Tim Hughes talks to singer/songwriter and ex-Fairport girl Judy Dyble about a charity single from the Armistice Pals

A founder member of folk-rock group Fairport Convention, she was thrust into the ’60s music scene, and went on to work with some giants of what became known as prog-rock. Then she took 35 years off — before coming back to show off that voice. While her latest releases have been low key, certainly compared to her earlier career, her latest project is attracting rather more interest.

Judy Dyble has teamed up with some of the greats of folk to collaborate on a charity single to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War — launched as the nation remembers its fallen on Armistice Day.

Calling themselves the Armistice Pals, Judy, fellow former Fairporter Dave Swarbrick, Oxford’s Peggy Seeger, folk band Merry Hell, Steeleye Span’s Peter Knight, Edwina Hayes and a clutch more perform a cover of Peggy’s brother, Pete Seeger’s 1960 classic Where Have All The Flowers Gone? The song, opened by BBC 2 Folk Award winner Lucy Ward, has more than 40 separate voices, including up-and-coming singer songwriter Kelly Oliver, Kellie and Chris While, Julie Matthews, Gavin Davenport, Ray Cooper and Luke Jackson, closing with a recording of Pete Seeger, who died earlier this year. The project came from a spontaneous tribute to Pete by Merry Hell, in which the band were joined by the audience in a rendition of the song — one of the greatest protest tunes ever written. Inspired by events to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war, the band approached Judy and the other singers to release a fundraising single — with proceeds distributed evenly between The British Red Cross, Malala’s Fund, Foundation for Peace and Peace through Folk.

“It’s not anti-war, it’s pro-peace,” says Judy, 65. “And one of the ideas behind it is folk clubs will sing it around this time. There’s a grass-roots movement to lead people in communal renditions of the song. We are encouraging people to sing together, which Pete was very keen on. He loved people singing together.”

Like fellow early Fairporters Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson and Martin Lamble, Judy grew up in north London (the band were named after Nicol’s house Fairport, in Muswell Hill). However, for many years she has been settled in Launton, near Bicester, moving there with her now late-husband, the DJ and bongo player Count Simon de la Bedoy-ere — AKA Simon Stable.

“After all these years, I’ve just about got the hang of country living,” she laughs. “I thought ‘I’ll just stay here for a while’ — and got stuck.”

As Fairport’s first female singer, Dyble gave the band its distinctive early sound. “It was brilliant,” she chuckles. “It was highly funny and very amusing, particularly as we were all about 18 and had no idea where we were going to go or what would happen. I was working in a library, and had to decide between becoming a librarian or travelling in a van with a hole in the floor. I choose the van — fortunately the roadie had an Alsatian which sat over the hole.”

Judy lights up as she recalls her time with the band, recording and on the road. The Fairport I was in wasn’t folk at all,” she says. “We took relatively obscure songs from America, such as Joni Mitchell’s, and made them sound good. They weren’t really covers either; we made them our own songs.

“One of the tracks in the first album was the beginning of prog. It was called The Lobster. It was based on a poem and Richard did weird things to it. I don’t consider myself a folk artist anyway; I’m a singer-songwriter.”

She adds: “They were wonderful people, just at the beginning of everything. They are legendary now, but not when I was working with them.”

The Oxford Times:

Icon: Judy Dyble

Her shortlived career with Fairport came to an end in 1968 when they brought in another singer, Sandy Denny. “They wanted to do something different, and decided to move me out,” she says stoically. “It was a shock but, with hindsight, if I’d have stayed, they wouldn’t have gone on to meet Sandy Denny and do what they did, and I wouldn’t have done the things I went on to do.”

That included meeting her then-boyfriend Ian McDonald (who would go on to found the band Foreigner). Then, after sending in an advert to Melody Maker with the words “Judy Dyble requires brilliant and creative bass guitarist/vocalist and lead guitarist vocalist. Musicians only”, she met Robert Fripp and brothers Peter and Mike Giles who, together with McDonald, became King Crimson.

That was followed by a collaboration with keyboard player and vocalist Jackie McAuley in Trader Horne, and Lol Coxhill and Canterbury musicians Steve and Phil Miller as DC & the MBs. “I’m delighted to have worked with everyone I’ve wanted to,” she says.

It wasn’t until 10 years ago she restarted her recording career, releasing three albums with Astralasia’s Marc Swordfish: Enchanted Garden, Spindle and The Whorl. They were followed, in 2009, by Talking With Strangers, with guest performances from some of the folk and prog-rock artists she has worked with over the years, among them Fairport’s Simon Nicol, Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee All About Eve’s Julianne Regan, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, Ian McDonald and Pat Mastelotto, Last year, she released Flow and Change, with contributions from Counting Crows’ Matt Malley, Spiritualized’s Mike Mooney as well as Regan and Mastelotto again. But it is her contribution to Armistice Pals which is once again getting her voice to a wider audience, many of whom weren’t even born when she started.

“What I do now is the most satisfying,” she says. “It’s involved lots of folkie people, and me. It’s beautiful. I think Pete would have been proud of it.” The song, written by Seeger in 1955 inspired from a traditional Cossack poem, was made a hit in 1962 by Peter Paul and Mary. It went on to be recorded by everyone from Marlene Dietrich and Bobby Darin to Roy Orbison and Richie Havens and much translated as an anthem of peace.

“There are a few people on the single I know,” says Judy, “including some I met at Fairport’s Cropredy Festival.”

Indeed, Judy performed her contribution in a studio in Cropredy.

The single includes three bonus tracks, including a rendition by Peggy Seeger of a poem by her uncle Alan, I Have a Rendezvous with Death. Alan Seeger was an American poet who fought and died in the First World War’s Battle of the Somme, serving in the French Foreign Legion. A classmate of T.S. Eliot at Harvard, he has been described as the American Rupert Brooke, and his poem was a favourite of President John F Kennedy.

“When I was asked I said yes. I say yes to everything, on the grounds that I might regret it if I don’t.

“However, I had no idea it would be as brilliant as it is,” adds Judy.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
* Armistice Pals. Released by Folkstock Records and on iTunes on Monday. Order your CD, including three bonus tracks with new song Emerald Green, for £2.50 plus p+p from armisticepals.com

The Oxford Times:

Peace: Peggy Seeger recording her contribution