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Shirley Collins - This Time Roses

… but Love, Death And The Lady was much sparser.

That’s very true. I think it’s significant that by then John and I had split up and I had entered a rather lonely period of my life. I think that album reflects it very much. I was feeling rather melancholy. Not because my marriage had broken up – I really didn’t want to stay married to John- but I did feel awfully lonely. Many of the songs on the album reflect this. Again, all the experience in the songs is real. Although I also had great fun around this time because we did a couple of concerts with the Incredible String Band and Robin and Mike are such lovely people – spaced out a lot of the time in those days, but original and brilliant, and their own songs were lovely.

At the time we were doing the Festival Hall and the Q.E.H., and it all seemed such a bright time musically; the possibilities seemed limitless. Everything was opening up and there we were sort of spearheading it. Although you didn’t quite realise it at the time because you didn’t know what people were going to pick up on.

What happened next?

I think a little while after that I must have met Ashley. Oh, that’s right because I know that someone had lent me I think Liege And Lief and I thought “I must meet Ashley Hutchings”… or maybe not – these things do blur after a while! He rang me up one day, when I was still living at Blackheath, and asked me about the Whitsun dance and I told him what I always said about it – the loss of the generation and the war memorials replacing the maypoles on the village greens. I hadn’t met him at all, and I remember when I said this to him on the telephone he just said “Wow!”

Then I think a week or so later I was doing a gig at Cecil Sharp House and I trundled along with my banjo and there was this figure on the other side of the hall. I’d never even seen photos of him, but I knew that was Ashley Hutchings. I walked across to him and said “You’re Ashley Hutchings, aren’t you?” and he said “Yes, you’re Shirley Collins, aren’t you?” and it was lovely. He cradled the back of my head in his hand and gave me a kiss and I knew we were going to get married that minute…

Really?

Oh, absolutely, it was wonderful. We had a lovely courtship in many ways. We were looking for an engagement ring, because people got engaged in those days [laughter]. I wanted something that was really special and we were walking down Charing Cross Road one day and looked in the window of this jewellers and there was this beautiful little band of gold – two sorts of gold with a gold engraving of a leaf and five little seed pearls cascading down it, and I said “That’s the one I really want.” We went in and it fitted perfectly and the jeweller said “It’s a Victorian dress ring and I’ve still got the original box it came in; would you like if?” We said, “Yes, please”, and he brought it out and it had Ashley’s initials on it – A.S.H. It was extraordinary!

So we went off to live in. the country, in Etchingham, together. Of course he was diving in and out of Steeleye Span, then forming the Albion Country Band, and we were whizzing off to places like Northamptonshire to have rehearsals at Simon Nicol’s house with all sorts of musicians, some of whom I must say I thought were unreliable and unsuitable. Good music, but a bit precarious. But then one learns that Ashley’s lifestyle is a bit precarious, the way he opts in and out of various things and has a different line-up every week. I’m surprised we stayed married for as long as we did!

How did the idea for the record come about?

The band actually grew in the studio. I wanted to make another album, and by then I had come to like electric music – it was just terrific, wasn’t it? – it was so alive and energetic. It really got to the heart of things in a wonderfully gutsy way. And the power was wonderful; when you hear it and certainly when you were in the middle of making it, it was just incredible… So we went into the studio and Ashley masterminded the getting of all the musicians. We had something like 23 in the studio one by one. It was a brilliant time making that album. It was very spur-of-the-moment – a lot of it wasn’t rehearsed. And we had to have a name for this band, and we thought and thought and between us came up with the Albion Country Band.

I think I’m a little bit peeved that Ashley has sort of held on to it, in a way, specially since I got sort of ousted out of the band and then got ditched.

Shirley & Dolly Collins 1977
Shirley & Dolly Collins 1977 Photo: Keith Morris

From Folk Roots 65, November 1988

 

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