Fairport Convention at Savile theatre oct 1967
Her Fairport Chronicles and Beyond
interview by John Wisniewski
English folk music dates back to Medieval times and even what was known as the 'folk revival' there dates back to the 19th century. How's that for old school? While the US had its own imported folk booms (and busts) culminating in the 1950's and '60's, the Byrds' folk rock fusion made its way back across the Atlantic to the ears of young impressionables like a bunch of North Londoners who mixed in their love to UK trad folk into their band Fairport Convention, featuring miraculous guitarist/songwriter Richard Thompson and like the Byrds, enamoured of Bob Dylan (covering several then-unreleased songs of his early on). Judy Dyble was their first singer alongside Iain Matthews and appears on their self-titled 1968 debut. Dyble was out of the band after that (more below), replaced by Sandy Denny, but she had a few musical tricks up her sleeve still. She recorded a few demos alongside Ian McDonald and a Dorset trio called Giles, Giles and Fripp, all of whom (except Judy) would soon morph into King Crimson in 1968. Dyble would then team up with keyboardist/singer Jackie McAuley (who had been in Them, Van Morrison's pre-fame band) and members of Rod Stewart's solo band to form Trader Horne in 1969, who would put out their first/only album the following year, Morning Way. After withdrawing from music in the early '70's, Dyble would participate in a number of Fairport reunions in 1981 and throughout the end of the millennium and early aughts (most recently in 2007). She would also step out on her own in the early 2000's, putting out several albums with some help from her old Fairport and Crimson buddies and her autobiography in 2016 and a 3-CD career spanning box (2015's Gathering the Threads). You could say Dyble is old school herself, with quite an impressive pedigree.
PSF: What was the first band that you were in?
JD: It was 1964, I was 15, still at school and with several friends in Muswell Hill London, a band was formed. We were called Judy and the Folkmen. The leader of the band was Bruce West, a fan of American guitarists and folk music so our repertoire was mainly Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy, Pete Seeger and the Weavers, plus a smattering of other traditional songs. We did two gigs as far as I can remember and then the band disintegrated.
PSF: When and how did you join Fairport Convention?
JD: I joined Fairport officially in June 1968 although I had been part of the musical variations of the band for several months before, playing in any of the particular formations of folk, jug band and duos that needed a bit of an autoharp and a female voice. None of the original band liked to sing so I was the nearest singer they knew so I was sort of co-opted into the band
PSF: What was the recording of that debut album like?
JD: It was a whole new experience for all of us, being the first time we'd been in a proper recording studio with proper engineers and producers. So it was a rapid learning experience on everyone's part. Often we were recording during the night after having done a gig somewhere, following sessions by the Incredible String Band or Pink Floyd in the studio (the piano piece “Portfolio” was played by me on the studio piano which was exceedingly out tune, due to having been rather heavily played by Pink Floyd. Or so I was told).
It was an extraordinary thing to hear the music, which we had only really heard in rehearsal or at a noisy gig, come to life in the studio... getting the hang of headphones and the dead sound of a sound-proofed room, all added to the new and astounding experience...
PSF: Why did you leave Fairport Convention?
JD: Oh, I have answered this question so many times.. Basically, the band decided my voice wasn't strong enough and I was singing out of tune. Remember, this was the era when on stage monitors hadn't been invented, I was standing in front of three loud amplifiers and the only way I could hear what I was singing was via the PA system which naturally was facing the audience. Perhaps my voice didn't gel well with Iain Matthew's voice, So anyway, the decision was made and I was told to leave. It hurt then and it still has the ability to worry me now. :-)
PSF: Can we next go to your time with Robert Fripp and Peter and Michael Giles. How did you meet those guys?
JD: I met Ian McDonald long before we met Giles, Giles and Fripp. Ian and I were sort of boyfriend/girlfriend and were doing a bit of singing together. Ian had just left the Army where he had been training as a musician. I think he enjoyed the music training but was not that happy with Army life. I'd been at a loose end after leaving Fairport and our paths somehow crossed, (neither of us can remember how we met!).
