I went to St Michael’s Primary School, Wood Green, and then Minchenden Grammar School, Southgate.
I had piano lessons from quite a young age but, although I ended up being able to read music, I wasn’t really able to improvise. A question of too many/not enough lessons. I also learned to play the recorder at school (didn’t we all?).
Somewhere around 1963 I met people who were into playing music. Half of them seemed to be rock climbers who would spend the nights singing traditional folk songs accompanied by banjos and mandolins in wooden huts. The other half played guitar and listened to Pete Seeger, Big Bill Broonzy, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Woody Guthrie. Quite often, the two lots would mix and end up at folk clubs like the Atlas Folk and Blues Club in Fulham or Bunjies.
1st Band – ‘Judy and the Folkmen’
It was 1964 so I must have been still at school. The rot set in early!
We had one gig at the Hornsey Conservative Association’s ‘Candlelight Soiree’. This was the one and only live performance by this band. It was a good time (even though the people at the table looked faintly horrified!) and a time of learning.
One of Bruce’s friends suggested I try playing an autoharp. I was into obscure instruments and it was smaller than a piano so I got one. It kept falling off my lap so a banjo player suggested holding it upright and using a clawhammer technique. That worked.
Nearly every pub around where we lived seemed to have clubs in the back rooms. Different clubs on different nights. Folk; Jazz; Blues; Soul; Rock ‘n’ Roll. My sister and I used to go and sometimes I’d get up and sing at the folk clubs. She was at the same school as Ashley ‘Tyger’ Hutchings and recognised him at most of the clubs.
Gradually I got to know Ashley, who lived around the corner from me, and then Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson and other groups of friends of friends of friends. By this time I had left school. I started to work at a library and decided I’d be a Librarian. To get into Library School I needed 5 ‘O’s and 2 ‘A’s and my librarian career path looked all set.
2nd Band – Fairport Convention – 1967
Ashley, Simon and Richard had now met up with Martin Lamble and Fairport Convention had convened. They quite fancied having a girl in the band and I guess I was the nearest, so I was asked. I agreed, thinking it would be a hoot. I can’t remember when my first Fairport gig was but it was probably June or July 1967. In September 1967 my eldest sister got married and I was a bridesmaid. I sang at the reception dressed in elegant pink satin and then dashed off to a gig with Fairport (not in pink satin) on a boat. I seem to remember the boat sank.
We all had jobs, Tyger as a journalist; Richard started work with stained glass artist Hans Unger. His fingertips were usually cut to ribbons. How he played guitar so brilliantly with sliced fingers never ceased to amaze. Simon had a job as film operator at one of the local cinemas. Martin’s only previous job was, (as he so delicately put it), ‘child’.
One by one the day jobs fell by the wayside and I had to make a choice between Library School and Fairport. No contest, and we set out on the upside down life of being in a band. It was fun, even the old Commer van, with no heating and a hole in the bottom where the snow came in, was fun. Bradford, (Harvey the roadie’s dog), did keep me warm in a later Transit by lying on my feet blocking up the holes in the floor.
Anyway on it went, Cilla Black was glimpsed freaking out to us at the Speakeasy (I’ve got the press cutting!), Joe Boyd professed himself ‘knocked out’ (oops sorry, Joe!) and there we were in Sound Techniques Studio recording our first album. OUR FIRST ALBUM!!!! I’m pretty sure Iain Matthews (Ian McDonald as he was known then) joined us as we were making the album. He added sort of spoken vocals to ‘If I had a Ribbon Bow’ and added harmonies to songs that I had been singing on my own or with Richard, and it all seemed to be going swimmingly. The single ‘Ribbon Bow’ was released (to stunning silence!) and we continued to gig and have a good time.
Richard and I had been sort of ‘going out’ since before I joined the band as singer, but that ground to an unspoken halt and then I was unceremoniously dumped by the band just before the album was released. Hmmm. I asked to do the last gig in Rome (why?) and then that was it. I gave them back my beloved electric harp and left to go to the airport. Then I had to go back because I’d forgotten to ask for my ticket. No one came with me and there was no one to meet mex That was May 1968. Now that all sounds far too gloomy. In fact, had it not been for leaving Fairport, I would not have been in the next right place at the next right time and never have come across my 3rd band.
