Shirley Collins

Shirley Collins

Infobox Musical artist
Name =Shirley Collins
Img_capt =Shirley and Dolly Collins's 1974 album "Love, Death and the Lady"
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Birth_name =Shirley Elizabeth Collins
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Born =birth date and age|1935|7|5, Hastings, Sussex
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:"For the former MPP, see Shirley Collins (politician)"Shirley Elizabeth Collins MBE (born 5 July 1935, Hastings, Sussex, England) was a significant contributor to the English folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. She often performed and recorded with her sister Dolly, whose accompaniment on piano and portative organ created unique settings for her sister's plain, austere singing style.


Shirley Collins and her older sister, Dolly, grew up in the Hastings area of East Sussex in a family which kept alive a great love of traditional song. Songs learnt from their grandfather and from their mother's sister, Grace Winborn, were to be important in the sisters' repertoire throughout their career.

On leaving school, at the age of 17, Collins enrolled at a teachers' training college in Tooting, south London. However, in London she also involved herself in the early folk revival and in 1954, at a party hosted by Ewan MacColl, she met Alan Lomax, the famous American folk collector, who had moved to Britain to avoid the McCarthy witch-hunt which was then raging in America. Lomax and Collins began a romantic relationship which led to their undertaking a folk song collecting trip in the Southern states which lasted from July to November 1959 and resulted in many hours of recordings, featuring performers such as Almeda Riddle, Hobart Smith, and Bessie Jones and culminated in the discovery of Mississippi Fred McDowell. Recordings from this trip were issued by Atlantic Records under the title "Sounds of the South" and also featured in the Coen brothers’ film "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou". The experience of her life with Lomax and the making of the recordings in religious communities, social gatherings, prisons and chain gangs was described in Collins's book "America Over the Water" (published 2004).

Back in Britain, Collins proceeded with her own singing career, and in a series of influential albums, she helped to introduce many innovations into the English folk revival. In 1964, she recorded the landmark jazz-folk fusion of "Folk Roots, New Routes", with guitarist Davy Graham. 1967 saw the essentially southern English song collection, "The Sweet Primeroses", on which she was accompanied for the first time by Dolly Collins's portative organ.

In 1969 there was another collaboration, this time with The Young Tradition (featuring Peter Bellamy, Heather Wood and Royston Wood) and Dolly Collins, "The Holly Bears the Crown".

Collins's seminal recording is considered by many to be "Anthems in Eden", released in 1969. It featured a suite of songs centred on the changes in rural England brought about by the First World War. Dolly Collins created arrangements featuring David Munrow and various other players from his Early Music Consort. The highly unusual combination of ancient instruments included rebecs, sackbuts, viols and crumhorns and hinted that the guitar was not the only appropriate accompaniment for the folk song. Several critics have suggested that it is impossible to imagine that electric accompaniment for traditional song, as successfully purveyed by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, could have developed quite as it did without the pioneering 'Anthems In Eden'.

All these recordings strove to marry a deep love and understanding of the English folk music heritage with a more contemporary attitude to musical settings. "Anthems In Eden" was followed by "Love, Death and the Lady", and "No Roses", recorded in 1971 with the Albion Country Band, and a total of 27 musicians.

Collins married her second husband Ashley Hutchings in 1971. He left Steeleye Span and the couple created the all acoustic Etchingham Steam Band with Terry Potter, Ian Holder and Vic Gammon. The Etchingham's repertoire was drawn from the traditional music of Sussex. With The Albion Dance Band, performing traditional material on a mixture of modern (electric) and mediaeval instruments, Collins recorded "The Prospect Before Us".

1978's "For As Many As Will" was the last studio album recorded by Shirley and Dolly Collins. Collins retired from public performance, although she continues to lecture and to appear on radio as an authority on traditional music.

In 2004, she was awarded a Gold Badge by the English Folk Dance and Song Society and became patron of the South East Folk Arts Network in 2006 [ South East Folk Arts Network] . She was awarded the MBE for services to music in the Queen's New Year's Honours List, announced 30th December 2006. On 14th April, 2007, she was awarded an Honorary Degree by the Open University, for a "Notable contribution to education and culture", while in 2008 she was given the "Good Tradition" award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. In June, 2008, Ms. Collins was nominated as president of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

With actor Pip Barnes, she tours with her three illustrated talks "America over the Water" (about her field trip in the Southern States of America with Alan Lomax), "A Most Sunshiny Day" (about the traditional music of England and Sussex in particular) and "I'm a Romany Rai" (about the Gypsy singers and songs of Southern England).


Both the collaboration with Davy Graham ("Folk Roots, New Routes") and the "Anthems in Eden" album are seen as milestones in the English folk revival.

Shirley Collins's voice has a breathy, unearthly quality which alienates some people but draws in fans from unexpected quarters. The American folk-rock band 10,000 Maniacs did a cover of "Just as the Tide was Turning", closely modelled on the version on the "No Roses" album. David Tibet of the apocalyptic folk band Current 93 released a collection of her recordings, entitled "Fountain of Snow", and she sings on the final version of "Idumæa" on the Current 93 album "Black Ships Ate the Sky".

Billy Bragg said of her: "Shirley Collins is without doubt one of England's greatest cultural treasures."

Few singers of the English folk revival have attempted as much on record as Collins — an extraordinary combination of fragility and power. "I like music to be fairly straightforward, simply embellished, — the performance without histrionics allowing you to think about the song rather than telling you what to think."

Colin Meloy of The Decemberists recorded a whole EP of Shirley Collins tunes. It was sold on Meloy's 2006 spring United States tour in limited quantities.


*"Sweet England Argo" (1959)
*"False True Lovers Folkways" (1960)
*"Heroes in Love Topic EP" (1963)
*"The Sweet Primeroses Topic" (1970)
*"A Favourite Garland Gama" (1973)
*"Adieu to Olde England Topic" (1974)
*"Fountain of Snow Durtro" (1992)
*"The Classic Collection Highpoint" (2004)
*"Within Sound" Fledg'ling (2003) (Box Set)

hirley and Dolly Collins

*"Power of the True Love Knot Polydor" (1968)
*"Anthems in Eden EMI Harvest" (1969)
*"Love, Death and the Lady EMI Harvest" (1970)
*"Amaranth EMI Harvest" (1976)
*"For as Many as Will Topic" (1978)
*"Harking Back Durtro" (1979)
*"Snapshots Fledg'ling" (2006)
*"The Harvest Years EMI" (2008)

hirley Collins and the Albion Country Band

*"No Roses Pegasus" (1971)

The Young Tradition and Shirley and Dolly Collins

*"The Holly Bears The Crown Fledg'ling" (1969/1995)

hirley Collins and Davy Graham

*"Folk Roots, New Routes Decca" (1964)

Etchingham Steam Band (includes Shirley Collins)

*"Etchingham Steam Band Fledg'ling" (1975)



*Shirley Collins, "America Over the Water", SAF Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-946719-66-7

External links

* [ Shirley Collins web site]

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