If Fairport Convention are folk-rock royalty, Judy Dyble is the genre’s Empress Matilda. Despite the constant respect of her peers and her obvious talents she never quite ascended to the high table – mainly, it must be said, due to a combination of her own individuality, bad luck and a certain amount of reclusiveness. She parted company with Fairport just before their biggest success, drifted away from Giles, Giles and Fripp before they became King Crimson, and somehow eluded public recognition as one half of the duo Trader Horne.
Anthology Part 1 is the first in a vivid triptych of releases bringing together the strands of Dyble’s long and varied career. It begins with two rough home recordings from her time in Judy and the Folkmen the mid-sixties – Spanish Is A Lovin’ Tongue and Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies – both of which reveal an already mature vocal style. Dyble’s inflections borrow from both European and American singing traditions, and this is something that greatly influenced the early Fairport sound.
Dyble was equally at home with interpretations of contemporary songs. Fairport’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now is included here – a jauntier, jollier version, with a distinctly Byrds-like feel to the arrangement and instrumentation. One Sure Thing keeps the folk-rock electric guitars but here the setting is both more sombre and more psychedelic. A trippy instrumental break leads into a final chorus in which the beat is perceptibly quicker, and the vocals are icy and urgent.
Make It Today has a jazzier arrangement typical of her work with Giles, Giles and Fripp, with choruses that descend in a rush and are interrupted by skitters of brass, all underpinned by insistent drums. Passages Of Time has an even more experimental feel to it – a jangle and squall of guitar almost reminiscent of the Velvet Underground’s debut album. Here Dyble’s vocals have a shamanic, almost transformative quality.
Under The Sky has Robert Fripp’s fingerprints all over it. It is bucolic and restrained until the outro, when the quietly experimental guitar weaves itself around the beautiful vocal coda. Murder is simply startling – folk-rock meets avant-garde musical theatre. Almost as strange is May Four, a collaboration with Gerry Fiztgerald that appeared on his 1970 curio Mouseproof.
In 1971 Dyble was enticed into the studio by chief Womble and writer of Art Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes, Mike Batt. The result was Better Side Of Me, a small chamber-folk masterpiece full of period detail, awash with strings and dripping with understated class. Unfortunately nothing more came of this collaboration. The previously unreleased I Hear A Song, from the same era but a different session, has a more throwaway melody and arrangement but nonetheless provides a platform for that unmistakeably clear voice.
Perhaps the most unexpected track here is a cover of Pink Floyd’s breakthrough single See Emily Play, recorded in 1982 with synth pioneer Adrian Wagner. Musically it is a bizarre mix of new age utopianism, futuristic blips and echoes and sixties psych. Dyble’s voice sounds disembodied, floating in space, a marked contrast to the intimacy and immediacy of the rest of this collection. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it shows that her willingness to experiment was undimmed a decade after her part in Robert Fripp and co.’s prog-folk innovations. In fact, a sense of innovation is one of the most important and surprising things to come out of these songs. It is a body of work that stands as a testament to the powers one of the most underrated singers to come out of the British folk scene, and if there is any justice it will attract a whole new generation of admirers.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Out Now via Earth Records