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Shirley Collins - This Time Roses

And do you find that through your life your music has been bound up with your human relationships?

Well, absolutely. Of course. I mean it’s what you sing about all the time; or a great deal of what you sing about is love.

And you inevitably get involved with people?

Of course; I think if you’re a… I don’t know, this is a bit difficult… If you’re a proper artist, I was going to say, or if you’re properly involved in your music (especially, I think, if it’s folk music), you’re singing about love all the time, and love is the most important part of one’s life. I think love between a man and a woman is the most powerful thing there is in the world. Although, having said that, the two people I love most are my kids!

A lot of those songs that you would have learnt in Sussex were about love, weren’t they?

Yes, of course they were; at the age of eighteen what else do you think about?

Well, what about those songs you learnt at home?

We sang at home a great deal. I grew up in a family of people who were ardent socialists and ardent lovers of the arts. My mum was a writer and a feminist before it became fashionable, and always encouraged Dolly and me in our music, even at the expense of a secure lifestyle. Two uncles were painters, one uncle was a writer…


That’s Fred Ball, yes, Robert Tressell’s biographer, and A Breath Of Fresh Air. My dad left home when I was about eleven and Uncle Fred virtually became my father after that. He had, I think the widest knowledge of English literature of anyone I’ve ever met, untutored and self-taught as he was. His range just covered the whole of the field from Chaucer through Fielding and Trollope right down to the present day, and he had a really catholic taste in music. We would listen to Monteverdi one minute then we’d be listening to Jimmy Yancey playing boogie-woogie, so that you got everything. At the same time there was Guy Mitchell and Frankie Laine, and my mother couldn’t stand us listening to this.

Then we had a piano in the front room and in the evenings Dolly would play it and we’d sing madrigals, or we would sing songs that Dolly and I made up, or we would sing songs that our Grandad sang and we’d go into Grandad who lived next door and we’d sing with Grandad. We’d sing carols every Christmas, I mean we’d start practising our carols about October, so we sang all the time anyway.

Wasn’t there an Aunt Grace?

That’s my mother’s sister, yes. Just As The Tide Was Flowing is the main song that came from Aunt Grace… er… they laugh at that because 10,000 Maniacs recorded a version of it. They put it on their album as trad. arr. them, but no. They have paid up a share of the royalties, because it certainly was my Aunt Graces’ song. I know that it was because there are only a couple of printed versions of it and it’s in an entirely different form. They were honorable about it all.

Shirley Collins
Shirley Collins 1958

From Folk Roots 65, November 1988


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