Shirley Collins folk singing workshop in Lewes.

9th October 2011

Off we go to the folk singing workshop, don’t think it said it was a master class, but it was. Some very accomplished singers,  some pretty good ones and the three of us. Paul  my younger son who plays the dobro and penny whistle, Alan my partner who plays the banjo and fiddle but doesn’t sing. Then last but not least me -whose singing ambitions have been cruelly shattered by lack of talent!

Shirley the legendary folk singer and Honorary President of the Lewes Folk Singer Event, is calmly sitting in a chair taking our names. We all sit in a semi circle round her.

First task is to sing a nursery rhyme to warm us up and no doubt for her to get the first indication as to whether we have made the right choice,  or should have taken up pottery as a hobby instead.

As she goes round the group of 11 she does not stint on her professional help. Some of the singers are so good that the three of us at the end of the circle have even longer to  die of fright. When Alan pops off to the loo I wonder if he will come back!

One of Shirley’s strongest  messages is ‘restraint’ she does not believe in too much ‘drama’ from the singer.  In folk singing, she tells us, a story is told, allowing the audience to be drawn in.

Alan bravely sang ‘The Ash Grove’ because he likes it and managed to stay in tune. Shirley encouraged him to sing out a lot more and soon he had forgotten about being nervous.  The Sky Boat Song is obviously Scottish, but the only one I know by heart. Paul came last,  sometimes daunted but never beaten,  off he went with ‘Carrickfergus’. Shirley realised that we were aiming at working as a little group and having heard us all made some realistic suggestions for how we could proceed.

Time was running out, no time even for the break, off she went at breakneck speed so we could have a second song,  all much more confident than the first.

Paul ended the session singing a song he had as an emergency –  copied  down from the internet and listened to it a couple of times on youtube. ‘Tall Ship’ . ‘Well’ said Shirley sitting back smiling, ‘that was really good Paul, I didn’t think you had it in you’. He was well pleased, he loves variety and now he can sing as well as playing on his whistle and his Dobro.

There is something about Shirley that makes you think we all have the capacity to sing and it is just a question of getting on with it. She talked about the songs she loved from the Appalachian Mountains. Wonderful woman, we loved her!

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