Sunday October 28th saw the first Tonefloat Records label night at 229 The Venue, Great Portland Street, London, headed by none other than Judy Dyble “and friends” - which turned out to be Judy and a full band consisting of Alistair Murphy on acoustic guitar and keyboards (not necessarily at the same time), Jeremy Salmon on electric guitar, Mark Fletcher on electric bass, Phil Toms on double bass, Rachel Hall on violin and Tim Bowness on backing vocals and, on one wonderful occasion, singing alone while Judy had a drink and a sit down.
I admit it, I am biased. I didn't expect I would ever get to see Judy performing a full concert set and I was hugely excited just to watch them setting up (as those of you who saw my facebook updates that evening will testify!) Yes, she looked a little nervous at first, not unexpected when you consider this was her first solo gig for three years. But this wasn't just a Judy Dyble concert, because she had her friends there, and the night would have been a little poorer had any one of them been taken out of the mix.
From the first note of the opening number to the dying away of the final round of applause and cheers, I was mesmerised by this amazing woman, because her voice sounds exactly like it does on the albums. I expected it, and yet hear this perfect, clear voice coming from the middle-aged woman onstage not six feet in front of me was incredible.
Sometimes I am amazed at a live version of a track that is so stunningly different from the recording it barely seems to be the same song, but here every track was so note-perfect we could have been stepping back three years and witnessing the rebirth of Talking With Strangers, an album which we were privileged to hear in its (almost) entirety.
This wasn't just a look back at Judy's musical career, we got a taste of what was to come too, with new compositions including Wintersong, Silence and Crow Baby, which is one of those beautiful transitions from minor to thoughtfully understated-major key that she does so well. Not only that, but I discovered what a truly incredible performer Tim Bowness is. I had barely considered his voice on Talking With Strangers, to the extent that when he took the lead on Grey October Day I truly felt as if I was hearing the song for the first time. How could I not have noticed this man's delicious whispery vocals until now? But of course, that is part of the charm, the fact that he blended so perfectly in with the musical landscape that his voice became part of the whole, another instrument in Judy's orchestra.
But the high point of the night for me was the moment when Judy announced that we were going back 45 years. I was then party to something incredible that I had never hoped to witness - Judy Dyble and friends performing Fairport Convention's first single release If I Had A Ribbon Bow. I will freely admit to shedding a few tears of joy at this point. When, at the end, she told us in that gentle, understated way “I was eighteen...” - close your eyes and you could see that girl standing there, because her voice is still as pure, as fragile, and as delicate as it has always been.
All too soon it was time for their last song, “Harpsong...but not the twenty minute version!” No encore tonight, and we were left dreaming of more but knowing that we had witnessed something very special.
Judy, thank you for this concert and I look forward to hearing your new album.
Review by Carys Deverell
Photos by Jane Merrick