She was the first singer with Fairport Convention.
She was in Giles, Giles & Fripp, and was one half of cult-duo Trader Horne. Now Judy Dyble retrospects it all on a magical triple-CD set, ‘Gathering The Threads’.
There’s a lot to talk through…
Judy Dyble has her own blackbird. It waits impatiently on the gutter by the kitchen, waiting for the door to open, so it can steal inside and theft a grape, or maybe two. While Judy sits by the window in a pink room, where – through the window, the crystals are dancing on the Crystal Tree in the garden. Greyhound Betty Blue lies on the floor in a tousled heap, recovering from a walk around the Teenage Wood.
‘Like the single groove of a beautiful black vinyl record, the music spins out through my life and my days…’ oozes Judy Dyble. Today, she’s ‘delighted to natter.’ But it must be strange to have journalists quizzing her cheeky questions about things she did way back in 1968…! Me? I’d be pushed to recall many details of what I was doing in 1968! ‘It is strange’ she agrees. ‘It’s amazing that I can remember anything really. Even stranger when they think they know more about what I did than I do. Yes, I’ve had that phrase ‘I think you’ll find you didn’t do-weren’t there…’ thrown at me from time to time. I just wonder whether someone was hiding in the cupboard somewhere.’
Judy Aileen Dyble’s current ‘Gathering The Threads’ 3CD-digipak is subtitled ‘Fifty Years Of Stuff’, and it’s a stash of lost gems strewn across English Folk-Rock’s most vibrant decades. There’s a twenty-page booklet too, charting her music all the way from her earliest 1964 Judy & The Folkmen home recordings of the Appalachian tune “Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies” and “Spanish Is A Lovin’ Tongue”, into her 1966 improvisations with a young Richard Thompson, then a teasing glimpse of Fairport Convention demos. There’s Giles, Giles & Fripp – but no Trader Horne, leading up to her enigmatic step back into rural Oxfordshire seclusion with her dogs. And a rich trove of her more recent solo work, in various innovative configurations.
Yes, she muses ‘vinyl records have always been a vital part of my listening ears, the records my Mum and Dad had, and listened to, from scratchy Caruso and the Student Prince. Then the singles of my teenage years, when those small black discs held the magic of the Beatles and the Stones.’ But wasn’t there ever a teen-fan phase in her native Bicester? ‘Bobby Vee was my favourite of all time’ she admits. ‘Him, and Gene Pitney. And the Crickets. Not Elvis though! My tastes were very eclectic, my sisters and I listened to Radio Luxembourg on crystal sets, and fell asleep with the headphones on, and woke up with dents in the top of our heads! We listened to trad jazz and modern jazz – the strangely wonderful timings of Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis, Pop and Country and film music and whatever anyone who bought a record would play us.’
Surely the earliest tracks on the compilation must have been done when she was… what, fifteen or sixteen? On one of those big Grundig tape-recorders on the kitchen table? ‘One of the band had a tape-recorder running at the flat where Judy & The Folkmen were messing around at Christmas in 1964. He recorded us all playing and singing, then – out of the blue, he sent it to me about six years ago. It needed to be turned into a listenable CD, but a friend of mine managed to get a passable sound out of it.’ So where did a song like “Spanish Is The Lovin’ Tongue” come from – Tom Paxton or Ian & Sylvia, the Dylan version didn’t emerge until later? ‘‘Spanish’ was one of the songs Bruce (West, of The Folkmen) taught me, along with much of Leadbelly and Doc Watson and Woody Guthrie – all the songs of those old Blues and Folk guitarists, because they were his heroes.’
Now Fairport Convention are a veritable Cropredy tradition, back then – with Ashley ‘Tiger’ Hutchings who lived ‘around the corner’ in Bounds Green, Simon Nicol and eighteen-year-old Richard Thompson on Gibson, they were as much part of the emerging counterculture as ‘It (International Times)’ itself. ‘I guess you’re aware that my late husband – Simon Stable (Simon de la Bedoyere), was a contributor to ‘It’ in the early seventies?’ she points out. ‘Those were the days of incomprehensible printings of yellow on blue. Almost unreadable it was!’ A tradition worth continuing, maybe?
