I believe I was born to sing – 77 years ago. And I believe I will leave this world with a song on my lips.
All my life, I have taken every opportunity to sing because I truly love to entertain and move people. I admire musicians of all types – guitarists, pianists, violinists – but my greatest love is for the human singing voice. As a child, I learnt how to sing from listening to the very powerful and beautiful voice of my father, John Wade, as he sang lovely traditional Scottish, Irish and English folk songs and ballads. In our house, the music that my sister Catherine and I were exposed to included a wonderful eclectic mix of opera, Hollywood and stage musicals, swing, jazz and traditional songs. I learned that music, all music, should be enjoyed for what it is. I did not consciously choose any particular genre over another: if I liked the song or the music – I sang it.
In my teenage years, like many young people I followed all the latest pop groups. I often sang the songs I learnt with local pop bands in Scotland where I lived. But I never forgot the beauty of the haunting melodies I knew and loved best: folk, traditional songs and ballads. When my family moved to the West Country when I was 19, the new ‘60s folk era was just beginning and emerging poets and song-writers like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and many others helped shape my interest in the New Age music. At the same time, popular music was also changing dramatically with the emergence of new groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Freddy and The Dreamers, and other great British Groups. There was also an upsurge of young, individual vocalists such as Helen Shapiro, Olivia Newton-John and Donovan who produced interesting modern sounds that we all responded to. Through this brilliant new young music scene, the folk and pop culture seemed to merge and was epitomised by groups like The Seekers, Peter, Paul and Mary, and The Springfields. These groups influenced me greatly as they appeared to produce music that spanned both the folk and pop world, and appealed to followers of both genres.
By now I was living in the West Country with my family, and from singing in local folk clubs I met up with a group of talented musicians – Bob Gale, Archie Cowley, John Sweet, Robin Teague to name a few – and with them I sang throughout the West Country performing in Folk Clubs and other venues such as The Shaves Cross Inn, The Bull Hotel and Eypes Mouth Hotel in Bridport.
I performed at many private functions including The Bridport Cricket Club, The Townswomen’s Guild and at weddings and parties. When I met Keith Ashford, the young man who would become my husband, he accompanied me beautifully on acoustic guitar and he also sang with me. We became very well known throughout the West Country and had several articles written about us in The Bridport News.
When Keith could not be with me, I was accompanied by another brilliant guitarist, John Sweet, who also plays for me on my most recent album ‘Then and Now’.
John was one of a very popular group of musicians who performed successfully throughout the South West but more particularly at The Shaves Cross Inn, Corscombe – a folk club he initiated and ran. John and many other of our musician friends and I also played at Osmington Forge, Weymouth. John eventually moved to Cornwall with his wife and family, where his guitar and banjo music achieved acclaim with his group ‘The Pheasant Pluckers.’ John’s group collected an award as Pub Entertainers of The Year.
When I was 20 I was invited to perform at a concert at Beaminster School in Dorset. The guest guitarist, popular singer and actor Cy Grant heard me sing and offered to play for me. He played ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ which I sang solo and he also played and sang ‘Yellow Bird’ with me. We got along so well that he offered to arrange for me to have an audition in London with the Directors of World Record Club (Fiona Lonsdale, Cyril Ornadel the composer and musician, and Morris The Lord Aberdare). Excitingly, the audition was to take place at Abbey Road Studios in London. It was at that time that I decided to move to London to attend this audition and try to make a go of a singing career, as that was where it all seemed to be happening. Interestingly, husband of singer Marion Montgomerie was the pianist at this audition. As a result of my successful audition, the World Record Club Directors offered me daytime work as a Secretary for them while waiting to record my first album, ‘This Year’s Lovers’ at the Abbey Road Studios later that same year. Meanwhile, Cy Grant arranged for me to sing at a special concert at the Royal Festival Halls alongside other artists such as Nadia Cattouse and Vanessa Redgrave.
Soon it was time for me to record my album and The World Record Club, as producers, decided the focus of the album ‘This Year’s Lovers’ was to be on modern ballads, blues and jazz songs.
Despite the fact that my audition was a folk tape, it was fortunate that the genre they chose was the kind of music I had spent my formative years listening to at home and I found no difficulty in singing these songs: songs that were so different from the folk music that I also loved.
Fiona Lonsdale was a very clever entrepreneur and she came up with the idea of creating and opening a new night club called Take One in St Martin’s Lane, in the heart of London’s theatreland. This club was intended as a showcase venue for new talent as well as guest artists like Donovan, The Shanga’ ans – a brilliant young South African group, and Cy Grant. I sang at this club several times over some weeks and while there, Fiona Lonsdale played my record to a man called Eddy Jarrett, the then manager of the top recording folk singing group, The Seekers. When he heard the tapes, he wanted to see me perform so he came to the Take One Club one evening to hear me. At that time, Judith Durham, the lead singer with The Seekers, was recovering from illness and was not able to continue with the Seekers’ tour in Britain. I was asked by Eddy Jarrett to take Judith’s place at Bournemouth Theatre for the season while she recuperated. It was a wonderful time for me as I loved the music of The Seekers and Judith was my heroine because of her strong and beautiful voice.
