of the joys of spring.
In fact, though Marshall was again producer, their marriage was on the rocks and the albums maudlin mood is clouded with doomed love, betrayal and suicide. The arrangements Dollys spiralling piano chords on Are You Going To Leave Me, Peter Woods mewling accordion on the devastating Go From My Window, or the military tattoos on Salisbury Plain courtesy of Pentangle drummer Terry Cox are like nothing previously heard in British folk, but suspend the songs in a strangely ageless sonic timezone somewhere between Elizabethan consort music and Rubber Soul.
Anthems In Eden played a decisive role in Shirley Collinss future. Fairport Convention founder Ashley Hutchings heard the album at the end of 1969, right after quitting the band after the release of Liege And Lief. It reduced him to a fit of body-wracking sobs, and within less than a year, he had sought out and married its creator, sweeping away most of the dead leaves lingering after Love, Death And The Lady. No Roses, recorded in 1971 by the couples newly formed Albion Country Band, brilliantly grafted Fairport-style electric pastoralia onto Collinss murderous balladry. That record was not part of the Harvest story, but this set does include Amaranth, the extra six tracks the group laid down for the 1976 edition of Anthems In Eden, plus another couple of merry tunes unreleased from the same period. Her marriage did not survive long after this high summer, and she only made one further album before effacing herself from public performance. But Harvests vintage crop of progressive folk survives as the pinnacle of her achievements.
UNCUT Q&A: Shirley Collins
Uncut: How do you think your music chimed with Harvests hippy audience?
Shirley Collins: Dolly (Who died in 1995) and I were so far removed from popular music thats its quite miraculous that it all happened. I was never a hippy couldnt stand all that vague twee floatiness or the smell of patchouli! My England was Daniel Defoe, Robert Herrick, Hogarth, John Clare, Blake, with a touch of Henry Fielding for larks! My songs, coming from a long and genuine tradition, carried with them a truthful, clear vision of the past, of real lives, and I felt that, because of my background, I was a conduit between then and now.
What was your working relationship like with your husband as producer?
Austin John Marshall was a clever, inventive, maddening man. Yes, our marriage was breaking down at the time we were recording Love, Death And The Lady. But John had a clear vision for both albums, and the drive to see it through. And Im glad he persuaded me to add Terry Coxs percussion to The Plains Of Waterloo it still gives me goosebumps!
What did the idea of Eden mean to you in 1969?
Being a child throughout World War Two, surviving it, feeling optimistic, loving the English countryside and feeling proud and glad to be English I suppose England was my Eden. And yet I dont feel I saw it through rose-tinted spectacles. Growing up in a working class family made me aware of the hardships that people endured and overcame. I felt a great connection to those rural labouring classes whod sung the songs before me. I was fascinated by the past, so I was always aware of the dark heart of English history.
INTERVIEW: ROB YOUNG
Read more at http://www.uncut.co.uk/reviews/album/shirley-dolly-collins-the-harvest-years#vQQCHhIwYxVggYGj.99