Shirley Collins - Archangel Hill
The first song to be shared from Archangel Hill is “High And Away”, with words by collaborator Pip Barnes. He says of its origins: “There is a passage in Shirley’s book ‘America Over The Water’ where she relays a conversation with the Arkansas singer Almeda Riddle in 1959. It begins: “She told of the tricks a tornado can play” and goes on to give four or five examples. Whenever I heard Shirley read this, I would note that alliterative and rhythmic first line of the passage, and the vividness of the images of a tornado’s doings, and say to myself, “There’s a song here, it’s almost written itself.” I wrote the words, but with no strong idea of a tune for it, other than that it seemed to suggest itself into ¾ time. Shirley obliged with a tune of her own devising, and Ian with its arrangement.”
Shirley Collins, folk song laureate, in reaching her 88th year, is but a young girl when standing beside the songs she sings. Songs she has been custodian of throughout a life as luminous as any one of her ballads describe. The forebears of many of her songs were mostly contemporary in age when they were brought to prominence and recorded in the 1950s and 60s, Shirley now claiming that status of elder and tradition bearer as they did when they mentored her as a bright-eyed, curly-haired Sussex lass. The only difference is Shirley hardly seems to have changed at all still wielding that dutiful yet mischievous, spritely, teenage sparkle captured on those early album front covers.
No one else in this land knows old-song like Shirley Collins, weaving into them on every airing a new genetic code, a new revelation, a new perspective. But Shirley’s spell is not just conjuring up of songs it’s the evocation of the land too. There is a quiet muse in this record, redolent with the chalkiness of the South Downs, the landscape that has knitted itself into the bones of every generation of Collins’. This is an album that swoops like the Downs through the episodes and the musical companionships of Shirley’s road less travelled.
Archangel Hill is named in honour of Shirley’s stepfather who called Mount Caburn, a landmark close to Collins’ home in Lewes, Archangel Hill. Shirley imparts some context: “Whenever I walk Mount Caburn, I give a silent greeting in memory of my stepfather Bill and his horses. I’ve picked sloes there in autumn, sat watching sheep and the occasional chalk hill blue butterfly in summer, but Bill had ridden over it many times in the 1920s, walking horses from Bishopstone to the Lewes races.” The album artwork is a painting by Peter Messer of Mount Caburn that Collins commissioned.
All of the songs on Archangel Hill were recorded last year except for “Hand And Heart”, which was taken from a live performance at the Sydney Opera House in 1980 and features an arrangement by Shirley’s beloved and talented sister Dolly Collins as well as the words of author F.C. Ball, aka Great Uncle Fred. The record has been produced by Ian Kearey - Shirley Collins’ musical director and the arrangements were shared between Collins, Kearey, Barnes, as well as Dave Arthur and Pete Cooper, players from The Lodestar Band.
Archangel Hill is twilight teaching, an end of time reminder from Shirley about being a good ancestor and paying your respects to the generations before. Shirley has done a lifetime of this work and with this record asks of us to do the same.
Release Date: 26th May 2023
Format: LP or CD
Label: Domino Recording Company
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