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Come Write Me Down
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
Some of the most refreshing music to be heard around the clubs in the past autumn was provided by a new dynamic duo in posing boots, June Tabor accompanied by Martin Simpson. Shortly after their initial run of dates together, June came down to Southern Rag Towers to take part in another of our series of mildly scurrilous interviews with people The Sun has never heard of.
After strapping her firmly into a chair still bearing marks of struggle from last issue’s Nic Jones encounter, Ian Anderson and Maggie Holland did most of the talking whilst Caroline Hurrell applied more subtle methods of persuasion in the form of rather too many bottles of red wine. The latter method proved more fruitful!
For complete dumbos (a very small percentage of our readership, we hasten to add), June’s two Topic albums to date are Airs & Graces (12TS298) and Ashes & Diamonds (12TS360), whilst her duo album with Maddy Prior, Silly Sisters, was on Chrysalis CHR 1101.
June Tabor & Martin Simpson
S.R. The first time I met you would have been around 1967 when you came down to Bristol with the New Modern Idiot Grunt Band. What were you doing in folk clubs in those days, were you already singing or just an audience person?
J.T. No, I sang the first time I ever went to a folk club, would you believe? I got taken along to one just opened in Leamington, I’d been known to sing all sorts of things at school. I went along with a school friend when I was about sixteen, and we walked in and she went straight up to the organiser and said “My friend sings, will you put her on?” I was hiding at the back thinking “Oh my God, what shall I sing? I don’t know any folk songs”. And my first public appearance in a folk club I sang Kumbaya and Michael Row the Boat Ashore, because that was all I knew. I’d been watching the Hallelujah programme on television, so I got up and sang and I’ve been doing it ever since. I got friendly with the resident group and started going round with them, and started to get hold of records and things and learn traditional songs.
S.R. How early on did you get interested in traditional songs, because at that time the clubs were fairly heavily into Bob Dylan and Bert and John?
J .T. Well the club I went to regularly, the resident group were very much into Irish stuff, Clancy Brothers, that kind of thing, but fairly soon after I started going I went into Dobells and acquired an Anne Briggs EP; that would be after about a couple of months of going to folk clubs, and I learned everything off that. I used to drive my mother mad by sitting in the bathroom learning how to decorate! And if you remember that particular Anne Briggs EP, it was the one with My Bonny Boy and Rosemary Lane and things like that; very, very highly decorated singing, so I learnt how to do that by copying Anne Briggs, and then I found out about Topic by getting that EP and I acquired the Belle Stewart (The Stewarts Of Blair) so my style evolved from a mixture of things, Irish decorated style and Scots tinker style.
S.R. That’s interesting because you must be one of the few people who went straight into singing British traditional songs rather than starting off in something else and then delving deeper into things. The next time I remember meeting you, you were at Oxford at the Heritage Society. I gather that had quite a marked effect on you. Was this where you ran across the old singers for the first time?
Photo: Brian Newton
J.T. Yes, apart from the odd albums I’d picked up by looking in the Topic catalogue and picking out things that had female singers on, Lizzie Higgins, Jeannie Robertson, that sort of thing. Because the people I’d been mixing with up to that time had been very Irish orientated, or people like the Grunt Band doing blues and all that sort of stuff, then to go to Oxford and actually find this immense band of people who were really very much into Traditional with a capital T music and sitting in a pub playing tunes and English music. that was tremendous, I’d never come across anything quite like that before. And of course Peta Webb was at the same college as I was, and she was a leading light in the club at the time.
S.R. How much would you say your singing has been affected by other revival singers compared with, say, listening either to records of older traditional singers or hearing them in the flesh?
J.T. Quite a lot, I think. I couldn’t but help be influenced by the revival singers, I think. Although there were all sorts of other musical influences going on at the same time. While I was at Oxford, apart from singing the straight traditional things I then got involved with a soft rock band in my third year. They were doing Fairport type stuff, Jefferson Airplane songs, all that kind of thing. We had a really great time. I gave it up in the end because I was ruining my voice shouting over what they were doing. I was also singing with a jazz-influenced little group; guitarist, flute player.
From Southern Rag No.3 (the original title of fRoots), January 1980
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down