Saturday, October 1, 2016


Somehow, following on from the John Barleycorn post, and maintaining a similarly bucolic theme, this was the only and obvious choice. Surely a song about the mythological origins of ale has to be followed by the practicality of how large(r) scale production of one of the essential ingredients took place, at least until last century. Hopping here means the gathering in of hops, I am afraid, perhaps rather than the image the band's name might offer, that of a one-legged dance, not least as the consumption of hop based beverages might lead toward that and thence to entirely legless dancing. (Yes, oh my sides too.....) Here is an excellent website devoted to the yearly migration of an itinerant workforce down to the Kentish hopfields, Kent being the county at the far south-eastern tip of England.

As to the song itself, it belongs to the long and broad canon of that well known author, trad.arr., and has a lineage stretching back over the centuries, and has some history. I was a complete convert to ye olde english folk-rock back in my teens and onward, so anything residually Fairport Convention related was always going to be right up my street, and Ashley Hutching's various Albion (Dance/Country) Bands were certainly that. Hutchings, estwhile bassist for Fairport Convention, has an illustrious history, often cited as the Guv'nor or as the Godfather of Folk-Rock, given his seminal founding roles within both Fairport and with early Steeleye Span, ahead even of the ever changing and evolving Albion Bands. (Time and space neither allow much discussion, not least as I have covered similar territory at least once before.) However, I am today more interested in his sometime wife, Shirley Collins, as it is she who sings on the version above.

If Hutchings is the Guv'nor, then Collins is surely the Grande Dame, not only or even necessarily of folk-rock, but of the entire english living folk idiom, despite, to all intents and purposes, having given up performance some decades ago, itself a fallout of their acrimonious break-up. When Hutchings left her for a younger model, an actress actually, she developed the condition hysterical aphonia, putting an untimely end to her recording career and to live performance. This odd condition, whilst felt to be of psychological origin, is nonetheless completely ruinous and debilitating to anyone reliant upon their voice, as, curiously, was also the cause of Linda Thompson losing her voice under the similar circumstance of being deserted by her folk-rock ex, Richard (Thompson). (I have no record as to the fates of any other ex-spouses of current or previous Fairport members, but hope that current drummer, Gerry Conway, sticks with his squeeze, Jacqui McShee.) Collins' career began long before that of her onetime husband, unsurprisingly, being 10 years older. Steeped in the tradition from birth, her first appearance on record was in 1955, a year following her hooking up with celebrated US collector and cataloguer of american folk songs, Alan Lomax, director of the Archive of American Folk Song, with whom she later accompanied on his post-McCarthy witch-hunt return to the states. (This was the 1959 excursion that had led to the discovery of Mississippi Fred McDowell!) Returning, alone, to the UK, she reconnected her recording career, notably on the iconic jazz-folk fusion of "Folk Roots, New Routes", alongside the acoustic guitar wizardry of Davy Graham, in 1964. A track follows below:

Her next move was to enter into duet recordings with elder sister, Dolly, accompanying her on the intriguingly named portative organ, as well as, on her milestone release, "Anthems in Eden", the participation of David Munrow's Early Music Consort. Crumhorns afrenzy alert. Arguably this is what will have drawn her to the attention of Ashley Hutchings.

Fresh from his exit from Steeleye Span, Hutchings and Collins married in 1971, and he was responsible for the production of her next, nominally, solo album, "No Roses", albeit  entitled as "and the Albion Country Band", a vast collective of disparate musicians from many fields. This included many of Hutchings' folk-rock compatriots, singers from Collins' more traditional diaspora and even Lol Coxhill, eccentric free-jazz saxophonist. I would say this recording is up there with "Liege and Lief" as being the most important of modern day folk records. Hell, in contemporary/modern music full stop. Especially this track below, up to anything ever produced in this style of music:

This was followed by a brief period of calm, as the married couple settled into acoustic folkie mode as half of the brief-lived Etchingham Steam Band.

Thereafter it seemed that the Albion brand became revived and moved on and away from her, more now her husband's baby than hers, in incarnations as "Dance" and "Country" versions, before ditching either description and sometimes even the "the" as well, sometimes again bringing one or other title back. In both acoustic and electric line-ups, at one time 2 simultaneous different line-ups, bar the omnipresent Ashley. True, Collins popped up occasionally, as in the title song of this piece, and in other Hutchings projects, notably "Morris On", until he popped off. She has since sung nary a note, but has toured with spoken word pieces. However, in February 2014 an audience were probably shocked and delighted to hear and see her perform 2 songs, having been coerced by and with the accompaniment by Ian Kearey, ex-Oyster Band.

Finally, and, as a final and hopefully happy coda, at the age of 81, she brings out her first album of new material in over 3 decades, "Lodestar". I for one cannot wait. Due out next month, this is fairly hot on the heels of this, a 3 disc tribute from artists as disparate as Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Will Oldham) and ex-Blur guitarist, Graham Coxon.

Buy? Too much choice, way too much choice, but here is her amazon page as a starter, which doesn't even include the titular track of this page. (Which is here)

P.S. Shirley Collins actually did go hopping down in Kent as a schoolgirl, picking hops for the Guinness brewers, her family making an annual tradition of this.

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