For many years and for many people, the name of Judy Dyble had been a mere footnote in the history of British rock – what with her fronting the first line-up of FAIRPORT CONVENTION and playing a significant role in the formation of KING CRIMSON, and that’s without mentioning the cult classic which is the only album by TRADER HORNE, a band she was a half of. Then, in the early ’70s, Dyble decided to quit music and dedicate herself to family, and it’s the same dedication which, for the last decade, sees Judy stomp her footnote status and smash it with a string of highly immersive albums. Arguably the best of them, "Talking With Strangers" – or, to be precise, its American release – restored the chanteuse’s glorious connections and led to this conversation but, during its laughter-strewn course, it became clear that Judy Dyble had a new record ready, "Flow And Change". All the more reasons to get behind the sounds to see a person hidden in the notes.
– How’s your day been, Judy?
Good. I’ve just cleaned the entire computer desk and half the room, so I’m feeling very noble. (Laughs.)
– So let me quote this from TRADER HORNE’s cover: “Judy Dyble is a semi fairy tale character”…
Yes, [it’s by] the lovely Brian Patten. Do you know his works? He’s a very well known British poet; he was a part of The Liverpool Poets, with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. He was also in GRIMMS, which is the ’60s band with Andy Roberts and various other people, but he’s an absolutely wonderful poet. And he happened to be living in the flat next door to me, and I asked him to write sleevenotes, and he wrote this lovely thing. (Laughs.)
– The interesting about this “semi fairy tale character” is that after all the years people still know who you are. How do you feel about it?
Oh, I’m amazed, really. I… I don’t have a huge amount of confidence, so I’m always pleased and delighted, when people say, “Oh yes, you were in that band, and you did this and you did that.” And I think, “Gosh, they remember!” (Laughs.) Because I did stop for so many years, but I guess the three or four bands I was working with were kind of well-known.
– Could it be so that your long absence turned you into kind of a legend?
Well, I wouldn’t say so myself, but that’s a PR type one gets. But there’s an awful lots of legends reappearing out of wherever they were. I really should have taken on a gypsy caravan and gone roaming through Europe or something like many of the other people who’ve returned – like Anne Briggs, Shelagh McDonald or Vashti Banyan. They always did a very romantic thing living in Scotland, and I just stayed in Oxfordshire making cassettes.
– I guess Ronnie Lane beat you to roaming in a caravan.
Oh, yes. But I don’t fancy going off traveling. (Laughs.) I just sat here, in this house, making cassette tapes with my husband [percussionist Simon de la Bedoyere], which was our business for almost 25 years.
– And it looks like that, let me repeat it, semi fairy tale character was an introvert up to 2004’s “Enchanted Garden” and then, almost suddenly, you turned into an extrovert, which is so clear on “Talking With Strangers.”
Yes. The difference was that I’d made three albums with Marc Swordfish, and he’d been really in charge of what was happening, how my voice sounded, how the words went and everything, which was fine, ’cause I was out of practice and didn’t know [what to do]. But with “Talking With Strangers” I had Alistair Murphy and Tim Bowness producing and recording me: they knew the importance was in the words rather than the music that surrounded them, so they pushed my voice to the fore and then created this wonderful music to go with it. It was the best of both worlds. Whether I’m an introvert or extrovert? Depends. It really does depend. If I’m just being normal me, I’m fairly introvert; but if I’m being Judy Dyble, then I can be quite extrovert, especially if I’m nattering on Facebook or something like that – I’m not actually talking to people directly.
– So the Internet provided you with a means to reach out and be there?
Yes. Yes, indeed, yes. I didn’t want to be on the Internet, but my daughter needed it when she left the university, to get jobs and things, and when she got a job and left home, I was left with the Internet. So I thought, “I’d better see what I can do with it.” (Laughs.) I discovered places like MySpace at first, and that if you’re careful you can do an awful lot of things with the Internet, and it’s quite a good fun. People do complain about the Internet – that it’s intrusive and that everything’s known by everybody – but if there’s something you don’t want everybody to know, then don’t put it on the Internet.
