Bridget St. John is the forgotten femme of English folk. While Sandy Denny remains the more revered and celebrated, and others such as Vashti Bunyan have been rediscovered and championed by the revivalists, Bridget’s reputation has by contrast, stalled if not in fact, been diminished. As a stalwart of the UK folk scene in the late 60s and early 70s, Bridget was a friend and contemporary of John Martyn (who enjoyed longer-lasting success) and Nick Drake, whose posthumous prestige is arguably unmatched by any other British songwriter.
And yet it could all have been so different. Her first three albums, released on John Peel’s Dandelion label feature her languid and slightly fragile songs, delivered unhurriedly in her solemn Nico-esque murmur. Bridget was big news then, a Peel favourite, touring extensively (even supporting David Bowie!) and featuring regularly in Melody Maker end of year fan polls. After the release of ‘Jumblequeen’ in 1974, nothing much was heard for the next twenty years. An odd live appearance here and there in the late 90s and then…silence.
It is hard to see why she remains in such relative obscurity. This, her debut album, perhaps lacks the lush orchestral accompaniment of its immediate successor ‘Songs For A Gentle Man’, but this merely showcases her intricate guitar playing and husky tone more starkly. And the songs speak for themselves.
‘Autumn Lullaby’ barely gets into first gear but is sweet and gorgeously melancholic. Beside it, while just as stripped down, ‘Curl Your Toes’ and ‘I Like To Walk With You In The Sun’ sound peculiarly buoyant.
On a number of songs Bridget laments the end of a failed relationship. In ‘Broken Faith’ with sensitivity she bids her beau farewell ‘but if along the way, I hold your hand; be not angry, be not hard’, suggesting some inner turmoil of her own – or could this just be a line symptomatic of a lost libertarian age of ‘free love’? ‘Hello Again Of Course’ seems to return to the same theme: ‘You never really go away; it’s just the space between us growing; A little more than it ever has before.’ Delicate, poignant stuff.
On the spectral ‘Lizard Long Tongue Boy’ however, she sounds almost vampish. Here the atmosphere is given an erotic charge which may lack subtlety but demonstrates there is far more to her armoury than her idyllically nuanced verse.
The last 2 minutes of the finale, the exquisite title track, consist almost entirely of birdsong and the distant peel of church bells. Now this is English folk at its most ambrosial.(JJ)