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June Tabor

June Tabor - Transports Recording, 1977
Photo: Anthony Fisher
June Tabor - Transports Recording, 1977
S.R. The reason I asked about the influence of other revival singers was that the folk scene is, in a way, an isolated community, albeit spread out geographically, and I wondered whether you were aware of the development of a particular style peculiar to that community.

J.T. Certainly in choice of material rather than singing style. There was a guy at Oxford called Martin Clark, I got a few very good songs off him, and I think I was undoubtedly influenced to a degree by his style. I got Plains Of Waterloo from him, and Scarborough Fair Town. He had a very straightforward singing style, hardly any decoration at all. I’d been singing very highly decorated stuff. That was one of the things that, well, not took me away from singing in a decorated way, but I’d been really going over the top with decoration when I first learned how to do it. I was so pleased that I could shake my vocal cords about and produce all these amazing notes, and I think listening to people like Martin made me realise that a better way was to use decoration sparingly, and I’ve been moving in that direction, really, ever since. You’ve got to find out what you can do and then not do it most of the time. Dave Burland is a classic example of doing or not doing it. He is one of the most subtle and beautiful singers I’ve ever heard.

S.R. Funnily enough, Michael Grosvenor Myer’s review of your second album in Folk Review implied that your mannerisms had got more extreme, to the extent that he couldn’t understand the words of the songs any more.

J.T. I would certainly quarrel with that, because I don’t think it had. If he’d heard me singing 8 or 9 years before, then certainly. I’ve heard myself decorate so much that I’ve lost the tune completely.

S.R. Does it worry you to know that somebody who’d never heard you or the song before recently commented that they found it very difficult to follow the storyline of a ballad, although they really liked your voice?

J.T. I’d find that odd now. Admittedly my enunciation is not all it might be, which is something I should watch because, particularly when you’re singing unaccompanied, it’s the story that’s important. And if somebody can’t understand that, then I’ve failed.

S.R. I wonder if, because we’re all so used to singing to audiences in the folk scene who know the styles, that in fact somebody who has not heard that style of singing before would find it more difficult to understand.

J.T. People who haven’t been to folk clubs before find it immensely difficult to listen to unaccompanied singing at all because it’s just not something they’ve ever come across. I wish there were more audiences like those Kenyans who came to Shackleford, because they really understood, and the questions they were asking us afterwards! Really intelligent sort of things, you know. “Why do you sing sad songs, why do you particularly pick on that?” And I was saying, “Well, I feel the suffering in these songs and I feel that people shouldn’t forget the emotions that have produced those kinds of songs.” And they really understood that. It’s a long time since anyone’s come up to me in a folk club and asked those kinds of things.

S.R. People don’t any more, do they? Once upon a time people were much more interested in the music and the songs than they are now. I really regret that passing.

One song in particular that you were responsible for putting around was The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

J.T. Yes I sang it at the Inverness Festival, and apparently the tape was changing hands at an amazing rate, and sometimes for money!

From Southern Rag No.3 (the original title of fRoots), January 1980


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