– What is there is pigeonholing you as a folk rock singer, which I know you’re not so comfortable with. To me, you’re one of those few artists who perfectly balanced folk and prog rock.
Yeah, I guess I have, but I never do anything intentionally, it’s just the way it’s turned out. I didn’t want to be stuck with the label “folk” because, to most people, it’s kind of a traditional English folk, and I never have been that – not in FAIRPORT, not with GILES GILES AND FRIPP, not with TRADER HORNE. So I’m quite happy to be prog folk. (Laughs.)
– Anyway, all of your last albums, since your comeback, had a folk element to them.
Well, they do, yes. But they have a story element – all the lyrics I sing have a story behind them, and I guess that’s what the folky thing is. But I try not to tell a whole story; I just try to tell something that means something to me and it might resonate with someone else, but it might not mean the same thing. I try to be obscure.
– Musical impressionism?
Yeah, yeah. Uh, Gosh, that’s a good one!
– And how much do you contribute to the musical side of things, not only lyrical?
It depends on what I’m presented with. If I’ve written words and I give them to someone else to write music, then I don’t have a huge amount to do with that – I’m quite happy for other people to just do what they want with the words. If somebody sends me some music to write words to, then I will probably – unless there’s a very definite tune within the music – create the tune that goes with the music, as well as the words. And quite often it’ll be something completely different to what the people have written the music for, so that’s quite interesting. Then, of course, I’ve done some words for people like SLEEPYARD, a Norwegian band, who do a lot of ambient music that’s difficult to describe, and I’ve just found a tune within his [Oliver Kersbergen] not-exactly-give-you-a-clue-music. (Laughs.)
– Does that mean that if you’ve written words you never try to put a tune to them and always give them away to somebody else to work it out?
Yeah, I prefer to do that, yes, because I don’t know what they’re going to fit. And because I have a rheumatoid arthritis, I can’t play the piano anymore and I can’t really play my autoharp, so I’m kind of stuck with what I can create. And I’m not very good at doing actual music – I’m better at writing words.
– Do you think that “folk” tag is a shadow that your FAIRPORT CONVENTION past casts?
Yes. Yes, it does, because they’re so known for taking traditional English folk music and adding a rock beat to it, and turning it into the beginning of folk rock, which is wonderful. And that’s exactly what they did. But when I was with them, we were inventive – or they were inventive – but in a different way, because we were taking American folk rock music and reassessing it, and making our own version of that.
– On the first FAIRPORT album, you wrote “Portfolio.” A singer who writes instrumental music?! How did that happen?
(Laughs.) I do like to be different! It was just a small tune I’d worked out on the piano, which was jolly. Ashley [Hutchings] added bass to it, and then everybody else added everything else. Just a small silly tune. It wasn’t made for words.
– And then there was Ian Matthews. On “Decameron” he seems to be getting on your territory vocally and singing high instead of letting you take that register.
It was a very odd thing, having Ian join the band. I felt he was brought in because they just wanted to extend vocal range, but Ian had been in pop bands, so he was a different kind of singer. I think he began to really find his own feet when he began to sing with Sandy [Denny]; his voice and mine kind of clashed a bit. Most of the songs that we did on that album, apart from the newer-written ones, I’d been singing for six months before he arrived, so I knew them off by heart. But it was strange, that’s fair.
– More so, he preferred to be calling himself Ian McDonald.
Yeah, that was the name he was using then, because I think his stepfather’s name was McDonald. But when I left FAIRPORT, I came across the other Ian McDonald…
– Yes, the founding member of KING CRIMSON and FOREIGNER.
People find this very confusing. This Ian is in New York. He’s a lovely man. I haven’t spoken to him for quite a long while, but every now and again he’ll be in touch. But FAIRPORT’s Ian McDonald changed his name to Ian Matthews, because he didn’t want to be confused with Ian McDonald who I was then working with.