‘It was an exciting time to be alive’ she enthuses. While she was still doing her ‘A’-levels, she was fronting the group and keeping the press suitably confused. The early Fairports with – first Shaun Frater, then the late Martin Lambe on drums, were frequently compared to Jefferson Airplane. Not as strange as it seems. The original folkie Airplane vocalist, Signe Anderson, did their 1966 ‘Takes Off’ album, before stepping aside. Same with Judy. Many chanteuse in the Folk-zone have that pure almost featureless vocal perfection, Judy adds a certain uncertainty, an edge of distinctive character, merging harmonies to Iain ‘Matthews’ McDonald’s lead voice on Tim Buckley’s “Morning Glory”, or on Emitt Rhodes ‘Merry-Go-Round’ composition “Time Will Show The Wiser” with Thompson’s stinging upbeat guitar. Check the clips on YouTube.
There are two 1967 Fairport Convention demos on ‘Gathering The Threads’ – a stand-out “One Sure Thing”, in a voice to stick to all your senses, and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (Judy sings entrancing lead on a studio version of her “Chelsea Morning” on the original LP). Then Iain would chart a no.1 with his easy-on-the-ear cover of Joni’s “Woodstock” later with his Southern Comfort. Meanwhile, Judy adds a solo 2014 ‘Live At WM Jazz’ version of the group’s debut single “If I Had A Ribbon Bow” as a bonus on the third CD, supernaturally tuned to the moon.
Was she nervous on stage in those early days, or the anticipation to going on stage? Or was it just a natural progression from playing Pub music-lounges to larger venues…? ‘Always nervous. Was then – still am. We didn’t play pubs so much with Fairport Convention, we went from church halls to hippy clubs and ‘Middle Earth’ and ‘UFO’ then to universities. And it all happened in a matter of months. There were many more small venues in those days, I think. It seems we were in the right place at the right time. But then, as now, in my case, there was no way to not go on stage, despite the nerves. I just went on stage and did it…’
There was a recent BBC4 rock-umentary about groups on 1960s tour-buses. Sonja Kristina was featured, talking about being the only girl on the road with the sweaty unhygienic guys of Curved Air. It must have been similar for Judy on those early Fairport dates? ‘Yes, I saw that documentary, my experience was very similar to what Sonja said, but we were very polite and just got on with driving around and playing. No concessions were made to me, as a girl. It was assumed that I would just get on with it. And I did.’
Coolly bespectacled, she plays recorder and she plays autoharp, between numbers she sits and knits. Joe Boyd produced their album, his ‘Witchseason’ management was also responsible for the Incredible String Band who also recorded at the same studio, so she and Richard found themselves singing back-up on “The Minotaur’s Song” on their charting ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ (1968) album. And the group was playing live alongside Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd – she includes a previously unissued 1982 demo of her doing “See Emily Play” on CD2.
Maybe impressions were stronger back then because the events were significant? Or maybe that’s just hindsight, perhaps they didn’t seem significant at the time? Did she feel she was caught up in something amazing? ‘It was certainly fascinating, the people we met and interacted with were quite extraordinary, but to be honest, everything happened so quickly and we were rushing around the country, there wasn’t really time to sit back and think about what was happening, or how it must appear to others.’
From the start, the Fairports were a shifting constellation. And after recording their first group album together Judy was already moving into her next phase. Peter & Michael Giles had picked up virtuoso guitarist Robert Fripp through a ‘Melody Maker’ small-ad, to form Giles, Giles & Fripp. Signed to Deram they add Judy, and recruit multi-instrumentalist (a different) Ian McDonald. They rehearse and record together on a Revox machine. Four tracks – including Peter Sinfield’s ethereal “Under The Sky”, originally rejected by Deram, was issued as a 1992 bonus track on their ‘The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles And Fripp’ CD.
With Fripp’s metamorphosis into King Crimson some of the rehearsal tracks were carried over. Judy updates her own version of one of them, “I Talk To The Wind” on CD2. To further complicate the history, there’s a Judy-vocal version on the compilation ‘A Young Person’s Guide To King Crimson’ (1976), a track which first saw light on the Giles, Giles & Fripp ‘The Brondesbury Tapes’ (1968), from which Judy’s smooth Prog-Jazz “Make It Today” is also lifted. Meanwhile, although Ian stayed with Crimson, she didn’t. Yet they’d work together again much later, on Judy’s 2009 ‘Talking With Strangers’ album.