Because of this very exciting and wonderful experience, a great deal of nationwide publicity was generated about me and my opportunity to sing with such a very famous, chart-topping group.
At that time, I was signed with EMI and assigned a manager. But unfortunately, a brilliant opportunity was lost. For some reason, possibly due to my youth and inexperience in the business side of the music industry, the boat sailed away – and I was not on board.
Time passed. I continued to sing where I could. I had also just met my husband-to-be and was enjoying being with and singing with him, as my life partner and my music partner. Before long, in the mid-‘60s, we were married. One of my fondest memories was of the wonderful Keith Potger, lead guitarist with The Seekers, and his wife Pam who attended my wedding in the small village of Melplash, and of him posing for a lovely photograph with my husband Keith and me.
After we married, Keith and I moved to Bristol and we still performed together as a duo all over that area and the rest of the West Country. We decided it was time to have a family and over the next 5 years we had two beautiful daughters. Unfortunately, my time away from the music scene to raise my children meant losing touch somewhat with all that had been going on in that so very different world in London with its burgeoning music scene. We moved back to Dorset and as well as continuing to perform as a duo with Keith, I was asked by the Rowland Halliday Orchestra if I would like to sing with them.
I auditioned with the band and got on extremely well with them. So much so that I became their regular singer at venues all over the West Country such as Cricket-St-Thomas, Wincanton Racecourse Club, Warner’s Holiday Camp in Seaton, and The Shrubbery at Ilminster in Somerset. At one particular venue we played opposite Kenny Ball’s Jazz Band and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I was especially thrilled when the band trombonist, Ron Dixon, asked Kenny Ball if I could sing with his Jazz Band, and Kenny agreed! That was a wonderful and never-to-be-forgotten experience and from the applause we received it appeared the audience loved it too.
The years went by and in order to improve opportunities in his own career, Keith and my daughters and I moved to Manchester. Sadly, when we were barely there a year, and while my daughters were only 3 and 6 years old, Keith died of cancer at the early age of 29. Broken hearted and with 2 small bewildered children to support, I had a struggle for the next 10 years or so to bring up my children alone. I no longer had his wonderful guitar accompaniment, but I did, however, keep up my singing and sang wherever and whenever I could.
I earned a living from this as well as working during the day as a Secretary. As time passed, I found I needed more stability for my young daughters, so I trained to be a teacher and stayed in this profession until my early retirement.
However, I never gave up singing. Throughout my entire teaching career, I continued to sing. I sang for the drama students at The South Devon College in Torquay where I first taught and where I lived by then; I sang at a special outdoor concert to commemorate the life of Agatha Christie in the church near her home in Dartmouth, Devon; I sang at the Babbacombe Theatre in Torquay for a summer season during my teaching recess.
When I retired from teaching as a Senior Lecturer in the early 1990s, I was offered a one-year post by a friend in Sarasota, Florida, working as a professional fundraiser for a children’s charity. My daughters were now young women in their 20s and I took this opportunity to see a part of the world I had never seen. I thoroughly enjoyed my work with Mr Robert Bluck, Executive Director, and we raised many thousands for the Charity. However, my greatest joy while in Sarasota was singing while I was not working. There is a famous jazz club in Sarasota of which many members are themselves retired but still active professional musicians.
The weekly line up was never less than 12 or 14 musicians and what a joy it was to perform with musicians of their calibre and virtuosity. I sang my heart out and obtained many paid bookings from those appearances. One particular booking was to sing at a big American Ex-Servicemen’s club, another unforgettable evening.
I noticed that as the years passed, although I was getting older, my voice did not age. Recently I wondered if I might still appeal to a wide audience. With the emotional and practical support of my two beloved daughters, Kim and Julie, and that of Julie’s partner, Alex, I was given the opportunity to make the ‘Then and Now’ album: mainly folk and folk ballad with a touch of all the other music genres I have sung and loved throughout my life, including songs I have written as well as traditional folk songs and ballads.
Delightfully, and after a gap of almost 50 years, I again made contact with my dear friend John Sweet, who is acoustic guitarist on my ‘Then and Now’ album and also wrote the music for two of my songs for inclusion; one of which is a beautiful, haunting melody, ‘Lost Song’ and another more upbeat and comic song ‘Mobile Phone.’
I have been singing all of my life. Music and singing have sustained me in the darkest moments and strengthened the enjoyment of my happiest times. I know that it always will. I offer this music to you with the hope you will enjoy and love the songs I have chosen as much as I do, regardless of your age or whatever genre appeals to you.