The queen of English folk discusses her long and impressive career

SHIRLEY COLLINS & THE ALBION COUNTRY BAND
NO ROSES
PEGASUS, 1971
Her new husband, Fairport’s Ashley Hutchings, enlists the cream of folk-rock – Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Dave Mattacks, Maddy Prior and more – for this electric classic

You might think No Roses is an outrageously different thing because of the electric instruments, but I didn’t sing any differently, I didn’t try to sing like I was in front of a big rock band! It was such a pleasure to make, I love the album still, there’s so much good stuff on there. It was Ashley’s idea to break up “The Murder Of Maria Marten” like that – and that wonderful cart rumbling over gravel at the end was such a moment. All the musicians were so utterly sympathetic – imagine working with Richard Thompson? It was amazing. And they were all such fun in the studio. This was recorded in Sound Techniques in Chelsea… Joe Boyd might have approved of this one a bit more! None of the albums we made took very long, as I wasn’t a big star given unlimited time. To sing with Nic Jones was lovely, as I’d known him for years. I’m so lucky to have been around at the same time as people like Nic, it’s just incredible. “Poor Murdered Woman” is one of the great songs, too. “Claudie Banks” I was not too happy with, it was a bit brisk and bright – although I’m a very cheerful person, I don’t like brisk and bright music much! So I was a bit worried about that being the first song. I’m sure Ashley was happy with this album – it’s bloody good!

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SHIRLEY & DOLLY COLLINS
For As Many As Will
TOPIC, 1978
Left by Hutchings and struggling with her voice, a wounded Collins records a final album with Dolly, before falling silent for 38 years

This was quite a difficult process, because I was still terribly sad, and I was worried about my voice, which is why I wanted double-tracking on “Gilderoy”. I was scared in the studio. I was still living at Etchingham, after Ashley had left, and on the day we recorded, one of my Japanese fans turned up at the door at Red Rose cottage. He had written me a letter, and he said, “Dear Shirley Collins, you are my greatest fan…” He’d got it the wrong way round, it was so sweet. And he said, “I like well your bloody ballads” [laughs]. So we took him along to the studio. We didn’t even have the flute organ for this album, it was a synthesiser – perhaps we couldn’t afford the organ? Some of the songs are wonderful, like Richard Thompson’s “Never Again”; it reflected so much what I was going through. “Lord Allenwater” I love, and that’s a Sussex song, as are “The Moon Shines Bright”, “Gilderoy” and “Rockley Firs”. I was still working at the National Theatre, but some days my throat just tightened up and I couldn’t get the notes out, and Martin Carthy had to fill in for me. So every night was a sort of terror, and sometimes a humiliation. All those things knock you down, and I was finding it harder to get up. I had to find some other way of making a living, because the kids were teenagers and expensive to run! I used to try singing in the kitchen but I would cringe, so I stopped that too.

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SHIRLEY COLLINS
LODESTAR
DOMINO, 2016
With her legend steadily growing over the decades, Collins returns to stages and vinyl with this stately, sensitive set of folk songs

I don’t think anyone thought I’d sing again, apart from David Tibet, who was convinced I would. After 20 years of bullying and cajoling, it worked! He’s been such a great support and such a good friend, even though I think it’s one of the most unlikely friendships you can come across. It’s all quite amazing that we came to make Lodestar. I knew I didn’t want to go into a studio and face an engineer; I thought that would knock me back, so we recorded it here at home, on computer, and had great fun doing it, too. The great thing was when the Morris dancer came in – we had to clear the room for him to dance! There’s a bank at the back [of the cottage] where the birds sing, and that’s where we got the birds for “Cruel Lincoln”. We did “Death And The Lady”, which I’d recorded before [on Love, Death & The Lady]. “Old Johnny Buckle” is lovely; audiences love it, I think it releases them from all the doom that’s gone before! It comes from a Sussex family, and was recorded by Bob Copper in the 1950s. It’s much like “Nottamun Town”, which is sort of upside-down, too. For the next one we’re going to rehearse all the songs first, then go into a studio and do it gradually.

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