Widely regarded as the 20th century’s most important singer of English traditional song, Shirley Collins stood at the epicentre of the folkmusic scene during the 1960s and ‘70’s. However, in 1980 she lost her voice in mysterious circumstances, and was forced to retire from musical life. Rob Curry and Tim Plester’s documentary sets out to explore the story behind the icon, and chronicles Shirley’s battle, at the grand old age of 80, to rediscover that voice she lost so many years previously.
The film offsets this contemporary journey with a more literal one taken from the other end of her life, and makes fertile use of authentic 1959 audio-archive to recount the tale of Shirley’s seminal road-trip around America’s Deep South alongside her then-lover (and pre-eminent ethnomusicologist) Alan Lomax.
Featuring among others the comedian Stewart Lee, the film nonetheless eschews a straightforward biopic approach and mindfully sidesteps any rockumentary talking-heads; the filmmakers instead offering up a meditative and richly textured piece of portraiture. One which uses Shirley’s story as a prism through which to explore and reflect upon themes of heritage, posterity and the true ancestral melodies of the people. Here then is a film about loss and redemption.
A film about sacrifice, healing and rebirth. A film which suggests that, during these turbulent and increasingly untethered times, we might just need Shirley Collins and all she stands for more than ever.
Directors: Rob Curry & Tim Plester
Featuring: Shirley Collins, Stewart Lee & David Tibet
UK 2017 / 94 mins
Colour + B/W / 2K Digital & 16mm film