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Judy Dyble is one of those rare artistes for whom the word ‘legendary’ is not hyperbole. She was the original singer with Fairport Convention, she sang with the earliest incarnations of the band that was to become King Crimson,and she once sat on the edge of the stage knitting as Richard Thompson and Jimi Hendrix did their own inimitable thing.
She also disappeared from the music scene, apparently to become a librarian, and apart from a few times when she poked her head out above the parapet, (to play a one-off guest appearance with Fairport Convention at Cropredy, for example) she drifted off the musical radar until the early years of this current century when a series of lyrical and beautifully lilting but very low-key records began to emerge.
Then in 2009 she released Talking with Strangers, a glorious record, which she made in conjunction with Tim Bowness of No-Man, and the multi-talented Alastair Murphy. It featured a slew of names from her illustrious past including various King Crimson and Fairport Convention alumni, and guest appearances by three of the most distinctive folk-rock songstrels of all time: Julianne Regan of All about Eve, Jacqui McShee from Pentangle, and Celia Humphris from The Trees. It was an absolute masterpiece, and – despite its distinguished pedigree – always managed to sound refreshingly contemporary. But it was a one-off, we all thought. It was the sort of career-defining record that only comes off once in a lifetime, and she will never be able to match it.
We were completely wrong because that is exactly what she has done.
Her new album Flow and Change is – if anything – even better. It is a more intimate and personal album than its predecessor. The opening song is Black Dog Dreams, (co-written by Hawkwind and High Tide alumnus, Simon House), which features some surprisingly heavy, but searingly lyrical lap steel guitar courtesy of Mike Mooney from Echo and the Bunnymen.
This sets out the stall for the entire album: It is intimate, confessional, lyrical, beautiful and very English. But above all it is invocatory: music works on some of the most basal emotions in the human psyche – it can make us fall in love, it can send us off to war, or – in the case of Judy’s beautiful new album – it can conjure up a completely magickal world, which in some ways is more real than our own.
Another song, Featherdancing, is autobiographical, and reminded me of the writings of the late, great Jessica Mitford, another Cotswolds lass who came from another time and another place, except that Jessica couldn’t really sing and didn’t have a string quartet to die for. I could write a screed on each of the ten songs, and probably will at some point. However, if I did, these notes would be the size of a small book, which would defeat the purpose.
One thing that I find very impressive is that for an ‘old school’ artist whose first recordings came out over forty years ago, Judy has adapted surprisingly well to the 21st Century modus operandii of recording, which involves one clever man, a laptop and a bunch of talented musicians scattered around the globe who never actually meet in the flesh.
She told me:
“Well, I was really delighted I could do it this way by having people come to me with a laptop because with the health problems that I have I really can’t travel – it is really quite stressful to go – besides which I can’t afford to pay for a studio. So I was just very lucky to find the people who were brilliantly talented who had the ability to record me, and who were happy to come here and record me and take the stuff away and turn it into something else. I am very happy working with laptops and things. Provided nobody asks me how it works, because I’ve no idea – it’s magic as far as I’m concerned.”
And she is right. This is magick; this album is something very, very special and I urge everyone who reads this to go out and buy it. But this time I am not going to make the mistake of supposing that this is going to be the zenith of Judy’s remarkable career. I have no doubt that this remarkable lady, with her remarkable lyrical talent and her remarkable voice, is going to continue to surprise us all for many years to come. And personally – I cannot wait. JON DOWNES.