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Sunday 31 October 2010

Shirley & Co

Young Jackson and I went up to Cecil Sharp House last night for a triple bill of folk-related fun. And very good it was too.

The main item was a 90 minute presentation on the history of the folk song in Sussex. If that sounds a little dry, you need to know that it was delivered by the legendary Shirley Collins, now in her mid-seventies but still on top form. It was a fascinating mix of history, anecdotes, readings (by the estimable Pip Barnes) and field recordings. If the use of a lectern and temporary white screen on which to project the slides made the venue look even more like a school hall, somehow it only enhanced the experience.

The only slight disappointment was that there we did not hear more of Shirley's own recordings. But the one we did hear - "Gilderoy" - was stunningly beautiful. Here it is with her version of "Claudy Banks", which we learnt was the first song ever transcribed by Cecil Sharp as part of his project to preserve the English folk song.

"Gilderoy" - Shirley & Dolly Collins (from "For As Many As Will", 1978)

"Claudy Banks" - Shirley Collins & The Albion Band (from "No Roses", 1971)

Shirley was bookended by fine performances from the Trembling Bells and Alasdair Roberts. I am a big Bells fan as regular readers might know and, while I could have managed without the acapella interlude, they were on excellent form. As a special treat they brought on one of my all time musical heroes, Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band, to perform a great version of his "Feast of Stephen". Apparently they will be releasing it as a single - is it too soon to kick off the campaign to make it the Christmas Number One?

Alasdair Roberts also played a fine, if slightly abbreviated, set. There is definitely a touch of the Richard Thompsons about his guitar playing, singing, subject matter, and indeed his beard. This is him.

Here are one song apiece from Mr Roberts and the Tremblers. I will save Mike Heron for later in the week. Tube strike permitting I am off to see him in Dalston on Tuesday, and I can hardly wait.

"River Rhine" - Alasdair Roberts (from "The Amber Gatherers", 2006)

"When I Was Young" - Trembling Bells (from "Carbeth", 2009)

Those of you who are fans of 1970s disco will have worked out from the title of the post what is coming next. And if you didn't, well, shame on you.

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