A tribute to Judy Dyble 1949-2020

The singer and songwriter Judy Dyble, who sang lead vocals on Fairport Convention’s very first album, sadly died at the weekend. Although never as celebrated in British folk rock history as her replacement, Sandy Denny, Judy’s beautifully clear, distinctive vocals nevertheless remain an essential part of the early Fairport sound.

After her time with Fairport, Judy was involved in a handful of other projects in the late 60s and early 70s before quitting the music business altogether, spending time bringing up her family and working as a librarian. Her musical story doesn’t quite end there, however, as the early 2000s saw Judy begin writing, recording and performing once more. Albums like the gently captivating ‘Talking With Strangers’ from 2009 and the gorgeous ‘Flow and Change’ from 2013 were extremely well received but her career renaissance continued to grow and grow with her more recent albums picking up a slew of top-notch reviews and frequent appearances in the music press.

Judy’s 2016 autobiography ‘An Accidental Musician’ is a beautiful read. Obviously, I’ve read my fair share of sex and drugs and rock and roll confessionals over the years and, perhaps unsurprisingly, this takes a very different tack. Obviously, it’s a fascinating read in terms of music history but there is so much in there that really any of us can relate to: bereavement, the lack of confidence that can come from not doing something for a long time, the fear and then the buzz of taking on new challenges – it all served to give the book a very, very human angle. When I posted comments along these lines on social media at the time, in typically engaging fashion Judy came back straight away:

“I am so glad you appreciated it, I kind of worry that it isn’t what people expect it to be – a typical race through the 60’s with lots of name droppings… Thank you.”

Other than being part of the communal sing-along for ‘Meet On The Ledge’ Judy was not called upon to play a major part in her former band’s forty-fifth anniversary celebrations which I know was a source of some frustration to her. I emailed Fairport’s Simon Nicol at the time expressing my disappointment that she had not been asked to play a bigger contribution. He did get back saying the band hoped to do more with Judy in the future. They certainly made up for it at the band’s fiftieth anniversary celebration at Cropredy in 2017 where, as well as a solo slot for Judy that weekend, all of the original line-up (sans deceased drummer Martin Lamble) reconvened. Magically we were transported back to 1967 with all of the surviving members from the first Fairport album reconvening on stage for a stunning recreation of the first track on the first album ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’, followed by ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ and ‘Reno, Nevada’. It completely captured the magic of that first album and was really special seeing Judy, Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson and Iain Matthews sharing a stage together.

An essential part of the early Fairport sound, an unexpected and most wonderful artistic renaissance in later life and one of the loveliest, most sincere, most humble and least showbizzy people you could ever wish to meet, Judy Dyble will be greatly, greatly missed.

Me with Judy at the signing tent at Cropredy in 2017

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