– And then he added another “i” to his name and became Iain.
Yes, just I think to show his Scottish heritage. (Giggles.)
– You mentioned Sandy. The strange thing is, when I listened to “Reno, Nevada,” a bonus track on the “Fairport Convention” reissue, I was pretty sure it was her on it, but then I saw this video of you singing it and discovered I was wrong.
Sandy did sing “Reno, Nevada” when she joined the band, and she sang it differently, obviously, and I think by then they decided to work out a harmony instead of just singing it straight the way I’d done it with Ian. I think I only met Sandy once, and it’s quite interesting that people think I had lots to do with her, but I never knew her very well, and she was just someone else.
– Your version of that song completely knocks down the words of producer Joe Boyd who writes in his book that you had a “tentative” voice.
I thought that was a bit, um, unkind, shall we say. And he also said that something similar on the FAIRPORT CONVENTION documentary, and I thought he didn’t have to say that. But there you go – that’s what they felt. I know that I was in tune.
– That’s for sure. But what Boyd probably meant and what I mean is that your voice was becoming richer and richer as you progressed with FAIRPORT and beyond.
Yes, I think it did. It grew with practice.
– And still people seem to remember you more for knitting on-stage rather than singing. Isn’t it insulting?
(Laughs.) Well, I suppose that not many people did knit on-stage, and I only did that a couple of times. Silly, isn’t it? And the stupid thing is, I can’t knit. I cannot knit for toffee. Everything I knitted looks Eiffel Tower, because I’m useless at the tension of it: it starts very small and gets very big at the bottom, and I give it away as dish cloth. So it was just something for me to do while the big solos were going on.
– There are also not many mentions of you at the FAIRPORT web site.
There are one or two – but they had so many people in the band.
– But can we say that if it wasn’t for you they wouldn’t have gotten Sandy in?
No, I don’t think they would because, after they’d gotten rid of me, they realized that everybody was asking where the girl singer was, and thought, “We’d better find another one.” (Laughs.) It’s one of those difficult things: who knows what would have happened if I had stayed. But I always say, if I stayed with FAIRPORT they wouldn’t have done what they did and I wouldn’t have gone on to play with the fantastic people that I have played with since then.
– So you joined forces with GILES, GILES AND FRIPP. Did you see any glimpses of future KING CRIMSON in the band while you were there?
No. Actually, I don’t think I did. They were very, very, very tight threesome – musically very tight. But – how to say this? – they were very into being eccentric Englishmen at the time, and it was only when I left and Pete Giles left that they began to loosen up and get loud and do what they did. I mean I was at the beginning of it all, but I can’t claim to have had a huge amount of influence, really.
– But wasn’t it you who brought Ian McDonald together with Robert Fripp?
Oh yes, that’s true, because I was going out with Ian at the time and I had been doing some playing with him musically as it were. And we thought it might be good to try and find some more musicians, and put an ad in the paper with Ian’s phone number in it, because Ian was better at talking to people about music, and I knew nothing [about it]. So Pete Giles rang answering, and that’s how we all got together.
– Was Pete Sinfield already writing for them?
No, no, no, he was writing with Ian, he hadn’t met GILES, GILES AND FRIPP. I don’t remember him being at any of the meetings we had with GG&F.
– There we go: if it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t have been “I Talk To The Wind”!
Yeah, I suppose, I guess… (Laughs.) I hate to take credit for it!
– Why didn’t it work for you and GG&F?
I think it was probably because I’d split up with Ian and it was difficult. (Pauses.) I also think it was because I’d been asked to leave FAIRPORT, I didn’t really want to put myself into the position of being asked to leave another band, so I left before they had the chance to throw me out. (Laughs.)
