mon 15/07/2024

Album: Shirley Collins - Archangel Hill | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Shirley Collins - Archangel Hill

Album: Shirley Collins - Archangel Hill

The voice of English traditional music takes stock

Shirley Collins's 'Archangel Hill': touching

Mount Caburn is east of Lewes in Sussex. Shirley Collins’s stepfather used to call it Archangel Hill. The site of an Iron Age hill fort, it was defended with a ditch during the Roman and Saxon periods. In World War II, a gun emplacement was positioned there. While physically strategic, it’s a spiritual landmark for Shirley Collins – a marker in the story of her life.

Correspondingly, Archangel Hill the album collects a series of reflections on where she is now, and where she has been. The third album since her 2016 comeback on record ends with the title track, a recitation contemplating the Sussex in which she now lives, with her voice accompanied by an autoharp and echoing guitar. There’s a new version of “Hares On The Mountain”, which she has recorded twice before: in 1965, and in 1959 on her first album Sweet England.

Fresh interpretations of other songs she has previously recorded are included: “Fare Thee Well, My Dearest Dear”, “Lost in a Wood” (as “Babes in a Wood” before), “The Bonny Labouring Boy” (also for Sweet England), “The Captain with the Whiskers”, “The Golden Glove” and “The Oakham Poachers”. The new “High and Away” draws from her adventures on the song-collecting trail in America with Alan Lomax in 1959. “Hand And Heart” is a 1980 live recording from a show in Sydney. The arrangement was by her sister Dolly.

While each of the 13 tracks on Archangel Hill can be taken as a form of impressionistic diary entry, they interlock to create a unified album – even the live track doesn’t disturb the cohesiveness. Past and present are as one, as are traditional and new songs. Intriguingly, the confidence inherent to fashioning this fusion is emphasised by the Napoleon Bonaparte-referencing “Swaggering Boney” – an instrumental which Martin Carthy has also recorded. Shirley Collins does not need her voice to be heard on her own album.

Overall, the wonderful, touching Archangel Hill is integral to a personal continuum, about where it is now and how Shirley Collins views it.

@MrKieronTyler

‘Archangel Hill’ collects reflections on where Shirley Collins is now, and where she has been

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