Anyway, we decided that we needed to work with other musicians as well so an advert was put in Melody Maker, and we received a reply from Peter Giles. Ian had a long conversation with Peter and we were invited to go to the flat in Brondesbury Road to meet Peter, Mike and Robert (or Bob as we called him then).
The Melody Maker ad Judy refers to
So over cups of tea and after lots of talking with these three strange characters, we decided to see what would happen if we combined Ian's songs (co-written with Pete Sinfield) with the GG&F songs. We practiced a bit and I was taught some of the songs and they learnt the music of ours and Peter recorded the end result on his trusty Revox so that we could all see what would work and what wouldn't. Obviously it was a successful experiment because for a brief time we became the awkwardly named 'Giles, Giles, Fripp McDonald and Dyble.' However, situations changed and I parted company amicably with them and later Peter also moved on to other things, leaving Giles, Fripp and McDonald to become the nucleus of the King Crimson of much wondrousness. I am still in touch with them all and delighted to be so
PSF: You were also part of a singing duo called Trader Horne. You released the LP Morning Way. Could you tell us about this?
JD: Sharing a flat with the late Martin Quittenton who was at the time (1969) currently recording and writing with Rod Stewart and other musicians, I was introduced to Pete Sears who was sharing a flat with ex 'Them' musician Jackie McAuley. We decided to form a trio and had rehearsed a few songs together, when Pete decided to leave England and move to the US and join Leigh Stephens in Silver Metre,( then Jefferson Starship, Hot Tuna, Stoneground, Grateful Dead amongst others), so Jackie and I were left as a duo, and we did a few gigs.
Our manager Barry Taylor, took us, now named Trader Horne (suggested by John Peel after the name of his childhood nanny), to meet Barry Murray who was the Dawn label's producer and we recorded our only album Morning Way with him. I wrote the title track and one other track co-written with Martin Quittenton and we trudged up and down the UK gigging and playing at many venues till I was exhausted and left the band in 1970.
After that I married and had children and ran a cassette duplicating company with my husband until his death in 1994. And in 2004, I started again.
PSF: On the subject of the band Trader Horne, what was your vision for the band?
JD: I'm not sure we had anything like a vision, Jackie and I both enjoyed singing together and we thought we'd just carry on and see where we went with it. Mostly it involved being sent up and down the country on an exhausting itinerary, in a car driven by Jackie.
Jackie and Judy (Trader Horne) 1970
PSF: What did you think of the Morning Way album?
JD: It was an interesting album, I liked the songs Jackie wrote and I had begun to write songs myself so I was proud of it..
PSF: Why did the band split up?
JD: Exhaustion mainly, and in my case the lack of care for our well-being. With Jackie driving long distances then playing, then driving somewhere else, then getting up and doing the same thing all over again. I think I was burnt out, even though we had started adding a bass player and drummer who drove a van, it was still a nightmare of logistics. And instead of the record company having any sympathy, or suggestions of help, I was threatened with legal action...
PSF: Why did you decide to leave the music business in the early 1970's?
JD: It sort of decided to leave me really. My husband and I wanted to leave London and move somewhere quieter where he could develop his cassette duplicating business, so we moved to Northamptonshire where we bought a small house and I went back to being a library assistant in the libraries there and so we lost touch with a lot of the music business friends and associates. And I stopped listening to music and became involved in family life with our two children and running the cassette business with Simon. Yes there were the odd times when I thought about making music again but really I was too long away from it and too busy.
PSF: What led you to return to making albums in the early 2000's?
JD: Accident mainly, I had been asked by Fairport to join them at their anniversary year concerts so I performed with the band at the 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2017 festivals. Just a couple of songs at each, and after the 2002 concert I was approached by Marc Swordfish of Astralasia (via the Talking Elephant record label) to perhaps work together. As my husband had passed away and the cassette business had dissolved, the children had grown and left home for university and I was on my own, I thought it might be an interesting thing to do.
PSF: What was it like to play with Fairport again after all those years?
