Former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble remembered

Judy Dyble
(Image credit: Judy Dyble)

Judy Dyble once told me that although she’d left music behind, music kept on trying to find her. This comment was typical of her self-effacing personality, down-playing her contribution in various lineups and combinations. In discussing her time with Fairport Convention, a pre-King Crimson Giles, Giles, & Fripp, the slow-burning cultish success of Trader Horne or the late flowering of her solo career from the 00’s, Judy was always exceedingly generous about her collaborators past and present, frequently giving the impression that she couldn’t quite understand why all these people wanted her to work with them. 

Her self-deprecating instincts aside, people wanted to work Judy primarily for her beautiful voice, with its gorgeously precise diction, shimmering purity threaded with a hint of vulnerability.

Through her poems, lyrics, and her beloved autoharp, she captured something quintessentially English, that was partly romantic, partly pastoral, and an ineffable quality that was suffused with a lightness of touch and a warm generosity of spirit.   

A talented woman who had been lived and worked through a scene and milieu whose worth and importance still resonates with artists and listeners today, securing Judy’s active participation might be seen as a way of making a vicarious connection to that original burst of creative energy. 

Perhaps most importantly, it was simply the opportunity to be in the company of someone who seemed to glow with happiness. Not gregarious exactly, although she could be that in the right place and time, but someone who always wanted to see the best in things and could be depended on to speak sense and clarity.  

As vocalist with Fairport Convention, she is a luminous presence on their self-titled debut, with her voice providing a soaring counterpoint to the West Coast Psych-tinged twang that informed their sound. Their version of Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning brings forth a surging revved-up energy to the song with Judy’s giddy vocal netting the whirling excitement of the times.

Her removal from the band to make way for the incoming Sandy Denny was a blow to Judy’s confidence, something which knocked her off balance for a while but she held no enmity toward the new vocalist, recognising her talent and the impact Denny would make and speaks to Judy’s other quality, resilience.

Picking herself up, she and new boyfriend, Ian McDonald fell into the orbit of Giles, Giles and Fripp. Her recording of the McDonald and Sinfield penned I Talk To The Wind in 1968 is a true gem. Although the song would be taken up by King Crimson for their 1969 debut, the version recorded the previous year is for many fans, a definitive reading.

With no space for Judy in the formation of King Crimson, her professional pairing with ex-Them member Jackie McCauley as Trader Horne produced just one album, Morning Glory in 1970. While clearly of its time, there is a timeless quality to its whimsical interludes and softly-delivered vocals. Somewhat overlooked on its release, the album’s reputation as a ‘lost’ classic has grown and it’s been recognised as an important album and one which Dyble and McCauley were delighted to be reunited for Morning Way’s 45th-anniversary celebration in 2015.

A significant part of Dyble’s life and times was her partnership and marriage in 1971 to DJ and music journalist, Simon Stable. Though she stopped performing, her connection with the industry continued in part after she helped co-founded a tape duplicating firm, Somewhere Else with Stable which they ran together until Stable’s death in 1994. “He always liked to do around saying he was the man from Somewhere Else,” she told me.

In 1971 Dyble also worked in reception at Command Studios in Piccadilly. The couple also took in lodgers at their house including drummer Ian Wallace and for the time around the recording of King Crimson’s Islands, Robert Fripp. “He moved into our flat, filled up the fridge with melons, and told us off for using coloured toilet paper,” she once told me.Judy also reveals that Fripp would occasionally join them in a card game called Spite and Malice. “It’s a bit like double-handed Patience. You can really throw your opposition by fouling their next move sonf Robert was really very good at it. He was vicious and would really knock you off the board. He was very private but his eyes would light up when you’d say ‘Spite and Malice?’”

In March 1997 she attended the Epitaph playback celebrating the original KC lineup and was reunited with Ian McDonald and others from the period. She mentioned to McDonald that she had received am offer to play with Fairport Convention at their Cropredy Festival in August for the first time since she’d parted company with the band nearly 30 years previously. “I was unsure about doing it after so long but Ian said to me ‘you’ve got to do it!’ And he even rang me from New York afterward to tell me to do it. But if I hadn’t have gone to that playback and talked to the people there I’m not sure I would have done the Fairport thing again.”

Her appearance with Fairport marked the beginning of a return to music for Dyble and in the ‘00s. The delicate, mellifluous strains of Judy’s songs and vocals can be followed like some elusive leyline burrowing through sometimes tangential discographies that include progressive rock, folk, trance, electronica, ambient, indie pop, the Canterbury Scene, post-rock, and acid jazz. 2004’s Enchanted Garden and 2006’s Spindle and The Whorl all with producer Marc Swordfish, saw her growing in confidence, displaying her openness and ability to lend her sound to diverse settings. 

2009’s Talking With Strangers was perhaps a major statement of arrival from an artist who had been severely underrated but was now just getting into her stride. On a personal note, I was surprised but thrilled when Judy got in touch to ask if she could use one of my photographs of a sunrise in my hometown of Whitley Bay for one side of a picture-disc she was releasing with Tim Bowness and Alistair Murphy in 2010. Needless to say I, like many others before me, was thrilled simply to have this small connection to her work.

Aside from enjoying partnerships and TV appearances with Bowness, in producer and arranger, Alistair Murphy Judy had found someone who really knew how to get the best from her as a writer and performer. Flow And Change from 2013 and 2018’s Earth Is Sleeping provided yet more proof of Judy’s abilities to bring grace and refinement to superior material.  Reading Dyble's 2016 autobiography, An Accidental Musician one really got a sense of the person who took chances, never gave in to bitterness and had triumphed over significant adversity and personal setbacks. Judy was nothing if not an optimist, always looking for the best in people and looking out for people. Simply put, as any of her friends and admirers will tell you, she was a joy to be with.

Only days ago there was a frisson of excitement at the announcement that she would be releasing a new album with Big Big Train’s David Longdon, Between A Breath And A Breath. That recording, like those before it, will now serve as a tribute to her many talents. She may well have left music at one point, as she once said but let's be thankful it didn't leave her alone and that we have so much of it left for us to savour and celebrate. 

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.