Shirley Collins and Davy Graham

Today’s track of the day “Love is Pleasin’” from Davy Graham and Shirley Collins, provides another column from which future English folk and folk rock would raise itself up from. In America, folk artists were moving into the realm of blues and country music to create a new type of American folk sound. The English, which didn’t have such tradition or diversity of culture, had to turn somewhere else. They decided to turn inward into the deepest vaults of forgotten sounds and songs. This song itself historically was first created in 1905, and was a song about having a baby out of wedlock, but by the time this duo got around to transforming it, it came to signify much more.

Davey Graham, or Davy Graham, an Englishman of Scot-Guyanese heritage was another one of these self-made persons. Self-taught in guitar, he never cared much for tradition either in his recorded and performed work. Davey would hear the sound of American blues, jazz, or of Arabic music and he would search for a way to play those songs using his simple acoustic guitar. He derived his influential DADGAD tuning by trying to take the guitar style of Steve Benbow and mutating it into a more just intonation that could match the sound of a Moroccan oud.

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By tuning his first, second, and sixth strings down a whole step he managed to open the world to a sound that was different from the blues derived music. This intonation allowed him to play accompaniment and melody at the same time or to use drones to create space between notes, giving the sound of the guitar a distinctly Eastern sound. Its this sound you will hear married to the beautiful, airy voice of Shirley Collins in Folk Roots, New Routes.

Folk Roots, New Routes album cover.

Shirley Collins, for obvious reasons, can be seen as the mother of modern English folk music. This East Sussex gal, initially learned mostly spirituals and known traditional songs from her family, eventually she would pick up the sounds of American rural scenes, but something was nagging her. Almost all the songs she sang about were sung in ways that made them stuck in the past. In Davey, who by then had released such groundbreaking tracks like Mahjunn and Anji, she saw someone who was supremely talented and different enough to project a new kind of wholly English sound.

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In 1965, they combined their forces, to record Folk Roots, New Routes, hers in breathing life into forgotten gems of English music and his into not caring one lick about the pureness of such traditional songs, with this power espousing a new kind of thoroughly English progressive music. The sound you hear in this track is the sound that will be expanded by other groups like the Fairport Convention, her own Albion Country Band, Incredible String Band, and so on. However, these two were the first to prove that these older instruments, the voice and the guitar still had plenty left to shape and say. With his open chord voicing, Davey would introduce mystery and complexity to older songs that were used to be played plainly. Shirley’s haunting and ethereal voice, whatever she chose to highlight, would bring out of the songs their multiple meanings that remain openly hidden for so long. For some like Shirley, this wouldn’t quite be the last time you’d hear her change the game, and for Davey it was his last purely English experimentation…but oh! together what kind of change did they wrought…