My friend Judy Dyble died today. It seems like only last week that I wrote the foreword to her autobiography, 'An Accidental Musician', but I've just seen that it was in 2015. Where does it go, eh?
She was the babe in Fairport Convention. The impudent waif who sat knitting on the stage while Jimi Hendrix made history. Unfazed by celebrity, whatever that was or is, she was a child of the sixties who lived for the day. They all did.
I missed out on her early musical years, and came to know her only in 2012 when I was researching my biography of Marc Bolan. We met to talk about it, and fell in together like a couple of naughty little sisters. Her sharp, sparkling recollections of life in and around Notting Hill during the counterculture years, where she lived during her late teens, lent a stark reality and set the fairy story straight. It wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It had to be said.
Perhaps the music she came to make was a response to those brutal life-lesson years. The gentle poetry of her songs was her compensation. Post-Fairport Convention and Trader Horne, Judy vanished from the music scene for more than forty years. Forty. She made the odd, rare appearance at this festival or that reunion, but maintained a mostly low profile in between. When she was fully-blown back, I went to see her perform in London, and was struck by her medieval innocence. There stood a respectable middle-aged lady with short hair and spectacles, in sensible shoes, which she soon kicked off ... feeling the need, I think, to be grounded. To feel the beat. But the voice I heard came from a doomed, tormented heroine with flowing blonde locks, attired in an embroidered green velvet gown. She was right out of Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shalott'. She WAS her.
Judy's rare, enchanting voice was undiminished. It lifted you into a tapestry dream-world. From 'If I Had a Ribbon Bow', Fairport's first-ever single, to her newest and most daring songs which took all her courage to compose and record, she was timeless, oaky and real. Those songs were a contemplation on what it means to be human. They brimmed with a painful awareness of life receding. They were a reminder of the heartlessness at the heart of existence. They had the vital aftertaste: an emotional resonance that lingers long after the final note. Did she know, back then, that her days were numbered? Was it why she decided to un-retire herself, and start singing again?
In her forthright book, she gathered the threads. She told of the games that she played and the life that she lived. The triumphs, the tragedies, the friendships, the feuds. She wrote the love, and she wrote it in blood. She wrote plainly yet lyrically in the growing-veg-in-the-allotment style of a woman whose name is synonymous with British folk music.
Hey, Jude. Go easy. You're still there. I'm still here. To be continued.