– How did you feel about Sinfield’s lyrics? Save for “The Wind,” you also covered “C’est La Vie” on your latest album, and it’s the best version of this song I’ve ever heard.
Well, I’ve always loved that song. My husband and I, we knew Pete and his then-wife Stephanie quite well; we would go to visit various relatives and used to stay overnight at Pete’s house. And he’d just finished doing that Greg Lake album [Lake’s side of 1977’s “Works Volume 1”] and he played it to us, and that and “I Believe In Father Christmas” were the two standout tracks I thought. And I thought, “I’d love to sing that because the music is so great.” So thirty-odd years later I did!
– It has the “crystal” feel that the original didn’t have.
The arrangement was done by Alistair and Tim, and they wanted to make it different. I said, “I want to do that song,” so they took it away and came back with a different version, using piano instead of guitar. And because I wanted extra female voices, I asked Julianne Regan and Celia Humphris to add some vocals to it. That’s why it’s so sweeping and wonderful.
– You also invited Jacqui McShee from PENTANGLE.
Yes, but she wasn’t on “C’est La Vie” – she was on “Dreamtime” and parts of “Harpsong.” I love to gather my ladies! Celia, I’ve known forever; the same with Jacqui because FAIRPORT and PENTANGLE’s paths used to cross at various gigs that we did up and down the country. Julianne, I’ve only got to know reasonably recently, but she’s become a good e-mailing friend and she’s actually written a song with me on the new album.
– And you worked with ladies, if briefly, in THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND?
Actually what happened was, because Joe Boyd was managing THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND and FAIRPORT sometimes our visits to the studio would coincide with THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND being there. I’m not quite sure how, but for “The Minotaur’s Song” they wanted a choir, so they rounded up everybody who was in the studio who could sing, so that was all of FAIRPORT and me and various other people, and we were kind of Greek chorus. It wasn’t quite that they invited me to sing. That’s the way it works often: you’re in the right place at the right time, and you say “Yes” and you end up doing something that ends up being quite good. (Laughs.)
– Another episode of your career was “Mouseproof,” an album by G.F. Fitzgerald – whoever he is.
I spoke to him the other day – he’s a lovely man. He shared a flat with my late husband long before I was ever on the scene, and his room was full of electronic equipment, and he was forever taping stuff, everything that was going on, the whole day. He was the original… I don’t know how to describe it.
– Sonic hoarder!
That’s the word, yes. He was making this album, “Mouseproof,” and because I was [already] there he said, would I do vocals? So I did, that was how I had gone on to that. The thing was, I had left TRADER HORNE, and Pye [Records] would not let me be credited on the album, because they were cross with me, as I was their artist. And I wasn’t allowed to be credited until very recently.
– TRADER HORNE was completely your creation – with Jackie McAuley, of course. You were on an equal footing there, right?
Yeah, that’s right. Actually, it started off as trio…
– …and let me quote Pete Sears: “Judy is still a wonderful artist and has been recording some very cool new material in the UK, which she occasionally sends my way.”
I do, yes, indeed. I’m very fond of Pete, and we have an odd e-mail or Facebook conversation, and we’re talking about doing some sort of reviving the original TRADER HORNE with the three of us: Jackie, Pete and myself. Maybe we’ll get around to doing something.
– But there were only two of you on your only album, “Morning Way,” and it sounds like you had a greater empathy with McAuley than there was with Matthews.
Eh, I guess so. Yes, yes. It worked well with Jackie because we weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend, we were just musicians working together, even though when the press photographs were taken it was always, “Put your arms around Jude” and “Put your arms around Jackie and pretend you’re…” We were both quite uncomfortable with that because we both had a boyfriend and a girlfriend. But I don’t know… We just managed to work well together, and who knows why? That’s one of my mysteries! (Laughs.)
– And still there’s a feel as if you were cast in a supporting role to Jackie, even on “Morning Way,” which was your song.
