I never met Judy, although her voice has long been a soundtrack to my wanderings, from the time I first came across Fairport Convention in the Seventies to her work with Trader Horne and beyond. To me Judy was a friend on Facebook, who cheered my days with her photos of her garden and her beloved greyhound Jessie, and whose posts were always positive and full of life even though she was gravely ill. When she passed from cancer earlier this year aged 71, I was deeply saddened, yet I knew she was incredibly excited about her latest recording, and very much looked forward to hearing it. This was recorded with Big Big Train singer David Longdon, and I knew a large part of me really wanted to enjoy it, but would that emotion change my approach to the music given I felt a bond with it?
I can’t tell if that has actually had an impact, but I know I love this album deeply. It is a restrained modern album, and although Judy’s voice has aged, she still has that wonderful warm and delicate approach. Longdon has long been recognised as one of the best singers around and here he weaves spells around Judy to often provide strength and support, and when he takes the lead it is in such a fashion that Judy is very much an integral part of it. On the album Judy (vocals, autoharp) and David (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, piano and keyboards) were joined by Jeff Davenport (Jade Warrior, drums) and Longdon’s Big Big Train bandmates Danny Manners (double bass), Rikard Sjöblom (accordion), Rachel Hall (violin), Greg Spawton (bass guitar and Moog Taurus pedals) and Nick D’Virgilio (drums). Other featured musicians are Dave Gregory (ex-Big Big Train and XTC, guitar), Andy Lewis (Paul Weller, bass guitar), Luca Calabrese (Isildurs Bane, trumpet), Dave Sturt (Gong and Steve Hillage, fretless bass). It is a modern progressive rock album which is delicate, restrained, full of folk elements, layered, yet fresh and powerful. When this album is playing the rest of the world melt away and all that exists is the music the voices. The arrangements are simply divine, with vocals going from simple lines to massed overdubs, Nick powering his way around the kit, with songs such as “France” being far from what one would expect from an old folk singer.
Judy’s collaboration with David Longdon was something she had long wished to undertake. “I first heard David sing with Big Big Train at King’s Place in London in 2015 and immediately decided that I really wanted to sing with him someday” she said. She duetted with Longdon on “The Ivy Gate” (‘Grimspound’) and the album itself is a natural development from there. Let’s hope the many Big Big Train fans who are out there discover Judy with this and look back over a career of amazing music from a wonderful singer. This is a superb book end to a wonderful career which started more than 50 years earlier with the first Fairport Convention album which featured such classics as “Time Will Show The Wiser”. Although it is an album of equals, there is also very much the feeling that this was designed by those involved to keep Judy at the fore, and the result is something which is very special indeed. This is an absolutely essential delightful album which should be investigated by all lovers of modern progressive folk and is one I have enjoyed immensely.