3rd Band – Giles, Giles, Fripp, McDonald and Dyble – 1968
Somehow, somewhere I met up with Ian McDonald (not Iain Matthews) who was, at the time, at the Army Music School, but in the process of buying himself out. He played saxophone, flute and guitar and just about a million other things. We sang a few songs together and were a couple for a while. We wanted to play with more people so we advertised for musicians. Peter Giles answered us and we met up with Peter, his brother Mike and their friend, Robert Fripp. They had just released an album called ‘The Cheerful Insanity of Giles Giles and Fripp’ and very splendid it was too, but I don’t think the world was quite ready for them. Ian and I spent some time at their flat in Brondesbury Park, Kilburn and tried out a lot of songs together. We recorded a lot of them on Peter’s Revox, I guess so that we could hear them back. Robert made me really stretch my voice to sing what had been worked out, and, let me tell you, the improvised vocal booth that I think was carpet underfelt draped over a frame, was the hottest, itchiest place ever. These tracks have since been released as ‘The Brondesbury Tapes’; some on the vinyl album ‘Metaphormosis’; and one on ‘The Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson’. For that was what became of Giles, Giles, Fripp, McDonald and Dyble when Dyble left and Pete Sinfield joined them.
4th Band – Trader Horne – 1969
I left home, and moved into a flat in Fulham with my best friend Soup. We had met while working at Boots the chemist in Moorgate as Saturday assistants. We were both at school then, but we remained friends and still are today. We met the band Steamhammer, and Soup fell in love with Martin Quittenton the guitarist who fell in love with her, so the next move was to Notting Hill Gate where we three shared a flat. Martin knew Davy Graham who became an infrequent visitor to our flat. Famous for his fabulous guitar playing, he was sadly a very scary figure at this time. I remember hiding in my room when he came to call, I didn’t know how to deal with him at all.
I was working at the Revolution Club as a membership secretary, and next door was the Bryan Morrison Agency. Bryan asked me to record a song by the Pretty Things – ‘Loneliest Person’ from ‘S.F.Sorrow’. A beautiful song but it didn’t really work. I wish I had a copy of it.
My room had a spiral staircase leading down to one of those wonderful communal gardens you get in Notting Hill. Next door in the basement lived Brian Patten, one of the Liverpool poets. He was sweet, looked like an elf and always spoke in poetry, naturally, like breathing. He took my breath away. I used to look after his typewriter whenever he had to go away. He gave me a poem that I finally set to music last year. It became ‘Enchanted Garden’ on my CD.
In the meantime, Martin had been asked to work with Rod Stewart, along with Pete Sears. Pete shared a house with Jackie McAuley and somehow I got together with them and we rehearsed some songs. Then Pete disappeared (he was very much in demand and went to America to form Silver Meter with Leigh Stevens, and then on to join Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship and just about every other good band in the known universe) leaving Jackie and me to form Trader Horne. The name came from the late John Peel who said it was the name of his nanny. John gave me the only other solid body electric autoharp in the country at that time. The one I’d played in Fairport had been a stereo one, and was a casualty of their dreadful, tragic accident. The Trader Horne one was mono. I still have it. It still sounds lovely.
So, Trader Horne then. Barry Taylor who had been Steamhammer’s manager managed us in the beginning. He got us work for a while and then somehow Barry Murray found us and took us to Pye Records. Barry was Pye’s producer for their groovy psychedelic new label, Dawn. We were signed to the Red Bus Company for management and agency, Barry was in partnership with them as the production side (I’ve recently discovered that he’s younger than me. Crikey, he seemed so grown up at the time). He went on to huge success as Mungo Jerry’s producer amongst other things (including inventing and producing the children’s TV programme, Wizbit with Paul Daniels. Clever thing.)
Trader Horne set off on the road. And what a road it was. We seemed to be careering from one side of the country to another, then up and down with not a lot of breaks in between. I seem to remember being really tired and as for Jack – well he was doing a lot of the driving as well as playing. At one time we were appearing on a lot of those local TV magazine shows, the ones that followed the six o’clock news. We did travel to Belfast , it was in the middle of the dreadful times there. It looked forlorn in the rain with all the barbed wire. But the welcome at the TV station was warming.
We recruited a couple of extra musicians to play with us, Hugh Thomas on Guitar and Ian Gumblefinger (I do believe that was not his real name) on bass and xylophone. Hugh also helped with the driving, so I guess we must have acquired a van from somewhere, perhaps it was Hugh’s.
One nice memory of Trader Horne. Appearing on a Grampian TV music programme along with Cat Stevens amongst others. The flight back from Aberdeen was delayed by fog, so Jack and I listened to ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ being virtually written in front of our ears, and singing along with it. That was magical.
