ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS
Bob Dylan’s new album
by Spencer Leigh
My book Bob Dylan: Outlaw Blues is published by McNidder and Grace on Thursday
July 9, whatever ‘Publication’ means these days. It will be available on the internet
(Amazon predominantly, the publisher’s website, and mine). You can order it from
Waterstones website but if you go into one of their stores and pick it up but decide not to
buy it, the book has go into quarantine for 72 hours, so for the sake of the poor book at
least, take it to the checkout. I would love to say, “Get it from the library” but the libraries
are still closed. However, Bob Dylan: Outlaw Blues is already available as an ebook.
Bob Dylan: Outlaw Blues has 528 pages and although I knew it was going to be long, I
had no idea that it was going to be so long. My book, Simon and Garfunkel: Together
Alone (2016), has 244 pages and the main reason for the difference is that Bob Dylan has
written three times as many songs as Paul Simon and there must be many more that we
haven’t heard. Irving Berlin is said to be the most published songwriter of all-time with
1,250 compositions and I would guess that Woody Guthrie wasn’t far behind as he was
always scribbling away but many of his lyrics didn’t surface until after his death. Dylan is
around the 700 mark and don’t forget that unlike the Brill Building writers, say, he has
had a major career as a touring and recording artist. He has also recorded hundreds of
cover versions and on recent releases, he has been recasting himself, somewhat
improbably, as Frank Sinatra.
When the publication date for my biography was agreed, Bob Dylan hadn’t released an
album of new songs in eight years and Rough and Rowdy Ways hadn’t been announced.
The new album is released today (June 19) and as the book is now being printed, it can’t
contain a full review. However, it does include commentary on the three singles which
were released in advance: ‘Murder Most Foul’, ‘I Contain Multitudes’ and ‘False Prophet’.
Therefore, here on the album’s release date June 19, I thought I would add my own
twopenn’orth about the album. Being in lockdown, I haven’t got the CD so I can’t
comment on the booklet; indeed, I live in Southport and I don’t even think anywhere in
the town sells CDs anymore.
A new Dylan album has taken me by surprise as he had been concentrating on sketching
and painting in recent years and signed prints of his work are being sold through fine art
galleries. I discuss the finances of this in the book and show how lucrative this can be. If
you want Bob’s autograph, then buy a signed print for £1,500!
The title, Rough and Rowdy Ways, is a young man’s s title and certainly an intriguing
one for a man who is approaching 80. It echoes a track by Jimmie Rodgers, ‘My Rough
and Rowdy Ways’, written and released by him in 1929. Bob Dylan was involved in a
tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers in 1996 for which he recorded ‘My Blue Eyed Jane’ and
he wrote in the CD booklet, “Jimmie may well be the man who started it all for we have
no antecedent to compare him.” It’s a pity Dylan hasn’t included ‘My Rough and Rowdy
Ways’ on his new album as it would work as an old man looking back on his life.
What we do have are 10 new Dylan songs spread over 2CDs, although they would fit on a
single disc. However, it is fitting that the extraordinary ‘Murder Most Foul’ should be
given a CD of its own. This was the first single to be released and the 17-minute track
went to No.1 on Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales, which presumably means that Bob
Dylan has achieved his first US No.1 single, something that he didn’t manage with ‘Like a
Rolling Stone’ or ‘Rainy Day Women Nos.12 & 35′. It is also the longest single to make
Bob Dylan: Outlaw Blues is a brand new, bang up-to-date biography of Bob Dylan by acclaimed author, broadcaster and journalist Spencer Leigh.
The timing of the publication is particularly apposite as it coincides neatly with the release of Dylan’s new album “Rough And Rowdy Ways” , his first collection of new , self-written songs since his 2012 album “Tempest”.
You may ask yourself “Does the world need another biography of Bob Dylan ? Hasn’t Dylan been the subject of countless books , including those by such eminent writers as Anthony Scaduto, Robert Shelton, Howard Sounes, Richard Williams , Paul Williams, Michael Gray, Clinton Heylin, Greil Marcus and many more ? What more can be added to the already voluminous Dylan bibliography?”
