Shirley Collins: The ’60s Folk Scene Could Be Pretty Nasty

Celebrating her 80th year and working on her first album since 1978, the singer and folk historian recalls ruffling the traditionalists feathers in the new issue of MOJO.

Shirley Collins: The ’60s Folk Scene Could Be Pretty Nasty

RAPPERS’ BATTLES MAY be ruder, but if hip-hop artists think their beefs are a new development they should think again: folk traditionalists could be equally nasty. Patti Smith on the cover of MOJO, on sale from August 25, 2015.

Now the undisputed Queen Of British Folk, singer and musical historian Shirley Collins recalls being the target of folk’s equivalent of a diss track – a verse published in a folk newsletter – back in the ’60s.

Now 80 – yet working on her first album since 1978 – Collins recalls the changing folk scene in our new issue (October 15/ #263), on sale now in the UK, remembering how her decision to perform traditional songs with the guitarist Davy Graham on her 1964 album Folk Roots, New Routes upset the scene’s establishment.

Up till that point the songs had been performed unaccompanied and Collins was breaking new ground, triggering the offending rhyme.

“I don’t know whether it was Ewan [MacColl] or Fred [Karl] Dallas or Bert [Lloyd] but the album with Davy went down well with some people but it didn’t with that lot,” she tells MOJO’s Mike Barnes.

“They likened me to a lumbering Jersey cow.”

Shirley Collins

“The only lines I remember now, it likened me to a lumbering Jersey cow, and it finished with the words, ‘And Davy’s nimble fingers carry her along, the Lady Baden-Powell of English song.’ I can laugh now, but it made me angry at the time because I was a genuine working-class girl and these were not working-class people. But I soldiered on.”

Get the latest issue of MOJO now for the full story of how Collins both changed – and charted – English folk, keeping it alive for subsequent generations. So successfully that the likes of Graham Coxon, Angel Olsen, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie and more recently recorded a tribute album to Collins entitled Shirley Inspired.


PHOTO: Courtesy Topic Records