Arts Q&A: Folk singer Shirley Collins on Cary Grant, Jimi Hendrix and Stewart Lee

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, English folk singer Shirley Collins

Shirley Collins (82) was a pivotal player in the English Folk Revival of 60s and 70s. She performs at Belfast's Out to Lunch festival this month

1. When did you think about a career in music and what were your first steps into it?

Around the age of 15, I realised there was nothing else I really wanted to do apart from singing. First steps into it? Singing with my sister Dolly at local Labour Party Socials in Hastings. Then a move to London in 1953/4 to get into the Library at The English Folk Dance and Song Society to find songs, and later to listen to the field recordings made throughout the British Isles.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

Stewart Lee’s Content Provider show at The Dome, Brighton in February last year and Shepherds Arise – Traditional Sussex Carols with a West Gallery Band at the Elephant & Castle, Lewes last Christmas.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

A mixture of Jimi Hendrix, The Band and David McGuinness and Concerto Caledonia.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island?

Monteverdi’s Vespers.

5. And the book?

Toss up between Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin nautical historical novels (all 20 please) or all of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels.

6. Top three films?

Field of Dreams, Local Hero, The Philadelphia Story or anything with Cary Grant.

7. Worst film you’ve seen and why?

Don’t’ remember now. Slept through so many.

8. Favourite authors?

Dorothy L Sayers, Kate Atkinson and Patrick O’Brian.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?

It used to be tennis – and walking.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

Provence or Venice.

11. Pet hate?

Radio and television announcers and all those politicians who have suddenly decided to use the ‘long a’ instead of the short one. It sounds so juvenile. And anyone who starts to answer a question with the word 'so'.

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? Chicken and leek pie.

Dessert? Rose and pistachio meringue with pistachio ice-cream.

Drink? Gin and tonic.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

Pip Barnes is my best friend. We met some 40 years ago at the National Theatre when I was singing in Lark Rise. He is a great walking companion and we must have done thousands of miles together over the years. We still work together – he’s in the Lodestar Band.

14. Is there a God?

I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Her?

:: Shirley Collins plays Belfast's Black Box on January 26 as part of the Out to Lunch Festival. For full programme and tickets visit

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