Yeah, but he was the one with the musical ability, and he is a terrific musician and a lovely person. It would not have been intentional, but he was so excited with his music and how he could present it, and I was just the singer. I’m quite happy… (Pauses for thought.) I suppose those weren’t my songs – “Morning Way” and “Velvet To Atone” were the only tunes I’d written – and I guess I must probably be happier singing the stuff I’ve written.
– There are songs on your albums hinting at your love of vaudeville or music hall: “If I Had A Ribbon Bow,” recorded with FAIRPORT, “Rivers Flow” from “Enchanted Garden”, which is reggae but…
Well, I quite like things like that. (Laughs.) I don’t like to always do the same kind of stuff. With FAIRPORT, some of the songs we used to do were jug bands songs: they’re a huge fun to do because they’re light-hearted, LOVIN’ SPOONFUL type of stuff, wonderful stuff! I’d always liked jazzy, swingy bits, so when we heard “Ribbon Bow” – because FAIRPORT were always good at picking stuff that was completely out-of-character – we decided that’d make a good single. It didn’t do very well, but then I think we were far beyond the time, too early for that.
– Speaking of “far beyond”, I feel like Eric Clapton’s take on “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” might be heavily influenced by your version, as neither you nor he did do it in a traditional bluesy style.
No, no, no, no, I just did it because Jackie was… is a very good blues guitarist, and that was his arrangement of it. I know he’s quite happy to do that that way.
– Another song that’s throwing a bridge from the past to the present is “Velvet To Atone” with its modern sound.
Yes. It should have been played with Martin Quittenton who composed the music for it, but he’d done that disappearing thing – I think he had a breakdown – so I played on piano and sang. It’s quite a stark piece, really, and I don’t know what it meant. (Laughs.) Martin played in STEAMHAMMER then, and that was how I met him, because he started going out with my best friend Sue whom I shared a flat with. We got on very well, and it was lovely, but he wasn’t cut for the rock music business: he was great, he would have been very good with guitar craft – that sort of Fripp thing – because he used to spend hours just playing his classical guitar.
– By the way, was that TRADER HORNE album a concept one?
Eh… Nope! Not to my knowledge, no. [It was] just songs that Jackie had written: it didn’t have a theme at all. The only theme was the music that was played in between the tracks, which kind of dragged it all together. Jackie played the bits on one side, and I had another piano tune that I’d worked out and that was played in between the songs on the second side.
– Who played most of the piano there: you or Jackie? It really stands out.
I played piano on “Velvet To Atone” and on the bits that run through the second side, but mostly it was Jack, ’cause he’s such a very talented multi-instrumentalist.
– And after that you worked with DC & THE MB’S.
Yes, DYBLE, COXHILL AND THE MILLER BROTHERS. That was Steve and Phil Miller from DELIVERY. Phil Miller went on to work with HATFIELD AND THE NORTH and various other bits of Canterbury scene that they’d come from. Lol… Lol was just amazing, a one-off. Such a shame he became so ill and recently died. He also did a lot of work with Gerry Fitzgerald; they had some albums out, and Gerry played with him in various combinations of musicians.
– But how did that combination of you and Lol come about?
I can’t remember, I must have met him somewhere – I think he may have had something to do with my husband who was at the time writing for various music magazines. It was just another thing I fell into. (Laughs.)
– Were you really called PENGUIN DUST at some point?
Yeah, that’s right. We had a song: (sings) “Oh we are known as Penguin Dust, and this it is our song. / It really isn’t very short, but then it isn’t long. / We’ll sing it in the morning, and we’ll sing it every night. / If you have a pint of Penguin Dust, you know then you’ll be all right.” It’s a very silly song but we did sing some very strange songs in PENGUIN DUST. “Stout-Hearted Men” [from “The New Moon” operetta] which is a kind of union song (sings a march in low tone): “Give me some men who are stout-hearted men”. And then Lol would do one of his strange, wonderful improvisations, and we’d do “Violets At Dawn”, but people seem to like it.