Well, my response to those questions is that , yes, we do need a new biography of Bob Dylan as long as it is written by Spencer Leigh.
BOB DYLAN OUTLAW BLUES Anne Pritchard 9/06/2020
Bob Dylan: Outlaw Blues
Author: Spencer Leigh
Published by McNidder & Grace
Another Bob Dylan book! Critics might question … but fans will retort, Why not?
Diligent, overwhelming detailed research by author Spencer Leigh has resulted in this outstanding tribute to the work and life of Bob Dylan, one of the most influential singer-songwriters of our time.
This biography coincides with Dylan entering his 80th year (Dylan celebrated his 79th birthday on 24th May 2020) and the surprising release of three brilliant, new singles and double album, Rough and Rowdy Ways which will be Dylan’s first record of original songs since Tempest (2012).
Spencer Leigh, music biographer extraordinaire, provides us with a detailed insight into Dylan’s incredible, incomparable music, his tremendous never-ending tour performances plus his private life and skilfully scrutinises how it all interconnects.
“PRODUCED BY STUART COLMAN”
STUART COLMAN has produced 100 artists and had many hits. He tells his story to Spencer Leigh
In 2006, Stuart Colman told me that he had now produced 100 different acts and he thought it might make a feature for ‘Record Collector’. We met for a couple of long interviews and the result was this feature. In the end, ‘Record Collector’ decided it was too long for a producer who was not a household name like George Martin or Phil Spector. This was a pity as I think it contained some great information and anecdotes but then I don’t have to sell magazines. Here it is, presented as a tribute to Stu who died in Cheltenham from cancer on 19 April 2018. Be warned: there are over 10,000 words in this feature so it will take you a good hour to read. Bye bye Stu – rest in peace.
A few months ago, Stuart Colman sent me a list of 100 acts he had produced. It included Shakin’ Stevens, Alvin Stardust, Cliff Richard and The Young Ones, and the hit records he has made with them are well known. There were albums for the 50s stars Little Richard, Connie Francis and The Crickets and, at the other end of the scale, there were artists who remain unknown. As Stu’s work is consistently good, I wanted to know more about them. It was the perfect subject for Record Collector and so, with the editor’s blessing, I invited Stuart to talk through his list.
Stuart Colman has produced 33 UK hit singles, 15 of which made the Top 20.There are two main, related themes to his work: one is the allure of 50s music and the other is the importance of music as entertainment. He says, “I know rock’n’roll should never take itself too seriously. It is not art school and it has not gone to university. It is a fun thing and I try to inject fun into it. The TV producer Jack Good told me that he loved my records with Shakin’ Stevens because Shaky laughs and chuckles in them and you can tell he is having a good time. I was delighted with that comment because that is how I wanted Shaky to sound. The epitome of a good rock’n’roll record is to have fun bursting out of it so that it envelops you.”
Stuart Colman was born in Harrogate on 19 December 1944. He began playing bass shortly before moving to Rugby in 1961 where he helped form an R&B outfit, The Beat Preachers. The group eventually got to record a single, ‘Inside Out’, for Pye in 1965 but the company renamed them The Caribbean; hardly a good move. In 1966, he joined Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours on bass and he arranged and played on their third Decca single, ‘Magic Rocking Horse’. In 1969, they recorded ‘Smile A Little Smile For Me’ for Pye, changed their name to Flying Machine and made the US Top 5. Stuart left the band two years later and he became the presenter of several popular radio shows including It’s Rock & Roll on Radio 1 (1976-1979) and Echoes on BBC Radio London (1978-88). He joined Capital Gold as the presenter of the Saturday Night Rock & Roll Party, and went on to host the drivetime programme. He was with Capital from 1988 to 1995.
Stuart recalls, “I had wanted to produce records since 1971 but neither Decca nor Pye showed any interest in me. In the end, I learnt to produce at the BBC because I had a Radio 1 show that was subjected to needletime, meaning that every 60 minutes of the programme needed 8 minutes of live music to keep the Musicians’ Union happy. I would go to the sessions so I could interview the artist and ensure that they were doing something more inventive than another version of ‘C’mon Everybody’. One week the producer, Dave Price was not available and he asked me to take over. After a couple more weeks, I found myself producing the sessions. The news that I was producing got around and I was asked to produce Shakin’ Stevens for Sony and, at the same time, Ricky and the Cufflinks for MCA. My life was about to change.”