Anyway, Jackie and I made the ‘Morning Way’ album, (Brian Patten wrote the sleeve notes) and released a single and then I don’t know what happened. We were supposed to play at the Hollywood Festival but I had some sort of tantrum/brainstorm and ran away from everything. I was living with my husband to be at the time, Simon Stable, DJ and music writer extraordinaire. I left everyone in the lurch and I hereby now apologise to all. So that was the end of that.
5th Band – Dyble Coxhill & the MB’s (occasionally known as Penguin Dust) – 1971
This was a strange one. Through Simon (I was married to him by now) I met up with Lol Coxhill and Steve and Phil Miller of the Caravan/Delivery/Canterbury Bands circle. We formed DC & the MBs, (Dyble, Coxhill and the Miller Brothers) a truly strange band. We did a few gigs in Holland and then fell apart. Nothing remains of them. No recordings, no photos, just an old set-list. It was good though and very jazzy as Lol tended to be. I’m not sure who the drummer and bass player were –Jack Monk and Laurie Allen according to one family tree.
Lol still playing, as is Phil Miller. Steve sadly passed away in 1998.
That was really it for my career in music for the next 25 years. Simon and I left London for Northamptonshire. I went back to library work and he began a small cassette duplicating business, which began to grow and grow. We moved to a small village in Oxfordshire and the tape company really started to take off. We had two children and just kept working. Oh, and I did make a cassette single called ‘Satisfied Mind’ with two guitarists that had come to record in our basement in Northants. We were called Septic Tank (no, I don’t know why – stupid name).
I did briefly come out of retirement twice to guest at the Cropredy festival, in 1981, at Broughton Castle, and again in 1982. I was scared stiff both times and I’m sure it was noticeable. I also appeared in two village pantomimes and that was that.
In 1994 Simon died, and I spent the next few years in a state of numbness. The children grew up and went to University. In 1997, Fairport asked me if I would sing at the 30th Anniversary Cropredy. I said yes, without thinking, and spent the next few months chewing my fingernails and trying to think of a way of getting out of it. The first rehearsal at Woodworm felt very awkward. Remember I hadn’t seen any of them for 20 years, and although they were all still playing and had never stopped, I had really not sung a note. I was completely out of practice and felt very shy of all these now famous musicians. I could barely string two words together and I really felt that it had been a mistake to ask me. I was then told that I was playing at the warm-up gig at the Mill as well. ‘What?’ I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this twice? Oh heck!’
But a peculiar thing happened at the Mill. I came on stage to start singing at the rehearsal and suddenly the years fell away. I remembered where to stand and how to sing. I think the others were a bit surprised. I know I was really startled, but happy, and when it came to the evening performance it went really well. The audience was so friendly and positive and all at once it was wonderful to be singing with Richard, Simon and Ashley again. Just like the old days (and I shall always be grateful for the little puffs of cold air coming from Dave Mattacks’ drum kit – that was a very hot weekend). Cropredy itself was a total joy. It was early evening when I played and all I could see was a sea of welcoming faces. Mojo’s review said I had ‘gracefully aged’ (thank you, Colin Harper).
In 2002 Fairport again asked me to sing at the 35th Anniversary Cropredy. And I said yes again. I still couldn’t think of a good reason not to, so there we were. This time Iain was with us as well in the early years’ line-up, or, as I like to think of them – the Fairport Playgroup. Once again the first rehearsals were rather strained. Don’t forget, I hadn’t seen Iain for more than 30 years. But the same thing happened as before. Warm-up at the Mill and everything fell into place and by the actual Cropredy performance I was very relaxed (except that it had poured with rain during Richard’s solo set (what’s new?) and I was pretty frozen waiting backstage (and it was way past my bedtime). But it was even more fun and I wished my Simon had been there to hear me singing. My children had by now, both left home and I had learnt to live with elderly greyhounds instead.
As usual, after the Cropredy performance there was a huge sense of anti-climax and it was back to work at the library as a casual assistant on Monday as normal. The only reminder was when someone would bring their books back and I’d realise they were wearing a Fairport T-shirt with my name on their back. I never had the nerve to mention this, however. Just used to grin as they went out.
…was different though. Marc Swordfish of the techno/dance/trance band Astralasia contacted me. Could he please sample my voice? Would I sing something for him? as he really liked my voice in the Trader Horne days. ‘Coo!’ I thought, ‘that’ll be something different’. I made sure that he realised that my 55-year-old voice was somewhat different to my 18-year-old voice, but otherwise, fine. ‘What did he want me to do?
