“Shirley Collins is known in part for her contributions to the English folk revival of the 1960s and 1970s; beginning in 1959 she released a number of solo and collaborative albums with amongst others her sister Dolly, Dave Graham and Ashley Hutchings/The Albion Band.
She also worked with Alan Lomax on various projects including folk song collecting in the Southern States of the USA in the late 1950s, which she wrote about in her 2005 book America Over the Water.”
“After 1982 Shirley Collins lost her singing voice due to what has been considered psychogenic dysphonia: a condition which affects the throat and which is associated with psychological trauma. Although she lectured, wrote and appeared on radio she did not release another album for several decades until 2016’s Lodestar.”
“Prior to that new album Rob Curry and Tim Plester began work on a documentary of her work and life called The Ballad of Shirley Collins, which at the point of writing was nearing completion, with an accompanying trailer having been released.
The tone and presentation of the trailer and related publicity appear in part to show the film as reflecting how Shirley Collins and her work now seem to be intertwined and connect with modern day tropes, themes and interests in what could variously be called underground, neo or wyrd folk, folk horror and a sort of Arcanic Britannia.
In particular this is the case with what presumably are images, sequences and characters within the trailer created by Nick Abrahams (who created similar work for the video of her song “Death and the Lady” from the Lodestar album) which are of a folk horror-esque or otherly folkloric nature.”
“Looking back at her recording of the traditional folk song “Poor Murdered Woman” (as featured on her 1971 album No Roses and the Bob Stanley-curated compilation Early Morning Hush – Notes from the UK Folk Underground 1969-1976 released in 2006,1 although it was inspired by true events, listening to it today with its dark unsettling tone it could well be seen as a pointer or harbinger for the darker elements of folk and folk horror.”
“Moving towards such strands and areas within and around Shirley Collins’ work may also be connected back to David Tibet of Current 93’s championing of it for a number of years and his releasing a compilation of her 1960s and 1970s recordings called Fountain of Snow back in 1992…
(Current 93’s) music has been called neo-folk, a form of often dark, experimental folk music which emerged from post-industrial circles. Such neo-folk could also be seen as a further forebear for contemporary interest in wyrd folk and related folk horror-esque music.”
“Those post-industrial strands of experimental music also include Nurse With Wound and Coil, which while musically different and not necessarily folk-orientated, has been described and connected as being “England’s Hidden Reverse” by David Keenan, in the title of his 2003 book of the same name in which he writes about their work.
That title creates and captures a sense of the hidden, flipside, underlying strands and patterns of culture which their work often seems to reflect and explore – which also connects back to the likes of wyrd folk and its exploration of similar areas and undercurrents within a more pastoral, landscape and rural based context.”
“Alongside the connection to David Tibet, such strands are further connected with Shirley Collins’ recent work due to Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown performing on her new album, both of whom have worked with Coil.
They currently work together as Cyclobe and their releases mix and combine aspects of folk or traditional music and instruments amongst other elements including drone, audio collage, soundscaping and electronic instrumentation within an experimental or exploratory context.”
In a further intertwining of the underground, darker, flipside and undercurrents of folk-related culture, Ossian Brown compiled a book released in 2010 called Haunted Air which collects found photographs of Halloween from previous eras.
The images in Haunted Air, despite them having originally been family snapshots etc., over time have often gained a genuinely unsettling, otherly air.”
“Such a gathering and layering of the uncanny over time is also present within The Ballad of Shirley Collins trailer; at one point a framed photograph is shown of Shirley Collins and her sister Dolly standing either side of what is either a folkoric totem or possibly somebody in a traditional folkloric ram’s head costume.
…in the overall context of the trailer and the above cultural points of connection it seems to belong to considerably more shadowed, unsettled furrows.”
“Interconnected to such shadowed furrows, writer, artist and curator Justin Hopper used the title Pastoral Noir as the name of an exhibition he curated at Wood Street Galleries in Pittsburgh, USA in 2016, describing it as being a collection of avant-rural work by British and Irish artists:
“…whose work is situated in the edgelands between what we once called human and the natural… Pastoral Noir will look at artists whose work calls into question the dichotomies between past and present, city and countryside, natural and man-made, within the landscape of the British Isles.
Through their visual, sonic and sculptural investigations into the English landscape, the artists in Pastoral Noir have discovered a dark and eerie place. Using science and language, memory and myth, these works immerse the viewer in uncanny landscapes both real and imagined.””
The work shown included Tessa Farmer, Jem Finer, Ghost Box Records, Tony Heywood & Alison Condie, Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton and could be considered an exploration of where the further reaches of folk and pastoral culture meet, intertwine and interact with what has come to be known as hauntology.
The use of the phrase pastoral noir may be part of a seemingly wider, ongoing process of experimenting with and searching for names that could possibly serve to encompass and define such intertwined cultural explorations.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 19 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.