THE LONDON YEARS
It’s appropriate that Shakin’ Stevens (1) should be Stuart Colman’s first act as their careers are intertwined: indeed, Stu plays bass for him today. During the 70s, Shaky had been playing rock’n’roll clubs in Wales and he established himself in the West End with the 1977 musical, Elvis. A few singles followed, but his luck was running out: “The poor guy was very frustrated as Sony were about to drop him. Muff Winwood, who ran the A&R department, was so desperate to get him a hit that he wanted him to change his name. Shaky went purple and said, ‘No bloody way, I am Shakin’ Stevens.’ It is like ‘The Beatles’. When I first heard the name, I thought it was very strange and after a couple of hit records, it became very cool.”
What had been going wrong? “That’s exactly what Shaky asked me. I told him that the songs were wrong; the studios were wrong; the engineers were wrong; and the musicians were wrong; and he had a producer who was also his manager, so there were too many irons in the fire. I got him some great players – Albert Lee, Geraint Watkins, B J Cole – and everybody said yes because Shaky had a good reputation. I found him two or three good original songs and some fine oldies like ‘Hot Dog’ and chose a good studio, which was Eden Studios in Chiswick. I couldn’t produce his first Epic album as he was under contract to Mike Hurst, but I was the intermediary and I remixed ‘Hot Dog’ which was a chart single. ‘Hey Mae’ didn’t sell but maybe it was too earthy for the time. It was a very good, dance-floor rock’n’roll record, even though I say it myself, and then the hits started coming with ‘This Ole House’. He turned to Freya Miller, who was Joe Brown’s manager and could get him on television. He was so good-looking that he couldn’t fail.”
Was Stuart imitating the sound of 50s rock’n’roll? “No, I didn’t try to make authentic records. I didn’t use retro equipment. I have been using the most high-tech stuff ever since I produced Shaky. When Shaky took off, I happened to be in the right place at the right time for the new era of equipment – an SSL desk, Solid State Logic, which had flying faders and computerised mixing. The second one ever built was installed at Eden Studios in January 1981 and I was one of the first producers to use it, and I loved it. I am still that way. I love state-of-the-art stuff. On the other hand, I am sure that Shaky would have been at home in the Sun Studios in Memphis in the 50s with Jack Clement calling the shots instead of me.”
Isn’t one of the tricks of a good rock’n’roll record turning up the echo? “You have to be subtle as there is nothing worse than a rock’n’roll record with the repeat out of time, too much repeat or an unflattering repeat. The echo you hear on Elvis’ 70s stuff like ‘Burning Love’ is horrible as it is the wrong shape and the wrong size. I love the sound of Bradley’s Studio in Nashville on Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee records as the slapback is perfectly timed. It is around 130 milliseconds, which is the ultimate rock and roll repeat. If you go slower or you go beyond that, it sounds corny or end of the pier.”
And which of the Shaky records worked best? “One of my favourite tracks is a cover of an NRBQ song, ‘Don’t She Look Good’ which has extremely odd time signatures. Shaky sang the heck out of it. By then he had learnt to sing from his stomach and I used to get him to sing higher and higher and he was finding new dynamics. He was discovering a range he didn’t know he had. I used to say, ‘Get on your toes, stick your chest out, lick your lips and go for it.’ If an artist has that capability, get them up there. You get the zing and the ping off the top notes, providing they are not singing flat.”
Shaky’s records feature brilliant UK session musicians. “I agree. There are some great solos on the records and my job was to make sure that the records could breathe. The listener is not impressed by a long line of guitar notes, no matter how well they are played, because it becomes linear. Unless you are a jazz fan who gets off on notes flying all over the place, you need some spaces. I would say to Albert Lee, ‘That’s a killer lick but I want you to leave a little hole, so just a chord on the piano will do at this point.’ Left to his own devices, he might think, ‘I’m Albert Lee and I had better do what people expect.’”
