Album review: BRIDGET ST. JOHN – Dandelion Albums & BBC Collection

BRIDGET ST. JOHN - Dandelion Albums & BBC Collection

Cherry Red Records [Release date 16.02.15] 4-disc boxed set

Bridget St. John no doubt influenced a generation of female folkies and this three-album retrospective will go some way to confirming that legacy.  A handsome box set, collecting her output for John Peel’s Dandelion label between 1969-1972, bolstered with live tracks (on Disc 3) and a collection of BBC sessions (Disc 4).

Bridget St. John emerged in the late sixties and became a staple on the folk circuit but perhaps bizarrely found herself on the same bill as Deep Purple, David Bowie, Jethro Tull, King Crimson and The Moody Blues amongst others.

She looked a little bit French and rather attractive, wore long velvet skirts, and her gentle style would appeal to fans of Incredible String Band although less quirky and abrasive it has to be said. There are also similarities  to Nico and a more plaintiff and reserved Joni Mitchell.  She is a talented acoustic guitarist, mentored by none other than John Martyn who contributed to her 1969 debut ‘Ask Me No Questions’ and with whom she remained friends.

She had an up and down recording situation.  Whilst championed by Peel when Dandelion folded in 1973 she moved to MCA briefly (only recording a Leonard Cohen cover for a single which was never released)  and then to Chrysalis but only for one album – ‘Jumblequeen’ – before she de-camped, disillusioned, to New York in 1976 (apparently in a new relationship) remaining there for nearly 20 years.  Evidently the bohemian nature of Greenwich Village and its essentially sixties vibe agreed with her but after the birth of her daughter in 1983 she channelled her energies into motherhood rather than music.

Of the three Dandelion albums, John Peel produced the first (‘Ask Me No Questions’) in 1969, Ron Geesin the second and more expanisve, ‘Songs For The Gentle Man’ in 1971 and ‘Thank You For…’ was in the hands of Jerry Boys (1972). This latter album is bolstered by 8 live tracks from Montreux Pop in 1972, but they’ve appeared before when BGO Records reissued the album in 1995.

The BBC disc brings together extant recordings from the various sessions she played for Radio 1 between 1968-1972.  Unfortunately the masters have long been lost so these are second generation or more copies from enthusiastic home recordists.  They are included more for historical completeness than sonic quality.

It is a pity the compilers didn’t include Bridget’s four contributions to the ‘John Peel Presents Top Gear’ LP released in 1969.  The lack of an up to date interview with the artist is also a little reprehensible and the fairly lightweight liner note doesn’t really answer the question “where is she now?” other than noting she emerges occasionally, more recently recording with the late Kevin Ayers (2007).

Bridget made a tentative step back to live performance in the UK with her first London gig for 20 years in 1995 following a brief sojurn with The Strawbs at their 30th anniversary bash two years previously. The following year came a new studio album ‘Take The 5ifth’ and a Japan live release in 2001.   In 2010 she toured with that other seventies troubadour Michael Chapman, whilst an appearance at Celtic Connections (2012) proved that she has not lost either her artistry or her allure.

Those whose appetite is whetted by this collection should seek out her album ‘Jumblequeen’ (1974) reissued on Hux Records with bonus tracks and that label’s more comprehensive and convincing BBC compilation which inevitably duplicates much of Disc 4 here.  We can only hope for more live appearances, and recognition, for this intriguing if somewhat elusive singer songwriter.  ***1/2

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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