Roxanne Clifford on Shirley Collins and Davy Graham – Folk Roots, New Routes


I’m excited to say that this series now boasts two members of longtime RSTB fave Veronica Falls. Though the band has gone on to new ventures, their taut indie pop will forever be embedded in my heart. One of the band’s greatest strengths was songwriter and singer Roxanne Clifford and she’s brought that same spirit, albeit with an ear towards synth-pop strains over jangles, to her band Patience. With a clutch of great singles already in her catalog, the band has already proven indispensable. So, I was eager to see what Roxanne would pick as deserving of another listen and some time under the spotlight. She’s reached back to a folk classic, the homespun folk of Shirley Collins and Davy Grahams’s – Folk Roots, New Routes. Check out how this found its way into her collection.

Looking back, Roxanne recalls, “As a teenager with a simple interest in British and American folk music, Folk Roots, New Routes had a profound impact on me when I first heard it — which was probably through my brother-in-law who managed a record shop in Soho at the time. It still remains an unwavering favourite of mine to this day. This record in particular felt unique in transporting me to another dimension of the genre and opened the door to many more female folk musicians that I was not yet aware of.”

“For me,” Clifford admits, “there is a very fine line between folk music that I like and folk music that I cannot abide. Anything that teeters too far into whimsical territory makes me tune out for being saccharine, whilst anything jaunty or overly orchestrated loses me for feeling at best impersonal, at worst theatrical. The songs on Folk Roots, New Routes are the complete antithesis to this – direct and unpretentious – the simple delivery is everything, encapsulating what I love for tangible reasons as well as magical ones. I feel a complete affinity with the humanity in Shirley’s voice, which is loud and arresting throughout. With a haunting clarity you’re transfixed by her bold melodies and every single word of the age-old tales that she tells.

“More endearing,” she continues, “is her habit of twisting the songs on their heads by singing them from a female perspective. This is heard most strikingly in her lullaby rendition of ‘Dearest Dear’, a love song to a woman. ‘Hares On The Mountain,’ is my favourite, distinct for being simultaneously witty and heartbreaking. Davy’s guitar is dark and at times sparse, giving the perfect matter-of-fact accompaniment, knowing when to deliver just enough drama. It is clear why this LP was originally released on Decca Records — whilst some folk records can be meandering, what sets it apart for me is the strength of the melodies, which are memorable and propel them almost into a pop realm. And yet, the intimacy of their performance still makes me feel like I’m right there in the room with them.”

As with Pete Astor’s gushing over The Carter Family, it’s interesting how formative years spent with classic folk bleeds its way into more modern takes on jangle-pop. While Shirley Collins’ classic isn’t on the list of enough young listeners, as Roxanne notes its entrancing in its directness and overt strength and should probably find its way into the curriculum of more songwriters. The record has been rescued from time by the good folks at 4 Men with Beards, who’ve given this record a loving pressing that’s fitting of its stature. If you’re looking to feel the impact of Shirley’s subtle strength you’d do well to pick up anything from Veronica Falls’ catalog and if you’re not yet familiar with Patience, see that you correct that soon as well.

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