That 28-minute set is a suite of traditional songs and a traditional tune with new lyrics that tell a basic story illustrating the changes wrought on rural English society and emerging folk traditions by the industrial scale slaughter of the First World War. 

The song cycle had already been recorded as Anthems Before the Fall for BBC Radio in August 1968, and it’s fairly easy to pick up the plot line from the song titles. It’s not as if young girls watching young men go off to war is an unfamiliar theme, but there’s a twist towards the end of the cycle with a generation of young men were lost, and the memorial stone  rather than the maypole as the centrepiece of village life.

A Beginning / A Meeting (Searching for Lambs)/ A Courtship (The Wedding Song)/ A Denying (The Blacksmith)/ A Forsaking (Our Captain Cried) / A Dream (Lowlands)/ A Leaving-taking (Pleasant and Delightful)/ An Awakening (Whitsun Dance, words by A J Marshall to a traditional tune)/ A New Beginning (The Staines Morris)

The rest of the album comprises a handful of songs drawn from the Collins' repertoire, most of them traditional (RambleawayBonny CuckooNellie The MilkmaidGathering Rushes In The Month Of MayThe Gower Wassail) along with Robert Burns’ Ca' The Yowes and God Dog, written by the Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson. 

Shirley Collins might not be entirely happy with the selection, but you’d have needed something to fill out the other side of the album. That’s not an issue in the era of the compact disk, but the alternative would have been to break the suite in two, which with the vinyl era need to get up and turn the record over wasn’t the optimal solution either.

Played as a whole in the digital download era the whole thing runs together seamlessly,  with the cornetts, crumhorns, sackbuts,recorders and racketts piping away over the harpsichord and portative organ in arrangements that influenced later efforts by the likes of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span (who applied the concepts to a more electric folk-rock setting) and lesser lights like Amazing Blondel (whose stage appearances were likely to involve the use of up to forty instruments) and Gryphon.  

That instrumentation gives a sense of timelessness, the sort of thing that was explored by those who followed, with Richard Thompson’s Henry the Human Fly being, to my ears, a prime example, but there’s the odd bit of electricity on Henry, whereas Anthems in Eden could have been performed at any stage back to the middle ages. 

You could choose to simply look at the album as as a piece of musical archeology or a nostalgia trip but I’d see it as a defiant rejection of the rock'n'roll era, the march of capitalism, and conflicts on foreign shores from someone who’d collaborated with legendary ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax and studied the traditional forms at length.

The entirely traditional 1976 content (Fare The Well My Dearest DearC'Est La Fin/ Pou Mon CuerBonny KateAdieu To All Judges and Juries,  Edi Beo Thu Hevene QueneBlack Joker/Black, White, Yellow & Green) fits well tacked on at the end of proceedings here, though they’ve managed to sneak regular drums (Fairport’s Dave Mattacks, electric bass (Pat Donaldson, Ashley Hutchings) and Simon Nicol’s electric guitar in there as well. That’s logical, since the second of the Shirley and Dolly Collins Harvest albums, 1970’s Love, Death and the Lady, uses a sparser subset of the instrumentalists who appeared on Anthems in Eden.

Playing through The Harvest Years, however, you get the decided impression that someone’s getting a little fast and loose with the sequencing. Put the extra material that was recorded a couple of years later at the end of proceedings, fine, but we’ve got extra tracks recorded at the Love, Death and the Lady  sessions that appears before the tracks that comprise the actual album. It’s one of those cases where the digital edition comes up wanting, but the reader, of course, has Hughesy and the consolidation of various on-line sources so who needs digital booklets?

So, recorded at the same sessions that produced what follows, we have Sailor From DoverYoung JohnShort Jacket and White Trousers and The Bold Fisherman duly followed by Death and the Lady,  GlenlogieThe Oxford GirlAre You Going To Leave Me? The Outlandish Knight, Go From My Window, Young Girl Cut Down In Her Prime,  GeordieSalisbury PlainFair Maid of IslingtonSix DukesPolly on the Shore and Plains of Waterloo


© Ian Hughes 2012