He sent me some ‘loops’. Said ‘see what words you can find to fit’. The loops were just that. The same riff played over and over. Well I’d not heard anything like that in my life and at first I found it really hard to work out what to do, but gradually one or two of the loops began to suggest a phrase and a rhythm. So by the time he came up to see me with his laptop, I had two sets of words ready to sing against the loops. So that’s what I did. He recorded them and went away. A couple of months later he sent me a copy of a rough mix. I was amazed at what he had done. So gradually over the next two years we worked by that same method and ended up with a whole CD of fresh songs, ‘Enchanted Garden’. I still haven’t met many of the musicians that worked on it, I’m sure I’ll meet them one day, but they all played superbly and made the CD sound wonderful. We are currently working on the next CD. Watch this space.
Now I live with my elderly greyhound Tiggy. Curly-tongued biter of Tulips.
What I’ve been up to…Update July 2007
I can’t believe it’s three years since I wrote all this stuff for my website. So it really is time to bring it up to date. 2004 and 2005 found me working, again with Marc and Astralasia, on quite a lot of new songs plus two old ones. With fantastic contributions from, amongst others, Dave ‘Doc’ Russell on banjo, James Asher (hammer dulcimer), Simon House (stunning violin and arrangements) and the uniquely fab Robert Fripp (guitar and Soundscape) two more albums were created, ‘Spindle’ released in April 2006 and ‘The Whorl’ released in July 2006.
Each album contained one nod to the past, ‘See Emily Play’ on ‘Spindle’ very loosely based on a version that I had recorded with Adrian Wagner in 198something, and a version of ‘I Talk To the Wind’ on ‘The Whorl’. The rest of the songs were all newly written and surprising.
At this stage of my life I was busy trying not to fall apart with some fairly rotten health issues. rheumatoid arthritis, emphysema and just for fun, really bad sciatica. This last meant I had to have surgery to remove bits of squished disc from my spine, on top of all the very fierce drugs to combat the rheumatoid. The emphysema is quite mild but means I have problems walking and talking at the same time. Tsk!
But all of them are now under some sort of control, but I did lose quite a bit of time just hiding under the pillows until everything stopped hurting. The operation meant that I had to pull out of one of my very rare gigs, a small concert in Japan, that I had been going to do with Jack McAuley, my partner in Trader Horne. In the end Jack had to do it on his own, as I wasn’t allowed to fly. I will sing with Jack again though, I am determined to. Just for a giggle. And I have been writing with Simon House.
In less than a month I shall be on stage with my early Fairporters again, at the Fairport’s Cropredy Convention to celebrate 40 years of Fairport. Who’d have thought all those years ago..?
And Tiggy the dog?
She is still with me, 13 and a half years old now (95!) That’s very old for a greyhound, and she is very grey. But she still follows me around and sleeps most of the time. She likes to spend time sitting in the pond in the wood. The fish think she’s edible.
2008 to March 2010
Things change. The three albums made with Marc are now deleted, the songs with Simon House remain in a sort of limbo, one of them is being used, the rest might just have to wait until new music is created for them or maybe I will rewrite them or possibly they will just remain.
I was idly wondering what to do next, when out of the blue I had an email from some strange fellow suggesting that I might like to sing a song with his band, Belisha, at a gig in London.. Now normally I would ignore an email like that, but something caught my attention and there was quite a lot of correspondence between this Jon person and I, which then abruptly stopped and then just as abruptly started again with a new suggestion that I record a new version of ‘One Sure Thing’ with another of his bands, the Conspirators..
Well what could I say, but yes, and I found myself travelling to Northants to record with the band, and somehow found myself being managed by the very same Jon, now called (by me anyway) Jon the Manager. For the release of the single in 2008, I went to Leeds, Harrogate and Bedale to do some promotion with the Conspirators and – lo and behold- we reached no 7 in the official Indie charts. I was very pleased indeed.
In early 2009 I went to London to meet up with Jack McAuley who was appearing at the London Irish Centre. It was lovely to see him and I sang two songs with him there, one old and one new. Lovely!
Back in Oxfordshire, I had begun to work on new songs, but I really didn’t want to go any further down the psychedelic/trance/electronica route, so I began to look for different collaborators. I had been in email contact with Tim Bowness and he suggested that he would be interested along with his friend Alistair Murphy. And so the beginnings of Talking With Strangers were set…
Over the next 18 months, the songs were recorded, brushed and polished, honed, re-recorded and had many other contributions from friends, old and new, mixed in. The artwork was designed and the album was released in August 2009 with a launch show at the historic 100 Club in London. It has received wonderful reviews and I am so pleased and proud of it..
