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Judy Dyble:An Accidental Musician

Soundcheck Books 227pp 8colour plates

Starting with an "Afore-Foreword" Judy sets the tone for her autobiography "…this is a book of memories and recollections…over 60 years of living…we all remember things differently…sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong…but mostly the truth lies somewhere in the middle…full of bumblingsabout and forgoodnesssakes and nearmisses and strangealmosts…and if you think there are mistakes then there probably are".

Written with the help of Dave Thompson, Judy takes us on a journey through her life, intertwining recent diary observations with her past. Along the way we learn about life in post war London, about slugs ("how do they get in?") and about music.

We learn about growing up with only one BBC music station, with milk in 1/3 of a pint school bottles, we learn about Judy's first public performance - a talent contest at the Gaumont playing piano and singing "Beautiful Bells" aged 9. (She didn't win and truthfully reflected that "I did it for my own entertainment, the cold gaze of strangers was not something I hankered for".)

It's that sense of understanding and honesty that shines like a beacon through this book whether discussing her early music tastes (Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and Billy Fury - at the turn of 1960) or her vociferous reading appetite which explained her wish to be a Librarian.

And if that implies a shy demure girl then the contrast of slipping out late in the evening to all the growing new late night coffee bar scene by tube with her girlfriends buries the image perfectly.

We read about her first Autoharp, we listen as she explains the coming of Fairport Convention, the group dynamic, the relationship with Richard Thompson, the arrival of Iain Matthews, the music. It's warm but not ladled with syrup, no kiss and tell and all the better for it. The closest we come to bile is to record a comment made by Joe Boyd about Matthews and whilst acknowledging Boyd's contribution to folk music in general and Fairport in particular I doubt the phrase "nice man" is unlikely to be applied to him with much frequency. And aware as as I that for most folk that will be the starting point and the most eagerly read section I won't spoil anything by adding further detail.

We smile as we learn the tortious steps needed to hang the washing out, living by herself in the countryside, we learn of her love for rescue greyhounds, we hear Judy being nagged by a blackbird for breakfast. All these things flow, chalk and cheese melding and folding, insinuating themselves into our consciousness.

We move to post Fairport, to Giles, Giles & Fripp, to Trader Horne a duo with Jackie McAuley (the name of the band coming from the late John Peel).

Her marriage to Simon Stable, his humongous Icelandic Sheepskin coat given to him by Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. We learn about her break from the music business and the tape copying service that paid the bills.

The sad death, movingly related, of her husband.

The rekindling of her music making with Marc Swordfish with the ambient led "Enchanted Garden", the rejoining of Fairport on stage despite her anxiety and nervousness. Cumulating in a one off reunion gig as Trader Horne performing the whole of their one album "Morning Way" at Bush Hall in 2015, a packed to the rafters event I was lucky enough to attend.

This is a book that enthrals and entertains, no hairs and graces, no egos just a wonderfully warm ramble through the life of an exceptional lady. Full of little insights and truths or half truths if you prefer.

One favourite for me that resonates strongly is "Whenever I read an interview with a songwriter whose work I love they say 'Well this song's about…' my response almost every time is that's maybe what's it about for you but for me it's something else". And I agree entirely it's all about what songs meant to those who listen, our interpretation.

My interpretation of Judy Dyble book is personal, even though I fell in love with her quintessential English pure voice after discovering Fairport through an obsession with the music of Iain Matthews. It's an interest that continued with Trader Horne, through to the excellent "Talking With Strangers", to the quickly sold out triple cd "Anthology".

I'm conscious my interpretation isn't doing justice as it should, it's a brilliantly warm engaging read but after all it's not my views that count. It's yours. Please read if you will and form you opinion that's what counts.

Oh I nearly forgot and yes she does explain the knitting at the side of the stage in early Fairport days when Thompson or indeed Jimi Hendrix held the spotlights with their extended soloing ??

Ian Cripps

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