Shirley Collins And The Albion Country Band- No Roses

It would be true to say that the name Shirley Collins is not a household one, which is ironic as she produced "No Roses", one of the most acclaimed albums of the early seventies. For many at the time Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin may have been the best that Britain had to offer at that time, but dig a little deeper into the myriad of different styles of music -British and American- that made up the progressive rock scene of the day and you would find "No Roses" which has just been bought out of obscurity by those fine people at Sanctuary.

In the 1960s and early 1970s Shirley Collins was one of the leading singers of the UK traditional folk music scene. In 1969, along with her sister Dolly she had recorded the album "Anthems In Eden" which united traditional songs with backing by only medieval instruments and was released on EMIs prog rock / underground label Harvest! A fan of that album was Ashley Hutchings, a founder member of Fairport Convention. On hearing Shirley Collins work, Hutchings steered Fairport away from being essentially a band that covered American songsmiths to one that practically invented "folk rock" performing traditional British songs married to electric rock instruments.

By 1971 Collins and Hutchings had met and married. That same year they recorded "No Roses". The album consists solely of interpretations and arrangements of English Folk Songs -hence The Albion Country band, rather than Celtic i.e. Scottish and Irish, that tended to dominate, and still does, peoples perception of British Folk Music.

So you get the tale of "Van Diemans Land", a 19th century transportation ballad about convicts being transported overseas or "Hal-An-Tour" which was sung as part of the May celebrations in Helston, Cornwall. The songs range from the light hearted dance tunes like "The Little Gypsy Girl" collected from Louise Holmes of Hereford to the haunting tale of "The Murder Of Maria Martin" collected, as the informative booklet tells us, from Joseph Taylor Of Lincolnshire. In all 26 musicians play on the album, not all at once mind you, ranging from the Fairport Convention line-up of the time including the guitar wizard that is Richard Thompson, stars of the folk scene like Lal and Mike Waterson, Nic Jones and Barry Dransfield. Instruments range from electric guitar, bass and drums to such things as a hurdy-gurdy, concertina, hammer duluner to alto saxophone provided by modern jazz man Lol Coxhill.

This truly is one of the great British albums - and it does contain truly British music. If you think you don't like folk music, but say you like The Levellers then you might just like this and become a fan of Shirley Collins like luminaries John Peel, Billy Bragg and writer and Broadcaster Stuart Maconie.

Derek McCann

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