Many of the physical details of who did what and when are now on the internet, although they’re not always correct. There’s even some web-confusion concerning the two ‘Ian McDonalds’. ‘Yes, no matter how often I say they weren’t the same person the lazier people never bother to check, they just use the first bit they find. Really frustrating when this kind of idiotic info appears on a CD sleeve-note, as it did with the ‘Esoteric’ Trader Horne reissue. Grrr…!’ She’d linked up with Jackie McAuley, formerly of Them, for Trader Horne, yet that 2008 ‘Esoteric’ reissue of the duo’s only LP, ‘Morning Way’ (with two formerly singles-only bonus tracks) makes a nice package… despite the sleeve-note error!
‘Actually, the re-mastering of Trader Horne was non-existent on that re-issue, apart from compressing the sound and making it louder. But I had no control over that.’Despite – or maybe because of this recent reissue attention, and a reactivation of the duo for new live dates, there’s no Trader Horne on the CDs.
Meanwhile, she became – to quote “One Sure Thing”, ‘a leaf without a tree’.
— 0 —
Judy Dyble has her own blackbird. Or, from another skewed perspective, maybe the blackbird has her? She watches its ‘flappingness’.
Today, she’s ‘delighted to natter. Because other people’s questions always seem to elicit things I have forgotten.’ The only problem I forsee is one of interface. ‘I assume iChat is something to do with iPhones or something similar?’ she queries. ‘As you might be able to tell, I don’t have it! I have an ancient mobile – which just does texts and calls, and not much else. But I do have Skype if that’s a help…’ Yes, that’s great. ‘…but no video cam! Old-fashioned moi. A bit of a Luddite. I usually do interviews by email or phone, or meet up somewhere if that’s convenient…?’
Photos on her website show her now. With round blue-tint spectacles. Judy in disguise, with glasses. She’s a mum-of-two and grandmother of two (Freya Boatchild and Eleanor Spellcaster). In the seventies she married, stepped back from music, and ran a cassette-duplicating business in Launton. Although she did the Cropredy Festival thing, rejoining the Fairports onstage for anniversary gigs (she’s there doing “Jack O’Diamonds” on the 1999 ‘The Cropredy Box’). But it was dance-group Astralasia – using samples of her voice, which lured her back. Subsequent work, scattered across limited editions and collaborative efforts, reveal Judy as an innovative experimentalist edging into ambient-jazz and world-music even where the roots remain, both elements coming together in her reworking of “One Sure Thing” with the Conspirators. ‘I was never a ‘sensible Folkie’’ she agrees, ‘if indeed, I was ever a ‘proper Folkie.’
And there’s six solo albums, count them! I wonder how her onstage mindset back then, compares to her ‘come-back’ to performing now…? Is it different…? Is it more considered and thought-through now…? Is it more relaxed…? ‘No, more likely it’s exactly the same as then, even though I have the comfort of a superb band (The Perfect Strangers) behind me. There’s still that desire to run away before I go on. But something won’t let me do that. My sense of honour won’t let me let people down who have travelled to hear me sing, or let down the band who have come to accompany me. So I go on stage, and open my mouth, and hope something listenable comes out. First song is usually a bit rubbish, but after that it’s OK.’
The ‘Gathering The Threads’ set must be kind-of like browsing a Family Photo-album, each track sparking off different unique memories and reactions. ‘It is indeed, that is what it was supposed to do. Dave Thompson, who did the sleeve-notes, is now co-writing my biography because he now knows more about my life than I do.’
Unlike the Trader Horne re-issue, she actually had control over the selection of tracks… within the limits of copyright, so it’s very much a personal project. ‘Oh yes. It really was everything that I could find that I’d had something to do with. Some released officially, some released privately, and some that were just recorded and not used. The other reason for not wanting to licence Fairport Convention or Trader Horn material was really that they had been released and re-released so many times officially on compilations etc, that I felt they were over-used. Plus, if I had put those tracks on, the whole anthology would have been unwieldy. I wanted to have the rare and unknown, and un- and under-released stuff. And, as you say, I had control, so I could do what I wanted… Mwah-ahahah (evil chuckle)…’
The standard answer for an artist is to claim that ‘all my albums/ songs are my children, and it’s impossible to choose one over the other’, but are there tracks on ‘Gathering The Threads’ – especially from the ‘second career phase’ material, which has a special resonance or affection? ‘Yes, indeed there are. “Wintersong” is definitely one. All my songs are personal, they all have a relevancy to my life when I wrote them, and in turn they do seem to have some sort of resonance for many people who hear them.Possibly – and I hope, because they are honest, but not so personal that people can see their own lives mirrored in them. “Wintersong” was written about the loss of someone dearly beloved, but knowing that as long as they remain in memory, they are never quite gone.’
