7 February 2017
Sat 4 Feb
City Halls, Glasgow
Not many would have predicted having such a beatific Saturday night, being snake-charmed into blissed out raptures, with help from a lone Morris dancer and a parade of horse skulls. Maybe least of all, the folk singer Shirley Collins, who spent almost four decades laying low, not performing after a painful marriage breakdown led to dysphonia, curiously the same condition that stopped Linda Thompson from singing after her husband Richard left.
But thanks to prolonged cajoling from a new wave of fans, including Current 93’s founder and one-time member of Psychic TV David Tibet, and comedian and music obsessive Stewart Lee, Collins was lured back from obscurity, and released Lodestar in November, her first album in 38 years.
The dictionary definition of a lodestar is “a star that leads or guides” or “an inspiration, model or guide”, which neatly sums up both what music has always meant to Collins — even during the years when she quietly ran an Oxfam shop in Brighton, presuming she’d been forgotten — and what Collins means to folk music.
Now 81 years old, against a video backdrop of pagan rituals, stellar constellations and Deep South swamps, she sagely revisits madrigals she sang at home with her mum and older sister, Dolly; ‘The Silver Swan’ is a featherlight yet devastating closer to both the album and tonight’s show, and she’s been singing it since a teenager; and Cajun gems from a 1950s folk song collecting trip to America with her friend Alan Lomax. Sipping from a mug of tea in between ballads of pregnant girls being pushed overboard, or gin remedies for injured legs, Collins beams a sort of serene radiance from the stage, where she’s accompanied by musicians on sublime hurdy gurdy, mandolin, fiddle and drums. Her stories are every bit as good as her songs, and the crowd would have definitely stuck around to hear more moonshine-soaked tales of a mean man who “put out his wife’s eyes” or the time she swapped “ugly songs” with a banjo plucking woman from Arkansas, if she didn’t gently evict her fans with the soft order, “It’s time for you to go home now.” When the applause won’t stop, the twinkle in her eyes only glows brighter. “I’m not kidding,” she deadpans, in a Sussex whisper. Maybe it’s because it was the first night of a long-awaited comeback tour, or maybe there were deeper forces of magick at work tonight, but watching Shirley Collins’ dimmed star take on an even stronger brightness is a glorious thing.
Read the review in The Times here (subscription needed).