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Folk legend Shirley Collins shares a playlist of her favourite tracks

04 November 2016, 10:00 | Written by Andrew Hannah

With her first album for 35 years out today, the legendary folk musician Shirley Collins has given Best Fit a guided tour of her favourite tracks - of her own - from across her lengthy career.

With Lodestar set to introduce Collins to yet another new fanbase, she's provided a selection of songs, with accompanying thoughts, from across her fifty-plus years of singing and performing as a way of an informal introduction to her world.

Listen to "Cruel Lincoln" from her new album below, and read on, to discover how a legend is born.

The Cuckoo

"This was the first song I remember hearing at home, sung by my Great-Granny. Recorded in 1958 for album Sweet England with my very simple banjo accompaniment."

The False True Love

"One of the first Appalachian songs I learned from the books I spent two weeks’ wages on in 1955 – Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (that collection he made in the field in 1916). Best money I ever spent!"

Pretty Saro (from the album Folk Roots, New Routes)

"Recorded in 1964, adding Davy Graham’s remarkable accompaniments with the Indian and North African sounds he loved so much. And how well they worked with this song – words from Sharp, and the tune was mine."

The Sweet Primeroses (from The Sweet Primeroses album of 1967 for Topic Records)

"The first album Dolly [Collins' sister] and I made together, with her arrangements for – and her playing of the flute organ otherwise known as a portative pipe-organ. This album was produced by my then husband Austin John Marshall. The song is from The Copper Family of Sussex."

The Street of Derry

"It’s an Irish song that I learned from the singing of Mrs Sarah Makem, and here Dolly’s arrangement echoes the uilleann pipes."

The Bonny Boy

"Fom Dolly’s and my next album, The Power of the True-Love Knot, and Dolly was starting to augment her arrangements with other instruments. On this track we had Bram Martin playing his 1740 Tosturi cello, and what a beautiful sound it was."

Over The Hills and Far Away

"This is one of my absolutely favourite English tunes, turning up in nursery rhymes, Playford’s Compleat Dancing Master of 1651 and The Beggar’s Opera of 1728. Here Dolly gives the flute-organ a sound like a fair-ground organ.

The Blacksmith (from 1969’s Anthems in Eden, now re-issued along with Love, Death & the Lady as Shirley & Dolly Collins – The Harvest Years)

"A suite of traditional songs on side one of the album which told of lives led in rural England before the First World War, and the loss both of men, and of innocence after. The two albums came out on EMI’s new ‘underground music’ label in 1969 and 1970. I learned 'The Blacksmith' from the English gypsy singer, Phoebe Smith."

The Whitsun Dance

"This as the song that ended the suite – a song written by my then husband Austin John Marshall to remind us of the dreadful loss of life, and to remember the women who were left alone after the Great War. And how the maypoles of so many village greens were replaced by memorial stones to the dead. I set John’s words to a Copper Family tune, 'The Week Before Easter'. Which then merges into the Staines Morris."

The Plains of Waterloo (from Love, Death & the Lady)

"To an earlier war, the Napoleonic. A classic tale of love, loyalty and heroism."

Poor Murdered Woman (from No Roses – Shirley Collins and The Albion Country Band)

"This was my excursion into folk-rock with a line-up of musicians to die for – including Fairport Convention’s Simon Nicol and Dave Mattacks, and ex-Fairport Richard Thompson and Ashley Hutchings. It’s a tender and compassionate song."

Never Again

"A song written by Richard Thompson, and one of only a small handful of written songs that I sang."


"My all-time favourite song which was on the final album Dolly and I made For As Many As Will (Topic Records 1978, re-issued by Fledg’ling). This song came from one of my Sussex heroes, Henry Burstow, a shoe-maker of Horsham who knew over 400 songs. The song was noted down by Lucy Broadwood in 1903."

Lodestar is out now via Domino. You can buy the album here.
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