Art - Culture - Completed 2017

A creative response to the life of folk icon Shirley Collins

& Awards

BFI London FF 2017
Rotterdam IFF 2018
CPH:DOX 2018
    • Year of production
    • 2017
    • Genres
    • Art - Culture, Documentary, Biography
    • Countries
    • Languages
    • Budget
    • 0 - 0.3 M$
    • Duration
    • 90 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Rob CURRY, Tim PLESTER
    • Producer(s)
    • Paul WILLIAMS (Burning Bridges Limited)
    • Synopsis
    • In 1959, a young English folk singer signed on as secretary to accompany the esteemed song-hunter Alan Lomax on arguably his most important song-collecting trip across America’s Deep South. This ‘secretary’ was called Shirley Elizabeth Collins, and she was deep into an affair with Lomax – a man twice her age. As they crossed the country, from Virginia all the way to the Mississippi Delta and back – they met a series of homespun musicians, who mined a tradition of folk music centuries old. Unknown to everyone at the time, Shirley was to become arguably the most important British folk singer of the 1960s, and the experiences she had with Lomax on this trip helped shape the musician she became. They had with them a trusty black-and-white stills camera and – crucially – a prototype stereo reel-to-reel audio recorder. It was the first trip on which Lomax recorded folk singers using stereo equipment, and the definitive audio archive that they created – several hundred hours of recordings – forms the basis of our film. As well as songs, Lomax and Collins recorded interviews, lengthy conversations, radio programs and their own personal reflections on their journey. The one thing they didn’t have was any kind of video camera. As filmmakers, we have recreated the “missing” visual record of that amazing journey; combining the pre-existing photographs and audio with faux-archive footage (shot on an authentic 1959 Bolex camera) that we have filmed ourselves.

      Alongside this, we explore the life of Shirley herself, beginning with her childhood in the seaside town of Hastings during WWII - where her grandparents sang her folk tunes as they sheltered from German bombs beneath the kitchen table. We will chart her extraordinary recording career, which kept her at the heart of British music for nigh on 30 years; her albums ‘Anthems in Eden’ and ‘Love, Death and the Lady’ in particular, being defining monuments of the much-heralded 1960s folk revival.

      In much the same manner that Shirley and Alan Lomax visited the houses of the finest folk singers of the time, we invited a series of iconic and carefully selected musicians and celebrity enthusiasts of the modern age to visit and perform with Shirley in her Sussex home and in locations significant to her past. Their conversations provide inroads into the film’s back story, with Shirley’s vivid recollections transporting us over 50 years back in time to rural Appalachia - and back again, to intermingle and joust with the rich traditions of the Sussex Weald from which she came.

      Finally, in an unexpected turn of events, Shirley is experiencing a major revival. She is a hugely sought after public speaker, and is now singing again and has recently released a new record to international acclaim and has been nominated for major awards. It is safe to say that she is relishing the challenge.