Talking With Strangers has now been released in Scandinavia by Termo Records and to help with the promotion, Tim, Alistair and I went to Norway to perform on 2 tv programmes, ‘God Morgen Norge’ (a morning show equivalent to ‘GMTV’ here in the UK) and ‘Lydverket’ (the closest equivalent I suppose would be ‘Jools Holland.. Later’, although they have very different formats) and a ‘drive time’ radio programme – all of which were performances and interviews – plus several other interviews with magazines, papers and websites. The main Norwegian papers reviewed the album and were very kind about it. I have grown a very big head since visiting that lovely country..
Back home and I am starting to work on a new album with Tim and Alistair and I have also been working on a different kind of music with Lee Fletcher and Markus Reuter. I have recorded vocals for Sand Snowman, for Kings Cross and for Alistair’s album. I will be writing some music for Jackie Morris, the lovely lady who has drawn the fabulous new artwork for Talking With Strangers, and who is a highly sought-after illustrator of children’s books, one of which, Starlight Sailor will be the one I write music to go with the words of James Mayhew. It is all very exciting!
As for the rest of my world, briefly, I sang again at the 2007 Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and in 2009 at the sold out Barbican Witchseason Weekender concert, both with my original Fairport line-up.
I played my autoharp on stage for the first time since 1970 at the Barbican. I spoke for a minute about how we’d all met and then we played a song from pre Fairport days. I also played recorder which Jon got all the remaining originals to sign it and then we auctioned it with the money going to Greyhound Rescue. It raised over £200 and was won by a very nice man who had not only been at the Barbican concert, but had seen the original line-up play back in 1967. Very pleasing.
My beautiful greyhound Tiggy, curly-tongued biter of tulips, was put to sleep in 2008 at the great age of 14 and a half. Being a bit loopy about old greyhounds, I very soon acquired two more old ladies, Flower aged 11 and Whizzy aged 10. Flower sadly had to be put to sleep 6 months later, which she had mostly spent stretched out on the couch fast asleep as opposed to the cold outdoor kennel where she had spent most of her years. But I still have Whizzy, now aged 12, a toothless old lady who is curled up fast asleep as I write.
I am now a Senior Citizen (Yaaaaay!! Bus pass!!!) and I am also the very delighted grandmother of Freya, born last May to my son and his wife.
I think I’ll go to Paris next.
Update March 2012
Well here I am, nearly a quarter of the way through 2012 and on a sparklingly updated website and with new management to boot!
Let me tell you what happened next then…
was mostly spent in recording and organising the album with Lee and Markus, Catherine Hyde had agreed to let me use some of her work on the inlay and most of the album was complete so all was on track for a release in 2011 and then back to work on the new album with Alistair and Tim.. Good.
Running like a painful ribbon throughout this year were health problems, both mine and of my manager. Mine culminated in another spine operation in August 2010, leaving me with nerve damage to my legs and causing me to have more problems with walking, these are still an issue, but I have hopes that the damaged nerves are regenerating (grow! go on! grow!!) and I will be able to feel my toes again at some stage. So if I fall over you’ll know I’m not drunk……
The health problems of my manager had more serious repercussions and resulted in us parting ways, after too many things that I thought were real, turned out to be just hopeful thinking.. If he hadn’t been in constant pain and under serious medication, I have no doubt that all of his bonkers plans would have taken off and all would have been well and good. It is very sad. I hope he will regain his health and his maddeningly brilliant ideas. I am still very fond of him.
Sadly this also meant that Lee and Markus decided to remove their musical contributions from the album we were working on together, effectively putting the completed album in the cupboard and locking the door and running away. I hope one day to find the key and let the music fly. Optimism eh?
I also lost my younger brother Stephen in January 2011, he had lived in the US for over 30 years with his American wife and child, working within the Space Industry. I will always miss him and his wicked sense of humour…
Another loss that same month was Whizzy, the brindle greyhound who reached a grand age of 13. So that was no fun either.. I did adopt two more old greyhounds in April, but although they were both 11 year olds, the male one, Dazzle, was weirdly aggressive to other dogs and far too strong for me to cope with. His bond mate, Kerry, was much quieter, but they both would have been lost without each other, so they had to be returned as a pair to the RGT. I will find another greyhound. It is easier to do things without an animal but there is a greyhound-shaped hole here…
So that was 2011, a year of loss and disaster and confidence battering events, but it ended with beginning again to write songs and record them with Alistair.
So, 2012,what will you bring to me?
A new management in the form of Paul Maynard, (what has he let himself in for?)
A new website courtesy of Jane and Paul Merrick,
New songs which I hope will be tuneful
And new borders to cross and new giggles to be had.
To be continued….