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Low Culture Podcast 3: Shirley Collins On O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The third in our subscriber only series of podcasts features folk singer and author Shirley Collins talking about her favourite film with John and Luke

Portraits by Maria Jefferis

A couple of weeks ago co-pilots John and Luke jumped into the knackered Quietus clown car and puttered their way to meet producer Alannah Chance in the Sussex town of Lewes. Their mission? To talk to folk singer extraordinaire Shirley Collins for the latest Low Culture podcast.

Shirley has long been one of this site’s favourite artists and it has been a delight for us to see her return to prominence with the Domino albums Lodestar and Heart’s Ease as well as her prize-winning autobiography for Strange Attractor All In The Downs.

When we asked her which cultural artefact that she felt was under-loved, misunderstood or was simply in need of a bit of re-contextualisation she chose the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which has just celebrated its 20th birthday.

Anyone who has read either All In The Downs or America Across The Water will know all about Shirley’s important trip across the Southern states of America, recording and collecting folk song with Alan Lomax in 1959.

During the journey, the pair ended up spending several days at the Mississippi State Penitentiary – known colloquially as Parchman Farm and this is where they recorded a gang of inmates singing work songs as they broke rocks with picks. One of these recordings is the first song heard on O Brother, Where Art Thou? – ‘Po Lazarus’ by James Carter And The Prisoners.

Shirley talks about how her history has entwined with that of the film, how she came to doorstep Laurence Olivier when she was a teenager and how she carries on making vital music well into her 80s.

To listen to The Quietus’ new Low Culture podcast, you’ll need to become a subscriber and sign up to the Low Culture or Sound & Vision tiers. You can find out more about why we’re introducing the subs and all the amazing perks you can get here and join via the checkout below.

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