Folk Singer Shirley Collins Performs First Show in 35 Years
Folk singer Shirley Collins performed live for the first time in 35 years, staging a surprise set to open a concert by Current 93. The 78-year-old appeared unbilled for the show at London’s Union Chapel this weekend.
“I don’t think I would have done this for anyone else but David Tibet,” Collins told the crowd, referring to the leader of Current 93. According to a poetic review by ATTN:Magazine, Collins “quietly slipped into” All The Pretty Little Horses, a traditional she recorded for the band’s 1999 LP of the same name.
“[Shirley’s] voice swoops at the commencement of each line, channelling the sound of age into a sort of momentum,” wrote ATTN’s Jack Chuter. “Perhaps the lighting has something to do with it, but she is utterly radiant tonight; even the cold, often belittling setting of the Union Chapel seems to shrink to the size of a living room in her midst.”
Although Collins has toured in recent years, presenting lectures on folk music, she hasn’t sung publicly in almost four decades. “My voice went when my second husband [Ashley Hutchings] left me in 1978,” she told the Guardian in 2008. She suffered from a vocal condition called dysphonia, brought on by trauma. “A folk voice should just be a conduit for the song,” she said. “You want no sheen, just the song.”
David Tibet, a massive fan of Collins’, met the Sussex-born singer in 1994. “She’s like the presiding spiritual genius of folk to me,” he told the Wire in 2001. “There was never any pretence in her voice. She sang as she thought, as she felt. Put a pair of lips on the heart and that’s what Shirley sounded like.”
After Collins’ performance on Saturday night, Chuter recalled, “[Tibet] stumbles over words in an attempt to express his gratitude for her appearance”. He had apparently been “trying to encourage [Shirley] to perform again” since they met.
69-year-old Groundhogs guitarist Tony McPhee also joined Tibet on Saturday night. He performed as part of a Current 93 line-up featuring James Blackshaw, Reinier van Houdt, Andrew Liles, Jon Seagroatt, Carl Stokes, Bobbie Watson, and These New Puritans’ Jack Barnett.
The group’s new album, which also has contributions by Nick Cave, Antony Hegarty and John Zorn, is out now.