From the team that brought you Way of the Morris comes a new feature documentary about folk legend Shirley Collins.
Widely regarded as the 20th century’s most important singer of English traditional song, Shirley Collins is someone who was born to invoke the old songs. Alongside her sister Dolly, she stood at the epicentre of the folkmusic revival during the 1960s and ‘70s. But in 1980 she developed a disorder of the vocal chords known as dysphonia, which robbed her of her unique singing voice and forced her into early retirement.
Deliberately eschewing a straightforward biopic approach, Rob Curry and Tim Plester’s follow-up to their award-winning documentary WAY OF THE MORRIS, is a lyrical response to the life-and-times of this totemic musical figure. Granted intimate access to recording sessions for Shirley’s first album of new recordings in almost four decades, and featuring contributions from the likes of comedian Stewart Lee and David Tibet of Current 93, what emerges is a meditative and carefully textured piece of portraiture. A timely delve into the arterial blood, loam and tears of our haunted island nation.
The film counterpoints this contemporary journey with a more literal one from the other end of her life, THE BALLAD OF SHIRLEY COLLINS emerges as a transatlantic road-movie of sorts – as a young Shirley sets off on a now-legendary song-collecting trip around America’s Deep South alongside her then-lover (and pre-eminent ethnomusicologist) Alan Lomax.
Here then is a story about one woman’s battle to rise again from long silent ashes. A story about heritage, posterity and the true ancestral melodies of the people. A film which would seem to be suggesting that, during these turbulent and increasingly untethered times, we might just need Shirley Collins now more than ever.