For four years, Stuart Colman produced hit records and albums for Shakin’ Stevens. “His schedule was unbelievable and I was chasing after him because he was touring. He was in Australia; he was in Japan; he was all over the world. If I’d had my way, I would have recorded him day after day after day until we got mountains of material and then let him go on tour. It became very difficult for me, so for the good of my health, I quit working with Shaky and started working with Cliff Richard, Phil Everly and Billy Fury. It was a very good thing to do as otherwise I might have fallen off the edge.”
At the same time as he started with Shaky, Stu was producing Ricky and the Cufflinks (2) but they soon got left behind. “They were from Bournemouth and were a good band in the post-punk, early Power Pop band type of thing. I just made the one record with them, ‘Startin’ Line’. They were easy to work with, but I was never drawn to groups. When it comes to mixing, a group wants a different mix for every member of the band. The bass player wants to hear more bass, and so on. On the other hand, you can have a one-to-one thing with a singer. The best way is to get to know the artist socially, sit down over a meal and let trust develop. The singer thinks, ‘What is he going to do for me?’, and I am thinking, ‘Can he handle this?’ That makes a big difference: when you get into that studio, you trust each other.”
Stuart also recorded Geraint Watkins (3) as a solo performer. Says Stuart, “I am really proud of a single on the BBC label, ‘I’m A Fool To Care’, the Joe Barry hit, though the song goes back to Les Paul and Mary Ford. The session came together at the very last minute but there is magic on it. We got the most valid Louisiana, Creole sound that you could possibly get out of British players. Geraint also recorded an updated version of the Joe Jones song, ‘You Talk Too Much’, with me for Stiff, which was released under the name of Otis Watkins.” Also for Stiff, Stuart cut some tracks with Nigel Dixon (4), the former lead singer of the rock’n’roll band, Whirlwind, who had featured on It’s Only Rock & Roll, but they were never released.
In 1980, the Cornish rock’n’roll band, The Shades (5), recorded ‘Rockin’ Red Wing’, which had a sax solo from Alan Holmes, who played with Sounds Incorporated. Stu also produced a talented boy/girl duo, Stroke (6), who recorded several power pop/punk rock singles and made an unreleased album for Sony. The girl singer, Barb Jungr, became a noted and adventurous cabaret singer.
Stuart made singles with a singing roadie, Tommy J (7), and his 1981 version of NRBQ’s ‘Ridin’ In My Car’ on RAK Records almost made the charts. “Mickie Most had asked me to join him in a production venture for RAK, but after he missed his chance to make that record a hit, I wasn’t impressed and I backed out. Tommy is still ferrying bands around as he is the tour manager for McFly.” Mickie Most also commissioned Stuart to record four tracks with Chris Tarrant’s sidekick, Kara Noble (8), but they were not released. “At the time Kara was running the most successful ‘singing telegram’ company in town. When she cut the songs, she brought her Blondie lookalike to the studio, and my engineer promptly fell in love with her!”
Also in 1981, Stuart made an album, Cy-Clone, with the British country entertainer, Pete Sayers (9). “We did it at Eden Studios with some of his players and some of my studio guys, and it was largely his originals. The single of the Bobby Edwards song, ‘You’re The Reason’, very nearly made the UK charts. When Pete died a couple of years ago, I dug out the album and it sounded lovely. It has stood up very well. He had a BBC2 country show and I played bass for him with both Roy Clark and Crystal Gayle as guests.”
The British songwriter Paul Kennerley (10) recorded two concept albums, White Mansions (1978) and The Legend Of Jesse James (1980), featuring such noted American performers such as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris. A&M wanted to establish Kennerley as an artist in his own right and Stuart was invited to produce him. “It was a wonderful session as we had Terry Williams from Dire Straits on drums, Paul Carrack on organ, Albert Lee and Billy Bremner playing guitars, and myself on bass. We cut six backing tracks and Paul loved what was going on. I said, ‘Time for some vocals,’ and Paul freaked out. He said that he couldn’t sing as well as the musicians were playing. There was a huge lack of confidence and I had to talk him into it. I got him to sing three vocals and he wouldn’t do the others and so the backing tracks sat there without finished vocals. A single called ‘Feels So Right’ came out and it was a good record. I lost touch with Paul but he has written several country hits and he moved close to me in Nashville.”