– Was that your last band before you went into family life?
More or less, yes. I did a couple more things that didn’t do very much, but I kind of gave it up, particularly when I had children, because I don’t think I could have brought up the children and be on the road.
– You could have worked from home, like from a studio.
We couldn’t afford a studio. The studio that we had was just a basement and a Revox [tape machine]. But it just didn’t seem to be the right thing to do, so I stopped doing music.
– Weren’t there times when you, say, read about Paul McCartney taking his family on tour with WINGS, and thought, “I’d love to do the same”?
No, I didn’t. The only times I thought something like this was when I did a couple of reunion concerts with FAIRPORT, at Cropredy Festival, in 1981 and 1982 or 1980 and 1981. And my children were very little: my son was three and my daughter was 9-month-old. And because I’d stopped, if only for a few years, you get out of the habit of doing live gigs, and people’s lives had moved on, so although you know who they are and what they’re doing it’s… It’s hard to describe, but I didn’t seem to fit anymore. But we did continue to go to the festival every year, and sometimes they’d sing – FAIRPORT or Iain Matthews – some song that I’d sung with them, and I’d think, “Oh, I used to sing that,” and I’d be a bit melancholic. But then I’d take the children home, walk the dog and everything returned to normal.
– But did you miss music or you were just singing around the house?
Oh, I wasn’t even singing around the house much. I’d be too busy. I kind of shut myself off from it, because I didn’t want to feel like I’d missed out, so I did village pantomime instead and sang at those a couple of times for a couple of years. That was fun.
– Wasn’t there a session with Mike Batt?
Yes, but that was before I left London. He was a friend and had done some recordings of me with his musicians , but nothing came of it, so I was left with an acetate of the song. Mike is a very top man; now he’s a deputy head of the BPI. He’s something to be reckoned with. I was talking to him the other day, as you do, ’cause we reconnected on Facebook.
– Any chance of you working together again?
I don’t think so. He’s so incredibly busy with everything he’s doing, and he likes to concentrate completely on what he’s doing, which is sensible, and he doesn’t like to diversify his concentration. I can only say that I’m here if people want to work with me, and some people do and some people don’t. And that’s all right.
– When you returned from, let’s call it so, retirement, you worked with the TALKING ELEPHANT label.
Yes. They introduce me to Marc Swordfish, and from that came “Enchanted Garden” and the two other albums, “Spindle” and “The Whorl”.
– Spindle and whorl being a part of the loom, do those two albums make a duology?
Yes. We’d done all these songs, and there was too much for one album and just about enough for two. And because Robert [Fripp] had gone to the trouble of doing a little guitar part and soundscape for one of the songs, Marc wanted to do a couple of different versions, ’cause he’s very into remixing stuff, so one of the songs, “Shining,” has a version of it, “Forever Shining,” and there’s another version again on the limited edition vinyl that we did, which, of course, nobody hears now.
– Are the titles of “Spindle” and “The Whorl” somehow related to the homespun feel of some of your songs?
No. We were just trying to think of the titles, and Marc came up with these. So I’m sorry [there’s] nothing so deep. (Laughs.)
– There’s a shift between those two albums, where you sound nonchalant and spectral, and “Strangers”, where you’re being very emotional. Why so?
I think it has to do with the production more than the songs. Every single song that I’ve written – particularly with “Enchanted Garden”, “Spindle” and “The Whorl” – has something close to me in it, but Marc – because he was with ASTRALASIA, a kind of trance, dance unit – used the voice as another instrument rather than supporting the voice.
– But that made the songs very immersive.
Yes, and he also used quite a lot of treatments on my voice, which I was not terrifically happy with, but that was the way he wanted to do it. But that was all right: I was learning, I was trying out stuff that hadn’t been available when I stopped, and I was really pleased that I could actually record without the expense of going into a studio, because Marc just came up and recorded it on a laptop.с
– You covered “See Emily Play” and “I Talk To The Wind”, effectively reclaiming the latter, as you sang it and phrased it the way you did way back with GILES, GILES AND FRIPP, not like KING CRIMSON did it.
