The Song Remains: Judy Dyble 1949 – 2020

The original voice of Fairport Convention will sing no more. Following a long illness, Judy Dyble passed away on the 12th July 2020 at the age of 71. Born Judith Aileen Dyble in Central London in February 1949, Judy became active on the London folk scene when she was still in her mid-teens, originally singing with the band Judy and The Folkmen.

Around 1966 she started singing, on an occasional basis, with Tyger Hutchins, Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol and, in 1967, they asked her to join them in their new band, Fairport Convention, the band that would go on to create a new form of roots-based music that would be recognised as folk/rock. The band were originally set up along similar lines to America’s Jefferson Airplane and much of their material came from American folk writers, such as Richard and Mimi Farina and Joni Mitchell, who were favourites of the band’s core members. Judy Dyble’s voice had an ethereal quality that suited these songs well, especially once they brought Iain Matthews into the fold and the two could work together, as shown on the band’s eponymous first album but, once they signed with Joe Boyd’s Witchseason production company, Dyble’s days in the band were numbered. Boyd had a distinct vision of where he wanted the band to go and Dyble’s light voice and lack of stagecraft, she once famously sat on the side of the stage knitting while Richard Thompson jammed with Jimi Hendrix, didn’t sit well with his plans for the outfit. When Boyd first took over, Judy Dyble was in a relationship with Richard Thompson and Boyd knew that there was no prising Dyble from the band at that time but, as the relationship waned, he conspired with Ashley Hutchings, who was increasingly looking to incorporate traditional British folk material into the repertoire, to have Judy Dyble replaced and, as she said in interviews after leaving the band, she was “unceremoniously dumped”. That she was replaced by Sandy Denny shows how far she was from the singer and front person Boyd and Hutchings envisaged for the band.

She wasn’t out of the limelight for long as she and then boyfriend, Ian McDonald, joined the band Giles, Giles and Fripp, who would then metamorphose into prog band King Crimson, though Dyble had left the band when her relationship with McDonald ended.

Dyble’s next appearance was in the band that, alongside her time in Fairport Convention, would come to define her place in British music history. With ex-Them keyboard player and multi-instrumentalist Jackie McAuley, she formed experimental folk/rock band, Trader Horn. The band only existed in this form for about a year, releasing one album ‘Morning Way’ and two singles ‘Sheena’ and ‘Here Comes The Rain’. Though they were hardly successful at the time the band has gone on to be a cult classic, with original copies of their recordings highly prized and very collectable.

Judy Dyble retired from the music business in 1973, at the grand age of 24, to concentrate on family life but, in 1981, she was lured back to the stage at that year’s annual Fairport’s Cropredy Festival and she made regular appearances at the festival over the years, most notably at the 40th Reunion Concert in 2007. Many artists who have left a band just before they achieve major success would find it hard to share a stage with those ex-bandmates but Dyble was never one to dwell on the past, always being positive about the time she spent in Fairport Convention and the subsequent opportunities that presented.

In more recent years, Dyble had again become increasingly active as a songwriter and performer, working on various collaborative projects with a range of fellow experimental musicians and she was much loved and respected within these circles. In November 2015 she reunited with McAuley to perform again as Trader Horn, playing the entire ‘Morning Way’ album live in a concert at London’s Bush Hall.

Her final recording was a new album performed and co-written with David Longdon, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist from prog rock band Big Big Train. This album, ‘Between a Breath and a Breath’ has been scheduled for release in September of this year. It will be a fitting final release for an artist who described herself, in the title of her 2016 autobiography, as ‘An Accidental Musician’ but who’s body of work shows that, if true, it has proved to be a very serendipitous accident.

Judy Dyble was a musically enquiring and explorative talent that will be much missed but will always be remembered as an innovator and a fine singer….and as the original voice of Fairport Convention.

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