The neo-rockabilly band, The Jets (11), were working in the same field as Shaky, and Stuart produced their Top 30 hits, revivals of Johnnie Ray’s ‘Yes Tonight Josephine’ (1981) and Perry Como’s ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’ (1982) as well as their album, 100 Per Cent Cotton. “The Cotton brothers, Bob, Ray and Tony, were 18, 17 and 15 when I started working with them and I loved it as the guitarist, Ray, came up with this great style which was so different to Shaky’s records. It was very like Les Paul’s in that we would work out little runs and speed the track up and then he would play harmonies over it. You could also tell a Jets record from The Stray Cats or The Polecats or Dave Edmunds.”
Strangely, ‘This Ole House’ and ‘Green Door’ for Shaky and those Jets’ successes were revivals of 50s pop hits rather than rock’n’roll ones. “Yes, but they put their rock’n’roll touch on them and we turned them into rock’n’roll records. They all were songs that had radio strengths. They had good hooks and distinctive melodies.”
In the same vein, Stuart produced The Inmates (12), who had made the charts with ‘The Walk’ in 1979. “They were a pub rock band from London, who had been signed to Warners. We made a very good album called Heatwave In Alaska, and I’m glad it’s out on CD. Their previous producer, Vic Maile, recorded the band at Jack Jackson’s old studio in Hertfordshire, which was where Motorhead recorded. Jack Jackson had made his radio programmes from there in the 50s, so talk about being ahead of your time. He had moved to the Canaries and he kept the money rolling in by leasing his studio. However, I brought The Inmates into the tried and trusted Eden Studios, which was my second home for many years.”
Brian Copsey and the Commotions (13) were a good band, but they failed to excite record buyers: “They were on Chrysalis. They came right out of the blue and they were very hip for a short time. Brian Copsey was a Bryan Ferry with a bit of the lounge lizard about him and they were a good rock band. Although Brian wrote a lot of material, Chrysalis wanted me to cut the band on the Buddy Holly song, ‘Love’s Made A Fool Of You’, which became a single. Other titles included ‘Shavin’ With The Lights On’, ‘King Of The Hop’ and ‘Shirley In The Rain’, but not everything was released. They didn’t last long and I stole the drummer, Chris Wyles, to replace Howard Tibble in Shakin’ Stevens’ band. I would chop and change players like that, so everything has a benefit in the long run.” Similarly, Marshall Doktors (14) revived ‘The Worrying Kind’, without repeating Tommy Sands’ success. “He was a good-looking youngster, managed by Harry Barter, who was a well-known figure around London in the early 80s.” And then when it comes to obscure singles, Stuart cut the anthem, ‘We Are The People’ for European release with the African band, Massai (15).
From time to time, Shakin’ Stevens dipped into the Billy Fury (16) songbook and so Stuart was delighted to work with the real thing. Stuart picked ‘Love Or Money’, a US success for the Blackwells, and he recalls, “The sessions were a sad state of affairs because Billy wasn’t well. He was frail and he had so many health problems over the years that I think he had a death wish. His voice was immaculate and he was in wonderful form. When we cut ‘Devil Or Angel’, he said, ‘I didn’t think I could sing like that anymore.’ If you listen to the first middle eight, he sounds exactly as he did when he was 18 and he was amazed that he could do that. I said, ‘It’s a simple thing. It’s a question of finding a song you like and then, when you sing it, you feel relaxed.’ ‘Devil Or Angel’ could have been a big record had he been around to promote it. He was getting erratic towards the end. I was booking studio time and he wouldn’t turn up, partly because his confidence was ebbing. I was going to him with the machinery rather than bringing him to the studio, so he was becoming a problem.”
