Unknown Folk Singer (circa 1973)

unknownfolkbox

The announcement of Leonard Cohen’s death last week reminded me of a tape I acquired a couple of years ago as part of an eBay job lot. A fascinating selection of 5″ reels recorded between 1968 and 1973 in and around Hull (mostly at the university), this happened to be the first one of the batch I laced up and played on the tape machine.

It’s a very well recorded and beautifully performed selection of mostly traditional folk songs by an unidentified female singer, which at first I thought must be an album by someone like Julie Felix. But on closer listening, I could detect the occasional rumble of passing traffic, plus the tape being stopped and restarted between each song – clear giveaway signs that this is some sort of demo recording, probably one microphone and judging by the natural reverb, in some kind of hall, but definitely recorded by someone who knew what they were doing.

The tape box doesn’t reveal much, listing only ‘Folk Concert/Catholic Chaplaincy’, faintly written in pencil. It’s definitely not a concert as there’s no audience in attendance, but the venue is more than likely correct, as many of the other reels are also listed as being recorded at the same place. It’s presumably Hull University’s Catholic Chaplaincy, still in use today as the university’s Catholic Society HQ.

unknownfolkreel

5″ BASF reel, recorded in mono at 334 ips.

The majority of the tape’s sixteen songs are traditional folk songs, most of which had appeared on Joan Baez’s albums in the 1960s. A couple are possibly originals as there are no traces of them on the internet. The others are by the likes of Ewan MacColl, Tom Lehrer and Joni Mitchell (no doubt via Judy Collins).

The reel begins with a partial test recording then a full performance of ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’, a song from Leonard Cohen’s 1967 debut album, an essential addition to any self-respecting student’s record collection back in the late 60s/early 70s.

It’s a delicate and intimate take on the song, the unknown performer gently picking the strings of her nylon-strung acoustic guitar; her voice clear and precise, gracefully conveying the emotion of the lyrics.

The same singer appears on another reel as part of a revolving cast of performers, taking it turns to sing songs to an audience in support of Liverpool folk duo Jacqui and Bridie. It’s the between-song chat that on this tape that’s lead me to think both the solo and concert tapes were recorded in 1973. We’ll save that one for another time.