Shirley Collins' Memoirs

by Shirley Collins
192 pages (illustrated). Hardback
ISBN: 0 946719 66 7 Publication: May 2004
Price UK £20 US $30

At the age of nineteen Shirley Collins was making a name for herself as a folk singer. Whilst attending a party hosted by Ewan MaColl she met the famous American musical historian and folklorist, Alan Lomax. They became romantically involved, and before long, Collins found herself alone, boarding the S.S. America, to begin an adventure almost unheard of for a young English girl at the time.

In this highly personal and heart-rending account, she describes her affair with Lomax and their year-long trip to uncover the traditional music of America’s heartland. Travelling through Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia they recorded Mississippi Fred McDowell, met Muddy Waters and many others.

The story that emerges is of two lost worlds. With awestruck wonder Collins recounts her and Lomax’s adventure into the cultural roots of the deep American South, interspersing this with memories of being brought up as a working class girl in War time Hastings. The result is a finely woven tapestry of one woman’s journey, both emotional and musical, and her discovery of a world of beauty and dignity, as well as deprivation and prejudice, amongst the folk musicians over the water in America.

Shirley Collins was a stalwart of the English folk scene with a singing voice of unparalleled tender beauty. Although no longer performing, Shirley regularly lectures and appears on radio as an authority on traditional music. Recently a 4-CD box set of Shirley’s recordings called Within Sound appeared on Fledg’ling records to great critical acclaim.

“Alan Lomax is a completely central figure in 20th century culture. Without Lomax it’s possible that there would have been no blues explosion, no R&B movement, no Beatles and no Stones and no Velvet Underground. He was the conduit, mainlining the uniqueness and richness and passion of African-American music into the fertile early beginnings of Western pop music.” –Brian Eno

“Shirley was, of course, the perfect person to take into the field because she loved every minute of it. She took wonderful notes, and was a huge help, was great with all the people and a perfect field companion. She helped me in hundreds of ways I didn’t even know being an unobservant, busy male.” –Alan Lomax


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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in with Stephanie Smith.

0 thoughts on “Shirley Collins' Memoirs

  1. this is a really wonderful book. i read it in december and i’m already thinking about reading it for a second time!

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