The acting brothers from Liverpool, The McGanns (17), were good vocalists who were signed to Chrysalis. They released a single, ‘Shame About The Boy’/’Red Light’, in 1983. “The most frustrating things for me about the business are the records that could have been hits and yet never got released. We did a killer version of ‘Pink Dally Rue’, which is a song like ‘Woolly Bully’ that I had always wanted to do. Chrysalis made a very bad A&R choice with the single and anyway, they weren’t behind the band. The single is good but ‘Pink Dally Rue’ is much better.”
Phil Everly (18) made a solo album, Phil Everly, with Stuart in 1983, and Stu comments, “Once the word got round that I was going to make a record with Phil Everly for Capitol, the phone never stopped ringing with musicians wanting to guest on it. The first person on the phone was Mark Knopfler and he was huge at the time. We had Terry Williams on drums and Pete Wingfield on piano. Cliff Richard (19) wanted to be on the album and he had a ballad that someone in his publishing company had written, ‘I’ll Mend Your Broken Heart’, and that was okay because it was a lovely song.”
‘Louise’ made the Top 50, but the big hit from the album was the duet between Phil Everly and Cliff Richard on the John David song, ‘She Means Nothing To Me’. “I had it on a demo and I was playing it in my car all the time. It reminded me of that song in The Student Prince, (sings) ‘Drink, Drink, Drink, da da da’, and John David may have got the idea from that. When I played it to Cliff and Phil, they loved it. I asked John David to play the beat-up guitar he had used on the demo. He thought I was nuts because I had Mark Knopfler around, but I wanted that sound, and he did recreate it. Phil said, ‘I used to make records in two takes and I’ve never sung a song so many times.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s the 80s now, and I don’t want you to make a great record, I want you to make a stunning record.’ Artists like to be flattered and he said, ‘Okay, I’m party to that.’ It worked out great.”
This was written for the programme for the 50th year and final night of Jacqui and Bridie’s folk club at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on 23 January 2011.
Who knows? In another world, Jacqueline McDonald, a Geordie raised in Yorkshire, might have been playing on this stage with the Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1957, when she was 20, she wanted to learn the oboe. She discovered that oboes were around £70 whereas she could buy a cheap guitar for £4. “I started practising the guitar on the bus back from Harrogate to Ilkley,” recalls Jacqui today, “I had a chord book and by the time I got back to Ilkley, I could play a G chord.” Having learnt some chords, what was Jacqui to sing?
The noted American singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie commented that all music was folk music because he’d never heard a horse sing. Very true, but the so-called folk music revival in Britain and America in the 1950s concentrated on songs which linked the countries back to their heritage. The songs tended to be of working class origin and had often been handed down orally, which explains why there are often several versions of the same song.
There hadn’t been mass popularity for folk music until the American group the Weavers made million selling records in the early 1950s. They had success with an African chant ‘Wimoweh’ as well as ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ and ‘Goodnight Irene’. In September 1959, they toured the UK Moss Empire circuit but probably because the group’s popularity had peaked, few people had bought tickets.
When Jacqui was in Leeds, she noticed that the Weavers were performing and rather than wait for a bus in the rain, she attended their matinee. “The place was full of schoolchildren,” says Jacqui “because they hadn’t sold many tickets and wanted an audience. It changed my life. There were three men including Pete Seeger and a woman, Ronnie Gilbert. I thought, ‘I wouldn’t mind doing something like that. I liked the fact that they were singing about the Colorado River and the Grand Coulee Dam: it was real music as opposed to the pop songs of the day which I didn’t particularly like.”
Jacqui’s opportunity came quicker than expected. She was training to be a gym teacher at the I M Marsh College in Liverpool and as the Weavers played the Liverpool Empire on 27 September, she saw them again. Backstage, she met the very tall Tony Davis, who told of the Friday folk nights which had started in the basement of Sampson and Barlow’s Restaurant, opposite the Odeon Cinema on London Road. Jacqui went the next Friday and sang the only suitable songs she knew, the calypso ‘Hold ’Em Joe’ and a yodeling song.
Tony Davis’ sister, Joan, remembered: “If you were singing a quiet, unaccompanied ballad, you could be sure that a great big bus would lumber over the grating and spoil it for you, but it was good fun.”
