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READ: Alan Moore On Shirley Collins
The Quietus , April 7th, 2015 19:23

Read the author praising Shirley Collins for her collecting of "savage, tender oral histories" rendered in song

They are two of Britain's great cultural treasures. One, Alan Moore, is an author responsible for graphic novel mainstays such as Watchmen and The Killing Joke. The other, Shirley Collins, a cornerstone of the English folk revival.

Collins is set to reach a new audience through Earth Recordings' new tribute album, Shirley Inspired. The collection, due for release on Record Store Day, sees the likes of Graham Coxon, Jeff Tweedy and Bitchin' Bonnie Billy Bajas reinterpret Collins' songs for a modern audience. The album also includes “rabble-rousing” comedian Stewart Lee collaborating with Stuart Estell on 'Polly On The Shore'.

The money raised by the record will go towards a Kickstarter campaign to fund a film about the singer, who will celebrate her 80th birthday in July.

Alongside the musical tributes come these words from renowned graphic novelist Alan Moore. In the passage he reflects on the raw legacy of Englishness that Collins transmits in her work, much as Moore has attempted in the likes of From Hell.

Responding to the support her legacy has received Collins said: "I've been overwhelmed by the generosity of the singers and musicians who responded to the invitation to be part of the Shirley Inspired collection. Their choice of songs is fascinating, the interpretations of them fresh and various, beautiful and sometimes challenging! Listening to these recreations shows me again that English folk music has timeless power and significance." Read Alan Moore's words below:

I first encountered Shirley Collins in the cultural blast-distribution pattern of the 1960s, her extraordinary beauty-redefining voice rising above the swirl of backwards monks and borrowed sitars to stamp out, with her late sister Dolly, the profoundly haunted turf of an almost forgotten country. This was not the elfin and deodorised rebranding of the folk tradition that was then already underway, a hacking back of that original-growth lyric forest, of that teeming vocal wilderness, in order to transform our oldest and most human form of musical expression into a well-manicured and scenic picnic destination for an audience keen to replace the grunt and violence of their actual origins with the imaginary flutes and hunting-horns of Middle Earth. Rather, this was the summoning of an authentic and ancestral voice, a language of the ditch and turnpike, songs of men and women born of nettle-rash arboreal encounters and then born off on the ebbing tide, a humour coarse and rich and black as soil, ballads and plaints which spoke to the reality we started out from.

I first met with Shirley Collins at a Blast First bouquet of diversity arranged at Aldeburgh, a semi-fictitious setting that served as a billet for Kathleen Hale’s Orlando the Marmalade Cat and for those vengeful spectres demonstrating the long memory and the long reach of antiquity in the ghost tales of Montague Rhodes James. We talked about our mutual love of the abject and glorious John Clare, another cracked voice in the ghost-weave of the buried landscape Shirley has so passionately resurrected throughout her astonishing life and career, and I sat spellbound by her presentation of lost tunes and narratives retrieved from Suffolk ancients, old men in a tap-room corner called on to once more recite some tideline shanty learned from fathers, grandfathers; the unique hawser creak of voices listing with the ocean’s swell, accounts of foemen left for dead along the coastal waters of High Barbary, salted away onto magnetic tape forever. And the more I marvelled at this funny, sweet and legendary woman who can casually recount how she turned down the amorous advances of a clearly smitten and equally gorgeous Jimi Hendrix with only the most whimsical note of regret, the more I was incongruously reminded of the far-from-sweet and far-from-funny apparition fiercely guarding a lost crown of Wessex in M.R. James’s A Warning to the Curious.

This is not to say that I see Shirley as an implacable and flapping wraith chasing inquisitive historians to their doom across the shallow dunes, but to suggest that I suspect she takes her guardianship of a lost, sacred artefact from a deleted past with all the bloody-minded seriousness of James’s angry phantom. In both cases, this is about the protection and preservation of something vitally important to our rootless and directionless contemporary world. In Shirley Collins’ travels she has managed to unearth a coal-seam of neglected songs and stories, incantations of the working people from across the English-speaking planet with their edge of discord left intact, the harmonies frayed by hard-won experience. It’s this folk legacy that Shirley’s legion of admirers celebrates in this collection. These are the savage, tender oral histories and their ragged refrains from which our modern lullaby emerged, and once heard they will never let you go, will be forever on your tail. Consider this a warning, and a welcome, to the curious.

Alan Moore, Northampton. 5th March, 2015.

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