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Shirley Collins - This Time Roses

You’re not being coy?

No, I’m not being coy; I’ve had a real block about my singing and I’m just working it out now.

When did that happen? Was it after Ashley left?

Yes. It’s very difficult to talk about personal things without them sounding bitter, but the truth of it, as I see it, was I hadn’t realised that I think Ashley was trying to get me out of the Albion Band. I was working with it at that time and singing songs that I think were not suitable for me, but I was just sort of complying with what Ashley wanted for the success of the band and all the people that were trying to earn livings, so I went along with it. I realised with hindsight that he was trying to get me out of the band. I had agreed to leave and take on all the business aspect of it and continue singing on my own, and a few days after that happened Ashley walked out.

You see, he had started working in the theatre, in Corruna with Steeleye Span, so we got invited to do The Passion at the National. It was then that I think Ashley really started to fall in love with the theatre, and of course it followed that he would fall in love with actresses as well, as indeed happened.

Did you find the theatre itself attractive in that way?

No. I was very glad to be at the National Theatre and I thought it was my right place. I thought that I had had a sufficient career and that I was a sufficiently unique singer to be in that position. I thought I’d earned it after all those years of what I’d put in, but I wasn’t seduced by the theatre. It didn’t turn my head. But I think it turned Ashley’s, and it turned his heart as well.

We soldiered on through that but it was during that time I think when he fell in love with the first one – he left me for her. But then of course he started to fall in love with other actresses at the National Theatre as well – there was a little… urm… flurry. Some years later Ashley did say to me that it was like a sickness – well, he certainly had to go to bed with it! I was fine up to that point; I was still singing fairly well through The Passion although I was heartbroken when he left home – I was truly devastated.

But I got invited back to do Lark Rise and I thought I was sufficiently over my heartbreak to get back and do it. Ashley had been left some months then. And there I watched him fall in love with the second one and it was at this point that… I mean it’s just dreadful… because they were promenade performances the first one would come to the rehearsals and the performances and stand as close to the band as she could get and she would be wearing Ashley’s jumpers… and, you know, I was trying not to cry as I was singing and every night my throat would absolutely lock up and some nights I couldn’t lift my voice a register and it was terrifying.

Some nights I was fine. Some nights I sang really well and the songs I had were marvellous. I had The Bonny Labouring Boy at the end and that was one of my Grandad’s songs and I sang it wonderfully when I was singing well, but there were some nights when singing that song really hurt me so much that I couldn’t do it, and then it hurt me more that I couldn’t sing it. It just got worse and worse and worse. Some nights I didn’t know if I could sing and Ashley was criticising and saying “What’s the matter with you?” and people would come and say, “This isn’t a hard show for you, is it, so why are you letting us down?” and I just… crumbled.

Finally everything just crumbled away and I had nothing left to stand on, to sing. The whole thing was so profound and feel very ashamed of it now, that I let it get to me so badly… What’s so bloody maddening about it is that I wish I’d had a bit of technique to have over-ridden it, because I’m the one that suffered.

From Folk Roots 65, November 1988


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