At the time, Joan was singing with the fledgling Spinners. “I remember Jacqui getting up for a guest spot, and she was very good. I said to Tony, ‘Look, I’m going to university and I’ve got other things to do now. You should ask Jacqui to replace me.”
The following week the Spinners – that is, Tony Davis, Cliff Hall, Mick Groves and Hughie Jones – asked Jacqui to join them. They all had daytime jobs but they were soon in demand to appear at other folk clubs and on radio and TV including the popular programme, Barn Dance, hosted by Brian Redhead.
On their own initiative, the Spinners released Songs Spun In Liverpool, a live album recorded in 1962. Their repertoire included ‘Whip Jamboree’, ‘John Peel’ and ‘Johnny Todd’ (sung by Jacqui and now known as the theme from Z-Cars). A club member, Mollie Armstrong, came up with ‘Liverpool Barrow Boy’s Song’ and when Jacqui’s grandmother remembered ‘The Sovereign Of The Seas’ from South Shields, Hughie refashioned it as ‘Champion Of The Seas’ about a Liverpool sailing ship that broken the record on the run to Australia in 1860. ‘Adam In The Garden’, was developed from something Jacqui remembered from a girl guide camp and indeed, there was a camp fire mentality about the way folk club audiences would join in the choruses.
Bridget Mary O’Donnell, better known as Bridie, was of Irish background but had been raised in Wrexham and was teaching in Tuebrook. Bridie told me of her first visit to the Spinners’ club in 1960. “I went with a young man, another teacher, to the Spinners’ folk club. I thought we were going to have a lovely night out but suddenly he got up and sang as a floor singer. I got to know them all and I was soon selling raffle tickets and became an avid club member.” Bridie sometimes drove the Spinners to their bookings. Everybody recalls Bridie’s driving with some horror and it became a constant source of amusement in Jacqui and Bridie’s stage act.
Jacqui and Bridie and a third teacher, Marnie Spencer, bought an old coach house in St Michael’s Road in Aigburth. They decorated it brightly and distinctly, even having wallpaper on the ceiling.
On Monday nights, Jacqui would rehearse with the Spinners and Bridie thought of opening her own folk club in the Coach House itself. Early in 1961, an ad was placed in the Liverpool Echo and the first person to knock on the door was Stan Mason. He had no idea what folk music was but those who were coming might enjoy his collection of stamps. Eventually, some singers turned up and the club did well, growing from 20 to over 100. There was no Health and Safety legislation back then.
Meanwhile, Jacqui was becoming frustrated with the Spinners. All five Spinners sang lead vocals and so she would only sing lead a couple of times in a set. In January 1963, Jacqui left but, despite a solo appearance at the Royal Albert Hall, she didn’t care for driving around on her own. It was inevitable that she would team up with Bridie and she became part of the weekly Coach House sessions.
Jacqui and Bridie would dress similarly but not identically and this summarised their approach to music. Although they could harmonise sweetly, it was the contrast in their voices that made them distinctive. Jacqui had a delicate voice, well suited to poignant ballads, while Bridie’s forceful, up-and-at-’em voice demanded to be heard. Similarly, Jacqui played guitar and mandolin delicately while Bridie’s banjo could be heard across Liverpool. Both had comic timing and again it was the combination of their humour and their repartee which made them so memorable. Bridie possessed enormous verve and energy and could respond to any heckle. After singing ‘Kilgarry Mountain’ one night, she had a very funny rant about what Captain Farrell could do with his rapier. She might have done it every night for all I know, but it sounded spontaneous and was very funny.
In June 1964, Jacqui and Bridie turned professional thus becoming Britain’s first female professional folk duo and they decided to tour North America for six weeks. Club members came to the Pier Head to wave them goodbye when they sailed direct (those were the days) from Liverpool to Quebec. They found work on university campuses and secured spots on radio and TV. They visited the American folk singer Jean Ritchie, whom they had met on a UK tour. She showed them some dancing dolls from her childhood. They were entranced and an idea took shape.
Marnie Spencer, a good organiser, continued with the Coach House folk club in their absence. A girl called Anthea developed a love for folk music and married Peter Bellamy, who was to perform with his group, the Young Tradition, for Jacqui and Bridie.