I can only sound as I do, but it was always a lovely song, and I did want to sing it again, and Marc was very keen for me to do that. And it was okay, it was good, it’s a nice version. As for “Emily”… In-between, one of the things that I had done was work with a man called Adrian Wagner who was connected to Robert Calvert from HAWKWIND and was also the person who brought the Moog synthesizer to the forefront, as he was involved with Robert Moog. He was doing a lot of synthesized music in the ’70s-’80s and was making an album of stuff for Philips or something; and he’d done this version of “See Emily Play” and wanted me to sing it, so I did and it was wonderful. But it didn’t actually go onto that album, and all those years later I’d really loved the way Adrian had arranged the song: (sings) ta-da ta-da-da-dee… [It was] much more forceful version, so I said to Marc: “Why don’t we use that as a basis for our ‘See Emily Play” and I’ll sing that again?” That’s how it came about.
– There’s also a song called “Misty Morning” that seems to hark back to both “Morning Way” and FAIRPORT CONVENTION.
Yes. “Keep your wellies and vest on when wandering in the dew…” That was sort of my version of a traditional song, a warning thing.
– One refrain from your song that keeps ringing in my ears is “I am lost for words,” but you have this knack for what Lewis Carroll called “portmanteau words” like “starcrazy”, “jazzbirds”, “harpsong”… So is that librarian in you speaking?
I don’t know… I tend to mix words together when I can’t think of another word which would describe what I want. One of the new songs I have is called “Featherdancing,” which is a sweet song about how me and my sisters, when we were little, were dancing in a room with no light on – in the moonlight, with no tune: you make it up in your head and dance bouncing off the chairs.
– Do you like to write epics like “Harpsong” or “Honeysweet”?
With “Harpsong”, Tim and Alistair said they wanted a really long song, so I wrote a song, or poem, of my life, and Tim adapted it to fit the music that they were creating: it was kind of a joint effort for words for that one… That was quite interesting.
– How hard or, vice versa, easy was it for you to create such an autobiography?
Oh, easy. Easy-peasy. All I needed was to think of something that I could hang the whole song on, and that was playing of the autoharp, because it’s my instrument, the one I played forty years ago and I’d continued to play it with almost everybody. Once I thought about it, the words came quite easily.
– When you looked back, did it bring any forgotten memories?
Um, yes and no, because Tim’s adaptation of the words wasn’t what I’d actually written, not quite what actually happened, it was one step removed what I’d done. But forgotten memories? I’m always doing that. If I’m talking to somebody like you, it’ll turn on a train of memory of something I’ve forgotten about, and the songs do that as well. But I’m trying to put myself into the song when I’m writing them so that I know… I don’t know where they’re going to go when I start them. (Laughs.) But you know when they’re finished, you absolutely do know when they’re finished. Occasionally, with some of the songs I’ve written on this new album, Alistair would say, “We do need other middle eight here. Can you write something?” and I think, “Oh, that was finished.” But then suddenly I’d think, “Ah, right, we can add this little bit in here and the words will come.” I always think that if the song is going to be a valuable one, it writes itself more or less. It’s very difficult when people want to change a line, and they would change it to something else, and I say, “Okay, I’ll change it. You can’t do that.” If the wrong word is written, it changes the whole meaning of what you’re trying to say, doesn’t it?
– As you said, “Harpsong” has been changed, but it still is your creation, and you stepped back from it to let the other performers shine alongside you. Were you aware that, while creating an ultimate selling point by having Fripp and McDonald there, you were stealing spotlight from yourself?
