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The Ballad of Shirley Collins

Rob Curry and Tim Plester

Shirley Collins was widely regarded as the 20th century’s most important singer of English traditional song. In 1980, when she developed a disorder of the vocal cords, she was robbed of her unique singing voice and her career was cut short.

"A story about one woman’s battle to rise again from long silent ashes..."

Deliberately eschewing a straightforward biopic approach, The Ballad of Shirley Collins is a lyrical response to the life and times of an important musical figure. Granted intimate access to recording sessions for Shirley’s first album in almost four decades, the film also features contributions from the comedian Stewart Lee and David Tibet of Current 93. In counterpoint with the film’s contemporary journey, The Ballad of Shirley Collins uses archive audio to recount the tale of her seminal 1959 song-collecting trip around America’s rural Deep South alongside her then-lover (and legendary ethnomusicologist) Alan Lomax, turning the film into a kind of time-travelling road movie.

This is a story about one woman’s battle to rise again from long silent ashes. A story about heritage, posterity and the true ancestral melodies of the people. A story which seems to suggest that, during these turbulent and increasingly untethered times, we might need Shirley Collins now more than ever.