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The Ballad of Shirley Collins

The Ballad of Shirley Collins (2017)
Dir. Rob Curry, Tim Plester / Cert. 12A / 92 mins
Friday 18 May / 7.30pm / £6 (concessions £4)
 
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, Shirley stood at the epicentre of the folk music revival during the 1960s and 1970s. 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 Way of the Morris, is a lyrical response to the life-and-times of a totemic musical figure. Granted intimate access to recording sessions for Shirley’s first album (Lodestar) of new recordings in almost four decades, the film also features contributions from the 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.
 
Counterpointing the film’s contemporary journey with a more literal one taken from the opposite end of Shirley’s life, The Ballad Of Shirley Collins also proves itself to be something of a time-travelling Transatlantic road-movie of sorts – utilising a motherlode of genuine archive audio to recount the tale of her seminal 1959 song-collecting trip around America’s rural Deep South alongside her then-lover (and legendary ethnomusicologist) Alan Lomax.