The Ballad of Shirley Collins

The Ballad of Shirley Collins

DocDays screening: We are honoured to welcome the great Shirley Collins for a post-screening talk, to be hosted by comedian and critic Stewart Lee.

Widely regarded as the 20th century’s most important singer of English traditional song, Shirley Collins stood at the epicentre of the folk music revival during the 1960s and 70s.

But in 1980 she developed a disorder of the vocal chords known as dysphonia, which robbed her of her unique singing voice and forced her into early retirement.

Rob Curry and Tim Plester's documentary sets out to explore the story behind the icon, and chronicles Shirley’s battle, at the grand old age of 80, to rediscover that voice she lost so many years previously.

The film counterpoints this contemporary journey with a more literal one taken from the other end of her life; making fertile use of authentic 1959 audio-archive to recount the tale of Shirley’s seminal road-trip around America’s Deep South alongside her then-lover (and pre-eminent ethnomusicologist) Alan Lomax.

Featuring contributions from the comedian Stewart Lee and David Tibet of Current 93, the film eschews a straightforward biopic approach and sidesteps any rockumentary talking-heads; the filmmakers instead offering up a meditative and richly textured piece of portraiture.

Here then is a film about loss and redemption. A film about sacrifice, healing and rebirth. A film which suggests that, during these turbulent and increasingly untethered times, we might just need Shirley Collins now more than ever.

With thanks to Burning Bridges.


Rob Curry, Tim Plester


Shirley Collins, Stewart Lee, David Tibet, Elle Osborne

Running Time:

94 minutes


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