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Folk Legend Bridget St John In Beverley
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
Many years have flown by since a Melody Maker’s poll placed Bridget St John among the top five female vocalists. Time was when she seemed to be almost a permanent fixture on the BBC’s iconic Old Grey Whistle Test. Those were the days (‘my friend, we thought they’d never end’) when Folk was big on the college scene, she headlined at all the top folk clubs and was pretty much acknowledged, for her singing, song-writing and, not least, her superb guitar playing, as the Queen of British Folk.

Sadly from our perspective she was then lost to us for something like two decades when, in 1976, she moved to Greenwich Village, New York’s most folky quarter. Her legions of fans never forgot her, however, and (now all of a certain age) they are turning out to catch her on a tour which began in Birmingham and, thousands of miles later, will end in Dublin, at Whelan’s, Ireland’s most famous live music venue. That should be some night!

A few nights ago she played at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket which, as she told us, was particularly poignant for her. The great musical guru, disc jockey extraordinary and record producer had in the late-60s really taken her under his wing, brought out her first three albums on his own label and played her extensively on his radio shows.

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The years have clearly been kind to her lovely voice, with which she caressed a variety of numbers. The concert began with a wondrously tender version of Dylan’s Just Like A Woman and ended with an equally affecting interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s deathless Suzanne. In between we were royally entertained by some of her own compositions, including a moving tribute to one of her ‘brothers in Folk’, John Martyn, with whom she had first collaborated. The well named Nice, a raggy little piece, was cheered to the echo by the highly appreciative audience.

It was a great night, as unpretentious and unshowbizzy as only a folk concert can be. The main attraction strolled on unannounced and simply took up her instrument and played. At times she chided her guitar for being old and taking some tuning. Her anecdotes were always interesting and never self-indulgent and, like one or two other rather famous folk singers of her own generation, she revealed a strong social conscience. At the end, she strolled off with as little ceremony as she had entered and had to be tempted back by the demonstrative audience.

The evening had begun with a short set from Katie Spencer, a local folk singer of great promise. She sings her own songs, has a touchingly plaintive voice and a wonderful guitar technique. Let’s hope she does not disappear to America.

Quite the most amazing moment of the evening, the one I took home with me, was when Bridget forgot the dexterous finger-picking and chose instead to slap her instrument on a tremendously stomping, stamping, gospel-fuelled version of Buffy Sainte-Marie's Lazarus. The title seemed to hold a remarkable significance. The folk-singer, so long taken from us, had risen again.

Bridget St John appeared at the East Riding Theatre, Beverley, on Thursday 13th, September.

Folk Legend Bridget St John In Beverley, 14th September 2018, 10:23 AM