No, it didn’t occur to me. It didn’t strike me that it was that important. They were part of my musical life, and I wanted them to be a part of the music. There’s also Simon [Nicol] from FAIRPORT playing on it, although I didn’t have anyone from TRADER HORNE. But I don’t mind stepping back if that’s the way the music needs to be.
– Have you been in touch with Ian and Robert through all these years?
Every now and again, yes. I email them and I get a reply, which is nice. I saw Robert at the reception of the Estonian ambassador a couple of years ago. I met Toyah [Willcox, Fripp’s wife] for the first time: she’s so sweet, she’s lovely. But it was nice to talk to Robert again. Musicians’ lives change so much, and we just go on, and if you’re not completely there all the time… It’s like trying to keep friends from school: you divert, and there’s only a certain amount of reference points that one has, and that’s good in some ways.
– Did they readily agree to play on your record?
Yes, they were happy to do so. Robert sent us a soundscape, and Ian recorded his bits in America, so they weren’t actually in the same place at the same time, but it was all stitched together by Alistair and Tim, so it worked really well.
– The “Strangers” American cover illustration looks like “1001 Nights” with an English flavor to me.
That’s the one by Jackie Morris, she’s a brilliant illustrator and artist. She illustrates children’s books and books by a science fantasy writer called Robin Hobb. Her work is beautiful and she kindly let me have it. She’s done one or two things for the next album but mostly I used there the pictures by our mutual friend Catherine Hyde. As for “The Strangers”, Jackie had this picture hanging around, it was already done – she didn’t do it specifically for this album but, because I had a greyhoundy type dog, I thought it was wonderful. As you may know, I tend to rescue greyhounds, so anything with a greyhound is my Favorite Thing. (Laughs.)
– Interestingly, after all these years, after FAIRPORT and HORNE, you invited another male singer, Tim Bowness, to share vocals with you.
But Tim’s such a fabulous voice! And it works well with my voice. That was the one time when I could actually choose a voice, and I was delighted that he sang with me.
– Pat Mastelotto: did he come through Fripp’s connection?
No, he came through Tim, because Tim used him on one of the NO-MAN albums, and we decided to try him when we were looking for some drumming work. The connection was nice because he was part of the current, at the time, KING CRIMSON, and Ian was part of the original band, so that was another link in this chain of people.
– Then, Simon House provided a HAWKWIND connection.
I did quite a bit of musical work with Simon, but he won’t let me use any of the stuff that we created there, no demos, but I have used one of the songs that he wrote music for on the new album. You meet people, you talk to them, you work with them and then they go away again.
– You mean “Newborn Creatures”?
No, “Newborn Creatures” was the album that I made with two people. And there was a problem right after I paid for the mastering and got everything organized; they decided to take the music away. So I’m left with an album that I can’t release.It was a horrible and very sad time. But they wrote new words for the music and released it as their own album.
– And you can write your own music to your words!
Yes, I can and I’m doing so, but it’s quite hard to actually to do that, it’s taking quite a while to get it, to be able to want to sing those words again.
– Now you’re well into your next record, aren’t you?
It’s finished. It’s ready to go, we’re just finishing off the artwork. In fact, one of the songs that was on “Newborn Creatures” is on this new album, with new music. The album is called “Flow And Change”. This time the key writer was Alistair Murphy, and I’ve used one of the songs that was created with Simon House, “Black Dog Dreams”. And I continue to work: I’m writing some stuff with Oliver Kersbergen from SLEEPYARD, who is a lovely Norwegian musician – a couple of things are going to be released in America soon – as well as with Matt Malley, the ex-bass player with COUNTING CROWS. And I’ve done some stuff with Sand Snowman. But I’ll have to see what happens, if I could find the heart to do the business side of an album at the same time as thinking about music.
– So you’re not stopping this time?
I’m sure we will start again. I’ve probably worn poor Alistair out. I never know what I’m going to do next, actually. I’ve spent my entire life waiting for something to see what turns up. And it’s usually something very interesting…
Photos from the Judy Dyble personal archives