That song came from her ‘Flow And Change’ album, which looks back to her childhood with her sisters on “Featherdancing”, and then into the future with her first granddaughter on “Beautiful Child”, implying an element of ‘flow and change’ in the genetic continuity that this represents. ‘That’s a nice thing to say’ she concedes, ‘and I think you are right.’
Despite her professed techno-primitivism, these new-phase albums use ‘cut-&-paste’ computer technology, so all the musicians credited on the liner notes aren’t necessarily present in the studio at the same time. Like Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney weren’t actually physically together when they did those ‘duets’ on ‘Thriller’…! ‘All done that way, yes, and seamlessly joined together. Bits were recorded in Alistair (Murphy)’s tiny studio shed, bits recorded here, and the rest sent by the internet (via ‘Myspace’) and mixed in.’
It’s amazing to consider that Judy started out recording with Joe Boyd at Chelsea Sound Techniques on… what would it have been – eight-track? yet now she’s working in this new-age way. Which, in a sense is the fulfilment of the old hippie idea of being both high-tech and a ‘cottage industry’ at one and the same time. ‘Yes, it is extraordinary’ she considers. ‘I have been interviewed on this exact subject for an academic paper, having been recorded on analogue equipment, then returning to music by recording digitally.’ She pauses to consider. ‘Much more relaxing, digitally.’
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
JUDY DYBLE: THE SECOND PHASE DISCOGRAPHY
‘GATHERING THE THREADS’ (Starcrazy)
1. ‘Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies’ – Judy & The Folkmen home recording, 1964
2. ‘Spanish Is A Lovin’ Tongue’ – Judy & The Folkmen home recording, 1964
3. ‘Improvisation’ – Judy Dyble and Richard Thompson edited home recording, 1966
4. ‘Both Sides Now’ – previously unissued Fairport Convention demo, 1967
5. ‘One Sure Thing’ – previously unissued Fairport Convention demo, 1967
6. ‘Make It Today’ – Giles Giles & Fripp, 1968
7. ‘Passages Of Time’ – Giles Giles & Fripp, 1968
8. ‘Under The Sky’ – Giles Giles & Fripp, 1968
9. ‘Murder’ – Giles Giles & Fripp, 1968
10. ‘May Four’ – GF Fitzgerald, 1970
11. ‘Better Side Of Me’ – unissued baroque-Pop demo of Marianne ‘Jade’ Segal’s song with Mike Batt, 1972
12. ‘ Hear A Song’ – previously unissued demo, 1973
13. ‘Satisfied Mind’ – cassingle, 1974
14. ‘See Emily Play’ – previously unissued demo with Adrian Wagner, 1982
15. ‘Mirror Master’ – advert for cassette tape by Judy and husband Simon Stable, 1982
16. ‘Going Home’ – from Judy’s CD ‘Enchanted Garden’, 2004
17. ‘Rivers Flow’ – from Judy’s CD ‘Enchanted Garden’, 2004
18. ‘Star Crazy’ – from Judy’s CD ‘Enchanted Garden’, 2004
19. ‘Lost In Fingest’ – from Judy’s CD ‘Spindle’, 2006
20. ‘Shining’ – from Judy’s CD ‘Spindle’, 2006
21. ‘I Talk To The Wind’ – from Judy’s CD ‘The Whorl’, 2006
22. ‘Seventh Whorl’ – from Judy’s CD ‘The Whorl’, 2006
23. ‘In The Moment’ – previously unissued from Electronic Voice Phenomena ft. JD, 2007
24. ‘Little No-One’ – previously unissued demo from ‘Songs From The Blue House’, 2007
25. ‘One Sure Thing’ – single by The Conspirators ft. JD, 2008
26. ‘Noh Kro Poh’ – previously unissued by Joxfield Project ft. JD, 2008
27. ‘Looking Glass’ – with Colin Harper from ‘Freedom & The Dream Penguin’, 2008
28. ‘Every Sentimental Moment’ – single by King’s Cross, 2009
29. ‘Still Shining’ – from Judy’s vinyl edition of ‘Songs From Spindle & The Whorl’, 2006
30. ‘C’est La Vie’ – Greg Lake’s song from Judy’s CD ‘Talking With Strangers’, 2009
31. ‘Talking With Strangers’ – from Judy’s CD ‘Talking With Strangers’, 2009
