Thursday 20th August 2009
To her neighbours in the picturesque village just outside Bicester where she lives, Judy de la Bédoyère is a retired librarian who enjoys walking her dog and tending her garden.
Most of them are completely unaware that under her maiden name Judy Dyble, she sang with the legendary Fairport Convention and worked with some of rock music’s most respected musicians.
“In my head I have two people. There is Judy Dyble, singer who does interviews with The Oxford Times and radio stations. And then there is Judy de la Bédoyère, a retired librarian who wanders quietly around the village walking my dog,”
During the 1960s and 70s, her friendships and contacts included artists and bands as diverse as Foreigner, Steeleye Span, Jefferson Starship, Yes, Genesis, Rod Stewart and Pink Floyd.
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, Judy is still in regular touch with many of them and after almost 30 years’ absence, has returned with a comeback album, released this month.
Talking With Strangers is a beguiling mix of songs co-written by Judy and, reflecting her musical heritage, is a mix of acoustic, acid folk, jazz and rock.
Her singing voice, with its distinctive precise diction, sounds almost startlingly young and pure, belying the fact that she turns 60 this year.
She became interested in music from an early age and had already formed Judy and the Folkmen by the time she was 15. Shortly afterwards, she fell for local boy Richard Thompson, who went on to become lead guitarist of Fairport Convention.
Through him, she met the rest of the band’s original line-up — Simon Nicol and Ashley ‘Tyger’ Hutchings, who later founded Steeleye Span.
“Ashley, Simon and Richard were involved in lots of different bands — blues, rock and every time somebody wanted a folk-ish band, they dragged me in to sing,” she explained.
At 18 and working in a local library as an assistant, she had the chance of going to college. “I had to decide whether to go to polytechnic and become a proper librarian or just whizz around with the band in a van that had a hole in the floor,” she remembered.
Of course she chose the van with the hole in the floor and there followed a crazy year of touring as Fairport had recording success, even supporting Pink Floyd at one concert in 1967.
Being the only female in an otherwise all-male band did not phase her in the least.
“I thought of myself as a musician rather than a female. I was happier in jeans and never messed around with handbags and lipstick because it was too much of a fag.
“Our management did try to give me a makeover. They sent me to Vidal Sassoon to have my hair cut; to Mary Quant for make-up and Zandra Rhodes for new clothes.
“They also gave me contact lenses, which I hated. I kept losing them in the van and could not see without my glasses.
“It was such a hassle, putting on make-up. The makeover was quite effective and the pictures came out well but I was soon back in my jeans,” she added.
In footage of her performing live in a French television studio in 1968, she looks incredibly serene but the real story was very different.
“I am as blind as a bat and was not wearing glasses or contact lenses,” she giggled. “We arrived late, so there was no time for rehearsals. I was surrounded by these huge wires and cables and terrified I was going to trip over.
“What everyone thought was absolute cool was really me paralysed with terror,” she confided.
But despite Fairport’s success, things were not going well for Judy personally. Her relationship with Richard Thompson over, she was asked to leave the band. She was bereft.
“It was absolutely devastating. My friends had turned me out of their gang.”
In hindsight, she views it positively as it unwittingly propelled her into the next stage of her musical career. Somehow and somewhere (neither of them can remember) she met Ian McDonald who played saxophone, flute, guitar and had just left the army.
Their shared love of music meant they were soon “an item” and keen to start a band.
“I put an advertisement in Melody Maker which said “Musicians wanted. Serious ones only,” she remembered.
The result, in 1968, was that they teamed up with brothers Peter and Mike Giles and Robert Fripp.
“They were not terribly cool at that stage. We did some work with them, then Ian and I split up, I left the band and they became progressive rock band King Crimson,” she explained.
Fripp, now a leading guitarist and record producer, has played guitar with rock royalty such as David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Daryl Hall and David Sylvian and is married to the singer Toyah Willcox.
In the intervening decades, he and Judy have remained good friends and he is one of the contributors on Judy’s new album.
As was now the pattern, something soon appeared out of the blue to move Judy into a new scenario.
“My best friend Sue was going out with Martin Quittenton who was in a band called Steam Hammer,” she said.
“They were working with Rod Stewart. Martin co-wrote Maggie May and You Wear It Well with Rod. I was sharing a flat with Sue and Martin, so there were always plenty of other musicians around.
“One of them, Pete Sears, was in a house with another musician Jackie McCawley and the three of us set up a band.
“Then Pete went to America and started Hot Tuna and became involved in all the Jefferson Starship stuff. I am still in touch with all these people, which is lovely,” she said.
Undaunted, Judy and Jack went ahead and formed a new band, Trader Horne.
Under the guidance of manager Barry Taylor, who went on to be Mungo Jerry’s producer, a record deal fell into place.
They went on the road, performing on television and radio stations around the UK.
“It was all accidental. I just happened to be there at the time,” Judy explained.
Falling in love with the DJ and writer Simon de la Bédoyère, she had “some sort of brainstorm and ran away from everything”, bringing to an end her time with Trader Horne.
After a short spell with a small outfit called Dyble, Coxhill and the Miller Brothers, in 1973, Judy turned her back on London and her musical career.
She and Simon, who sadly died in 1994, buried themselves in the depths of Northamptonshire, then Oxfordshire, to bring up their two children Dan and Stephanie, now 31 and 29 respectively.
Some 30 years later, events have turned full circle for Judy, as she finds herself back in the spotlight as a singer and songwriter.
Her new solo album is a triumph of modern technology. Judy’s vocals were recorded on a laptop computer by her co-writers Alistair Murphy and Tim Bowness at her cottage in Oxfordshire.
Contributions from her musician friends such as Robert Fripp, Simon Nicol and Julianne Regan of All About Eve, were recorded in places as diverse as Norfolk, London, France, Texas, New York and even Japan.
Alistair and Tim took it to bits then stitched it together and made it sound as though everybody is in the same room playing together,” she explained.
Much of the time when Judy was not working in the music industry, she was to be found behind the counter in Bicester Library.
“In my head I have two people. There is Judy Dyble, singer who does interviews with The Oxford Times and radio stations.
“And then there is Judy de la Bédoyère, a retired librarian who wanders quietly around the village walking my dog,” she added.
Cropredy is a special place for her where she has been many times. She first sang there in 1980 and then again the following year.
Fairport Convention asked her to sing with them at the 30th anniversary of Cropredy in 1997, then again for the 35th anniversary in 2002.
“After the Cropredy performance, it was back to work at the library in Bicester on Monday as usual,” she recalled.
“The only reminder was when someone would bring their books back and I would realise they were wearing a Fairport T-shirt with my name on the back.
“I never had the nerve to mention it, though. I just used to grin to myself as they went out,” she added.
As for the immediate future, Judy plans a launch gig with several of her musician pals to mark the launch of Talking With Strangers.
“I have no idea what I am going to do after that but something will turn up. It always does,” she added.
Talking With Strangers by Judy Dyble was released on August 10.