Shirley Collins: Lodestar

English folk singer Shirley Collins is back with a new recording Lodestar her first album for more than 30 years. The much loved and respected singer from Sussex was at the heart of the UK folk revival of the 1960s but was subsequently unable to record for many years because of an illness that affected her voice and made it impossible for her to sing.

During these years of silence her reputation only grew and she is nowadays constantly cited as a great influence by a younger generation of traditional singers who have rediscovered her early records. She also became a writer and lecturer and a winner of honours and awards but always with the stern idea that it’s the song and not the singer that is all important.


Now 81, she was persuaded out of her enforced retirement to make this new album of traditional songs accompanied by Oysterband member Ian Kearey. The youthfulness of her voice has understandably gone but not the ability to perform songs that she loves with a new and deeper gravitas. Kearey’s contribution is important too as he manages to arrange and embellish the songs superbly with acoustic guitar and the occasional addition of other instrumentation.

This is English folk song so the subject matter is death, murder and all manner of crimes and sad occurrences. It has been noted elsewhere that the body count grows rapidly as the album progresses – enough to make a gangster rapper seem tame by comparison. ‘Cruel Lincoln’ unfolds gently with the sound of birdsong in the background but it’s not long before “there was blood in the kitchen there was blood in the hall, there was blood in the parlour where the lady did fall”. It all ends with a burning and a hanging.

‘Washed Ashore’ and ‘Death and the Lady’ are outstanding but it isn’t all gloom as we are also given the lively ‘Old Johnny Buckle’ which helps to lift the spirits after all the darkness. Above all this is a listenable and accessible album which also repays close attention and is a wonderful return for Shirley Collins who demonstrates the enduring power of these old songs.

Lodestar is released by Domino.


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