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Bridget St. John Bridget St. John
Album: Fly High
Label: Cherry Red
Tracks: 20+27

Folk singer-songwriter Bridget was one of the first artists to be signed to John Peel's Dandelion label, following the tremendous interest which her debut radio appearance, on John's landmark Night Ride programme in August 1968, had generated. Although she never managed to gain mainstream acceptance, Bridget nevertheless went on to become one of the most prolific BBC radio sessioneers. Like me, you were very probably enraptured by her distinctive warm, earthy, husky, dusky singing voice and increasingly adept (if understated) guitar style, and a songwriting vision that was intimately poetic and comforting and definitively Zeitgeist; she produced some intensely attractive and memorable music through the early 1970s. Although she moved away from the UK at the end of 1976, she's stayed steadfastly true to her original artistic vision, and more recently she has returned full circle to performing, nowadays in tandem with Michael Chapman, a good friend from long back (and fellow "fully-qualified survivor"!). A couple of years ago, Cherry Red issued an exhaustive four-disc box-set that contained Bridget's first three albums topped up with a healthy quotient of live tracks and radio session cuts.

Bridget's period with John Peel's Dandelion label is universally (and, I believe, rightly) regarded as her golden age, and certainly there's a unique magic and aura about the three LPs she recorded for the label (and especially, to my mind, the first of them, with its masterly, aromatic pastoral-folk portrayal of idyllic innocence). These albums are representatively sampled on the first disc of this new collection, with five from her debut Ask Me No Questions (including the evocative extended soundscape of the title song) and six apiece from the followups Songs For The Gentle Man and Thank You For…; the first disc of Fly High is completed by two lovely tracks recorded live in Montreux in April 1972 - a cover of John Martyn's The River and the fun If You've Got Money (which had been a 45-only release a couple of years earlier). Even though the long-term Bridget aficionado will have all but the last-mentioned tracks in his/her collection, this new compilation makes musical sense and listens well as a sequence that would persuade a newbie that Bridget's music is really worth investigating.

It's on the second disc of Fly High, however, that this latest collection comes into its own. Insightfully interleaved with sections of a revealing interview (an exclusive broadcast for Cherry Red TV back in 2009), the disc gathers together a host of rarities, many the stuff of legend and including some that even diehard Bridget fans may well not have heard. Notably the fabled "BBC audition tape", recorded at Al Stewart's house in 1968, whose pair of acetates delivers incredibly assured performances of four songs and is here available digitally for the first time - and sounds really good, close-up and intimate. There's the four fabulous tracks recorded in 1969 for the BBC that appeared on the label's Top Gear programme sampler LP, also three recorded in May 1970 for a French TV station and a lone track from a 1972 Bob Harris radio session. The twin B-sides to 1972's Fly High single (previously unavailable on CD) include a compelling version of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne and provide another really useful addition to the collection, as does an early (1971) Old Grey Whistle Test performance of Nice, and it's great to hear two tracks recorded with Michael Chapman for the aforementioned Cherry Red broadcast (oh how I wish there were more from this superbly empathic partnership!) including an intimate, pindrop revisit to Ask Me No Questions that seems to resonate its deep beauty beyond time itself.

This new set's two-hours-plus of wonderful music proves a rewarding continuous experience in its own right, and even if you have all previous Bridget CD issues (See For Miles, Hux and Cherry Red), Fly High is well worth having just for the dozen or so previously unreleased (or hitherto unavailable on CD) tracks. True fans and completists will note the quirks and wrinkles in the discography - e.g the Hux BBC Radio Sessions CD remains an essential acquisition not least since it gives the 1968 and 1971 sessions complete, and Fly High restores Early Morning Song from album number two that had been omitted from the otherwise complete SFM reissues of the first two albums. And since the SFM reissue of Thank You For… had included the live Montreux tracks, that just leaves two tracks from the big Cherry Red box that are unique to that compilation…

An authoritative and affectionate booklet essay by Bridget's friend Nigel Cross provides the best possible companion advocate for this lovingly curated collection. Bridget is indeed a very special artist, who occupies a special place in my own affections. "And as for me, I'll sit and eat a buttercup sandwich and wait till the shower is over…" happy 70th birthday, Bridget!

David Kidman