JD: It was a rediscovery of the playing with friends from my teenagerhood.
PSF: How did you approach your music differently than before?
JD: During the 30 years I was out of music, the Internet had arrived and the recording methods had evolved so it was possible to record easily in a home environment, so Marc came here with his laptop computer and recorded my vocals in my home. Which was a very comfortable thing to do. And (it's) how I have mostly worked since. :-)
PSF: For your album Talking with Strangers (2009), you were working with members of King Crimson and Fairport.
JD: Yes, mostly by remote recordings from Pat Mastelotto and Ian McDonald and I was given a soundscape to use from Robert, Simon Nicol came and played a piece of guitar for me. It was nice to have those contributions as part of my return.
PSF: Did the positive reaction to the album change your thinking about your music in any way?
JD: Not really, I just continued to say yes to (almost!) everything which came my way and tried to sing the music which was presented to me. :-)
PSF: Around this time, you started doing live gigs again. Did that help to restore your confidence to do shows again?
JD: Yes and no. With the help of the marvellous musicians in my band I was given the confidence to sing live again, but I still don't really enjoy it, I do find it stressful and am delighted when it is over.
PSF: The Newborn Creatures project (2009) must have been difficult for you, with the outcome and all. How do you feel about it now?
JD: I actually listened to the final mastered tracks the other day. Although the words have been re-imagined to fit other music, and the music was re-imagined to fit new words and a new singer, I regret that the album as it was originally created never saw the light of day. Perhaps one day it will...
PSF: Flow and Change (2013) was done with members of Counting Crows, Spiritualized and All About Eve. How do you think this later generation related to you and your work?
JD: They all seemed to be very happy to be asked to contribute to the album and I was really delighted that they made such wonderful contributions. I never thought to ask how they felt about singing with an old lady.
PSF: Did you feel a reciprocal bond with their own work?
JD: I love them as artists and as friends and I love the work they do. I would be happy to work with them all again.
Fairport's Cropredy Convention 50th Anniversary
PSF: In 2015, you reissued and did reunion shows for Trader Horne. How did it feel to be doing the songs/album again years later for newer audiences?
JD: It was great to work with Jack again and the songs seem to have stood the test of time, and I think the audience were delighted to hear us sing them.?
PSF: When you did your recent biography An Accidental Musician (2016), why did you decide the time was right to do the book?
JD: I had been thinking about writing something for a long time, and had started writing many beginnings, which got so far and then got stuck. While creating the Anthology, the highly regarded writer, Dave Thompson, offered to do the liner notes for that, and because I had had to explain much of the stories behind the tracks I used, he already knew a lot of my history. He then offered to help me write an autobiography, so I sent all the beginnings I had written, he sorted them out and asked questions and rewrote and added and made the whole thing readable and in order and the result was... An Accidental Musician. So right time, right place, right collaborator.
PSF: After you had written it, did it feel in a way that you were fondly recounting your career or perhaps closing out part of it in a way?
JD: A mixture of both, some things put to rest, some things happy, some things sad, all of it not only about my career but about my whole life up to that point. I always leave the door open to additions and corrections, should it ever get reprinted (unlikely!!).
PSF: Could you tell us about the 3-CD set Gathering the Threads?
JD: In 2007 Sanctuary Records told me that they were going to release an Anthology of all my music they licensed and asked whether I had any other demos etc they could add to it. This plan came to nothing as Sanctuary were taken over and the project was forgotten. So over the next few years as more early recordings surfaced, I began to put together an anthology of my musical things. Not necessarily the best songs, but the odder bits of music, with collaborations with interesting people, and the songs which had been lying around in dusty corners.. So that was the origin of Gathering the Threads – Fifty Years of Stuff, It covered the years between 1964 and 2014 and was quite complicated in getting permissions from all the artists involved, It was always going to be a very limited edition of 450 copies as I compiled and released it myself in 2015. It sold out very quickly although I kept a few copies back which I am now selling for a fortune! Only 10 copies left now!
Also see Judy Dyble's website
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