Words by Vanessa Pettendorfer:
Vanessa Pettendorfer was born in Germany in 1981. She has a B.A. in art history and is working as a semi-professional musician. Appreciating all kinds of music – especially the progressive 60’s/70’s scene, she is now up to the deeper exploration of sound textures.
At the zenith of her career, as an idolized iconic figure of the late 1960’s music scene, Julie Driscoll (now Julie Tippetts), decided to go her own way on the road that would eventually lead to more experimental music areas, including free improvisation. Her success with the innovative blues/pop/soul-oriented group Brian Auger and the Trinity threw Julie into the treadmill of commercialisation, along with the byproducts of losing control over one’s private life and physical exhaustion caused by the longstanding touring marathon across the U.K., Europe and the U.S. Being a famous popstar was a life she was not made for. The initial step to break out of that circus and discover her destiny, was to take her acoustic guitar, and write songs on her own. Three of such pieces were already part of the third Trinity-album Streetnoise (1969). “Czechoslovakia”, “A Word About Colour” and “Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge”, from which the latter two are held in singer-songwriter style, could have been part of her solo debut album 1969 as well, provided that “Czechoslovakia” would be a simple acoustic version or arranged by Keith Tippett.
This eight-tracked underrated masterpiece just gives a glimpse of what has to come – musically and personally. Thanks to her manager and producer Georgio Gomelsky, her future husband, Keith Tippett, arranged some pieces and introduced the fellow members of his own group – Elton Dean (alto saxophone), Mark Charig (cornet), Nick Evans (trombone) and Jeff Clyne (bass/arco bass). The line-up consisted of renowned musicians who were either managed by Gomelsky or intermingled with progressive jazz-rock and fusion-oriented groups like Nucleus, the Canterbury scene’s Soft Machine or the short-lived jazz-rock band, Rock Workshop, around that time or shortly after. In addition to the Keith Tippett Group, the psychedelic rock/pop band Blossom Toes, have to be mentioned. It was up to internal affairs of Gomelsky’s label Marmalade, that 1969 was belatedly released. Produced by Gomelsky, the album was recorded with the engineering assistance of Eddie Offord at the Advision Studios in London in 1969, but released in 1971 on Polydor. Responsible for art direction and the “plain but pretty design” were Grahame Berney, Oliver Wade and Keith Davis – Davis did the sleeve design of the first Caravan album, Caravan (1969). Besides, as a trio, they organized the covers of the compilation album of The Velvet Underground – Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground Featuring Nico (1971), as well as Andy Roberts’ Nina and the Dream Tree (1971).
By transforming the main theme of self-discovery in tandem with looking forwards but at the same time looking back, the overall feel of 1969 is a mixture of melancholy and courage. Though, this album is a consistently composed organic work, which breathes dialectically between pieces of brilliantly orchestrated horn sections on jazzrocking ground on the one hand, and cosy folk songs with reduced instrumentation on the other. Generally, the songs are around the 5-minute mark. Fortunately, every piece features Julie’s stunning voice and her lovely acoustic guitar. Even the horns are arranged in such a way that leaves her vocal parts enough room to unfold and supports the message of her lyrics.
Her mesmerising vocals are simply incomparable, as everyone should know from her work with Auger and the Trinity, and before that with Auger and Steampacket – as a whole since 1965. Being self-trained on Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin, already then, she sang in an unbelievably thrilling way. Besides an exceptional range, her voice always had a unique timbre, rigid, strong, pure and melting fine at the same time. It is on 1969, that she displays her matured skills in songwriting and vocal technique. The times of doing cover songs are over. Here stands a female musician whose artistry has to be perceived on her own terms in a musical context, which differs from the earlier Hammond-smacking one by Auger. 1969 clearly belongs to the folk/jazz-rock genre.
