This emotional concert featured a remarkable array of celebrities and one folk legend, who was celebrating her 80th birthday in style. Shirley Collins spent most of the evening in the audience, and finally arrived on stage before the encore, to be greeted with a spontaneous Happy Birthday to You. She has suffered from dysphonia, and rarely sung in public since the early 1980s, but now she joined in the sing-along finale of Thousands Or More, the cheerful Copper Family song about not needing riches to be happy.
Shirley Collins has had an extraordinary career, as song-collector, writer and a singer who revived long-forgotten songs with her pure, haunting voice, and who was always willing to experiment. Her best-known recordings were made in the 60s and 70s, but her continuing influence was shown by the cast here. The show opened with eight artists performing songs (mostly) from her repertoire, with Blur’s Graham Coxon adding impressive folk baroque guitar to his sturdy acoustic treatment of Cruel Mother, Alasdair Roberts providing a powerful unaccompanied rendition of Lord Gregory, and Olivia Chaney at the piano for a cool reworking of All Things Are Quite Silent.
Then came a revival of the No Roses album, which Collins recorded in 1971 with the Albion Country Band, which then included Richard Thompson and John Kirkpatrick. The new version again featured Kirkpatrick, singing well, and playing rousing accordion alongside the house band, the boisterous Trembling Bells. The exquisite Just As the Tide Was Turning now featured Chaney singing alongside Lisa Knapp and Lavinia Blackwell, and ended with morris dancers invading the stage. Murder of Maria Marten was even better, with Sam Lee’s vocals backed by an edgy wash of sound then full-tilt folk-rock, and ending with six-part harmonies. A memorable celebration – but the best songs of the night were Collin’s originals, played over the PA.