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Preview: Shirley Collins & Friends At Cecil Sharp House
Frances Morgan , October 27th, 2010 12:33

Shirley Collins, Alasadair Roberts and Trembling Bells in London this weekend

One of English folk music’s most iconic figures, Shirley Collins, appears at Cecil Sharp House, London, this weekend alongside a couple of the current crop’s best songwriters and interpreters of traditional music.

Shirley Collins’s recordings of traditional songs are unworldly and unforgettable, her liquid voice and sparse arrangements captivating both trad purists and more out-there sorts like Current 93, Richard Youngs, Josephine Foster and many more. Now retired from singing, she’s taken on a new role as a storyteller, educator, or, if that sounds too worthy, brilliant, funny and wise tribal elder type, bringing folk music to life in her musical lectures. She’ll be presenting one of these, ‘A Most Sunshiney Day’, about the music of her home county, Sussex, and the South-East of England at Cecil Sharp house on Saturday 30 November. While the HQ of the English Folk Dance and Song Society is the perfect home for her lecture, it can work just about anywhere – I heard it once on a crappy wet afternoon at Green Man, and like every other hungover, weary soul in the dripping tent, was instantly won over, and enormously moved. More Shirley Collins here.

Alasdair Roberts has been performing folk songs and his own, increasingly knotty and brilliant compositions for over a decade now, gradually gathering acclaim and momentum, and it is always great to see him live – he plays forceful, angular acoustic guitar to his own tunings; his interpretations of traditional songs do away with feyness and dig right down to the bones of the matter – and dark matter it often is too: Roberts has a whole album of murder ballads under his belt. Roberts’ own songs are growing in stature too, his lyrics not afraid to take on politics, religion, war and metaphysics; not afraid to use big words then hit you with a home truth.

Supporting Roberts are psych-folk band Trembling Bells, formed by drummer Alex Neilson who, when I first met him, was actually wearing a Shirley Collins t-shirt that he’d printed himself – although his music indicates his admiration of her just as much, to be honest. Emerging from Glasgow band Scatter, who married folk tunes to marching band skronk and radical free jazz, he has explored folk music through via improv and noise, and has ended up making large-scale, Fairport-like folk rock anthems with Trembling Bells, powered by the breathtaking vocals of Vinnie Blackwall.

Roberts and Trembling Bells are in it for the long term: their passion for and reimagining of folk music is a million country miles away from the gap-year whimsy of Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons and so on. This is a chance to see them alongside one of their most direct and inspiring forebears.

Miles of Smiles are giving away two tickets to the event on 30 October. To win one, just email info at with the answer to the very easy question:

Which early 20th Century English composer lends his name to the Library and archive at Cecil Sharp House?