The opener, “A New Awakening”, is a powerfully driven song, which reveals the turbulence and excitement when having chosen another direction of living. First, you have lost stable ground and you don’t know what is to come. So, you feel somewhat edgy. This innate tension is translated well by the horns and Chris Spedding’s guitar work around the agitated vocals. In addition to the innovative horn sections, the interlude of the horns points to Keith Tippett’s outstanding skills as an arranger. As listener, you expect that the album proceeds with the horns, but the second tune, “Those that we love”, is a typical storytelling folk song about the tragedy of love. Elaine, the protagonist, cheats on young men, and in the end she is left by herself. Julie is only accompanied by Keith on gospel-like piano and celeste, a special instrument which adds a thoroughly dreamy chiming sound, and Jeff Clyne on bass. Then, the horns are in again, in company with the beautiful oboe of Karl Jenkins. “Leaving it all behind” could be Julie’s personal statement, as show the lyrics:
“I have changed somehow, things are different now in me, now I think it’s time to wake up, or I know that I will break up again, I’m gonna go and see if my mind will mend.”
The melancholic mood of the lyrics is affirmed by the well-selected thin sound of the oboe, it has ta tension between lamentation and innocence. The following tune, “Break-out”, which is arranged by Blossom Toes and Julie, turns out to be one of the best songs on the album. It is a kind of a progressive rock ballad which features the electric solo guitar of Jim Cregan, who always has the right touch in correspondence with Julie’s vocals. In the course, the excitement increases along with multilayered vocals by Julie and the two Brians (Godding and Belshaw) which is released by a thrilling descending cry.
The second half of the album is calmer and starts with two peaceful numbers. At six minutes, “The choice” is the longest tune. At points, it could be reminiscent of chamber music, where Julie is only accompanied by Bob Downes’ soft flute sounds and whistles and Jeff Clyne on arco bass. Of the same dreamy atmosphere is “Lullaby”, where Brian Godding adds a fragile flute-imitating electric guitar. After that comes one of the more driving tunes. “Walk Down” sounds like a sermon or prophecy. Julie preaches a better world of freedom you will find by just moving on together. Her lyrics unquestionably stunning, as runs the chorus:
“Walk down the road we find, and all that follow will be free, and while we’re searching for tomorrow, smile on all the love we see.”
The song is perfectly arranged by Keith Tippett, the parts which are held in a recitative manner constantly interchange with ecstatic horn lines on rhythmical turns. Altogether, the album ends with a sublime acoustic song, which is dedicated to Julie’s sister. In “(For Angie) I Nearly forgot – But I Went Back”, Julie sings with intimate voice about things that have changed, memories, looking and actually going back to places of one’s childhood for personal recreation. The strength of this last tune lies in the fantastic combination of Julie’s acoustic and Brian Godding’s electric guitar. While beginning and ending rather slow, the middle part ascends dramatically to higher ground upon their alignment in addition to Julie’s awesome vocals on chords that will lift you up.
This magnificent album, which documents the initial phase of the self-redefining process of one of the best female singers the U.K. ever had, doesn’t seem to have received the appreciation it deserves at the time of its release. Julie herself said in an recent interview by Duncan Heining, that she didn’t know about its market ratings. In fact, there was no adjacent touring. It is open to speculate, if it should have been that way at all. About that time, she was already involved in moving forwards with her husband’s free-jazz oriented projects, Centipede and then Ovary Lodge, as well as with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. For sure, the prevailing melancholic mood is a tiny negative aspect, though there are also tunes which motivate in moving on. This is not an album you would play at a party. It’s rather for sitting on the couch and reflecting about life, while constantly being accompanied by Julie’s embracing voice. Listening is strongly recommended! Not only because, since then, it is one of the rare occasions she sings lyrics the conventional way – apart from her second solo album Sunset Glow (1976), her vocal parts on the Carla-Bley-album Tropic Appetites (1974) and the single reunion album with Auger, Encore (1978) – but also because all tunes are well-composed and shine like little diamonds in their own light.
Remastered versions on disc were reissued on One Way Records (1994), Disconforme (2000) and Eclectic Discs (2006). Slightly pricey, some vinyl copies and discs are available at Discogs and Amazon. With the exception of “The Choice”, you can also listen to the single tracks on Youtube.
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