32. ‘Waiting’ – from vinyl picture-disc ‘Fragile’, 2010
33. ‘Sparkling’ – from vinyl picture-disc ‘Fragile’, 2010
34. ‘Fragile’ – from vinyl picture-disc ‘Fragile’, 2010
35. ‘An Evening In The Fall’ – by Sand Snowman from ‘Nostalgia Ever After’, 2010
36. ‘Wintersong’ – from Judy’s CD ‘Flow And Change’, 2013
37. ‘Weather Changes’ – by Dodson & Fogg from ‘Dodson And Fogg’, 2012
38. ‘Me And The City’ – by Sand Snowman from ‘Sleepers Hide & Seek’, 2013
39. ‘All The Faces Of The Crowd’ – by Sand Snowman from ‘Sleepers Hide & Seek’, 2013
40. ‘Relentless’ – by Thee Faction from ‘Songs To Remind The Class etc’, 2013
41. ‘The Blue Barracuda’ – by Füxa from ‘Dirty D’, 2013
42. ‘Satellite Calling’ – by Sleepyard from ‘Black Sails’, 2014
43. ‘Rainy Day Vibrations’ – by Sleepyard from ‘Black Sails’, 2014
44. ‘Song Of The Surf’ – previously unissued, 2014
45. ‘Take Me Dancing’ – previously unissued, 2014
46. ‘RadioWaves’ – previously unissued duet with Jackie McAuley, 2014
47. ‘Jenny May’ – Trader Horne ‘Morning Way’ song from ‘Live At WM Jazz’, 2014
48. ‘If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ – Judy’s Fairport Convention song from ‘Live At WM Jazz’, 2014
‘ENCHANTED GARDEN’ (Talking Elephant, September 2004) Hawkwind/High Tide Simon House adds violin to this reverby New Agey album, with Astralasia’s Marc Swordfish programming
‘SPINDLE’ (Talking Elephant, March 2006) opens with ‘See Emily Play’, produced by Marc Swordfish – who co-wrote the songs with Judy, incorporating New Age trance-beats, and features Robert Fripp soundscaping ‘Shining’, and banjo-player Dave ‘Doc Mahone’ Russell
‘THE WHORL’ (Talking Elephant, July 2006) recorded in Launton and ‘The Manor’, nine tracks including her updated version of ‘I Talk To The Wind’, plus ‘Seventh Whorl’ and ‘Forever Shining’ with Simon House, Robert Fripp, Pete Sinfield, Phoebe Thomasson and Giles Bolton
‘TALKING WITH STRANGERS’ (Fixit Records, August 2009) ‘after three decades away from the studio, and assisted by luminaries from both her earlier career (Robert Fripp and Simon Nicol) and the contemporary scene… isn’t trad, weird or, in any sense of the word, fiddly. Nor, as might be feared, is it twee, or so tasteful as to have no savour at all. Rather, it is quietly sweetly ambitious, ornate and atmospheric, and a pleasant surprise’ (‘Mail On Sunday’), recorded with Myspace internet participation of musicians from Texas (drums), flute (New York), Tim Bowness, and voices (France and London). Includes 19-minute Prog-suite ‘Harpsong’, plus ‘Neverknowing” and ‘In The Silence’ with the lyric ‘it was always meant to be’ exhaled like a deep breath. Promoted by a 10 August performance at the Barbican
‘FRAGILE’ (Brilliant Records, January 2011) all three tracks from this EP collected onto ‘Gathering The Threads’
‘FLOW AND CHANGE’ (Gonzo Multimedia HST150CD, July 2013) opens with ‘Black Dog Dreams’ – ‘the creatures of legend and lie’, co-written with Hawkwind Simon House, with lap-steel from Mike Mooney (Echo & Bunnymen). Producer Alistair Murphy using computer-mix to draw geographically diverse elements together. ‘Sisterhood Of Ruralists’ celebrates the arts-collective responsible for the cover-art. ‘Featherdancing’ looks back to Judy’s childhood with her two sisters, while ‘Beautiful Child (Freya’s Song)’ looks to the future, dedicated to her granddaughter. ‘In the flow and change of life from my earliest musical beginnings… through the amazing feeling of holding a copy of my own singing on an LP in the sixties and seventies and not quite believing they were really real… to the present day of the issuing of my newest release Flow and Change’
‘LIVE AT WM JAZZ’ (Cromerzone, August 2014)