The folk music world was deeply shocked and saddened to hear that Judy Dinning had left us on 2nd October 2013. Her family and friends knew of her long battle with breast cancer and hoped she would beat it, but at the end it had spread into her bones and she died in Hexham Hospital just a few weeks short of her 60th birthday.
Tributes immediately poured in from all around the world. Doris Rougvie, said "the most glorious voice will sing no more", while Ian Doran added that Judy was "surely the Sandy Denny of our generation". Chris While summed up what many of Judy's musical contemporaries felt when she called Judy "one of our own angels walk among us".
Judith Ellen Henderson was born in Corbridge on 13th December 1953 into a well known farming family from Slaley in Northumberland. From an early age both her teachers and parents realised that Judy's love for singing revealed a special musical talent, and by the time she was nine she was sent to her first singing lessons. Soon the mantelpiece was full of cups and trophies she won at many a singing competition, and Judy was further encouraged to develop her voice at Hexham Grammar School when she sang in Hexham Abbey Madrigal Choir.
Judy could easily have followed a classical route, but it was her love of folk music and particularly that of her native Northumberland that captivated her and was to shape the rest of her life. She taught herself to play guitar, and quickly became immersed in the vibrant North East music scene at a time when folk clubs and sessions were springing up all over the region. Hexham Folk Club met at The Royal Hotel, and it was here that Judy teamed up with local musicians Chip Chamberlain and Allan Lynch to form Passport. They became very popular around the Tynedale area, and some of their informal recordings have survived to be included in this collection. Judy was 25 years old when they were made, and her voice rings out so purely then, a few semitones higher than in later years, but already with that spine-tingling quality that infuses all her songs.
Around this time Judy decided to leave her profession in radiography and enrolled in the music Diploma course at Newcastle College. A career in teaching could have followed, but it was still folk music and live performing that were her first loves. Now living in Gateshead, Judy met the well known guitarist Dave Smith, and they formed a duo that went on to find great success in the 80's folk scene throughout the UK. During their collaboration they toured all over the country and supported many top international acts, also finding time to release an album of mainly self penned songs, 'Waiting For The Change", that climbed to No. 3 on the UK Folk Charts in 1983. By 1984 they had been joined by Stu Luckley to make further recordings, some of which will be heard here for the first time by all but a few insiders back then.
Things went a bit quiet around the end of the eighties when family and other commitments took priority, and it was not until 1993 that Judy burst back onto the scene. First of all she formed the all female band "Lucky Bags" with Liz Law, Julie-Anne Kaye and Zena Tubmen. They were quickly signed to Fellside Records, where they released two critically acclaimed albums, and the girls soon were in great demand by clubs and festivals both at home and in Europe. Then in 1997 Judy was invited to join one of the North East's most famous bands, Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies. This propelled Judy onto a much bigger stage, and over the next five years she toured with Jez all over the world, including, Australia, Canada and the U.S.A.. Her voice was now reaching a much larger audience, she was sharing stages with the likes of Nanci Griffiths, Mary Black and Joan Baez, and she was beginning to get the recognition she so richly deserved on an international level.
But Judy was no backing singer - she was born to take centre stage. In 2002 she left the Pennies to do what she had always wanted - front her own band. By this time she had fallen in love with Kenny Speirs of the John Wright Band, and together they formed Real Time. For the next eleven years they toured constantly throughout the U.K. and Europe, also making one trip to the U.S.A., and recorded a total of six albums with keyboard player Tom Roseburgh that showcased Judy's singing at its very best. Judy was also an accomplished guitar and bodhran player, and having her own band allowed her to display her great talent for songwriting. In fact, while researching for this collection many previously unheard and unreleased original songs were discovered, and it will no doubt be very interesting and a great pleasure to all that these songs have come to light and can be heard by everyone at last.
Judy contributed a great deal to the Northumbrian Anthology 20 CD box set of recordings produced by Jed Grimes, and also released her own solo album "Fine Times" in 2003 which featured North East luminaries Pete Scott and Johnnie Dickinson. These recordings, like the ones already mentioned, are essentials for any fans of Judy's singing and musicianship.
Even as her health deteriorated, Judy sang as strongly and sensitively as ever. She performed a memorable concert at Sage Gateshead in January, 2013 that has been captured on DVD, and she undertook two extensive European tours to Holland and to Germany in February and May of what was to be her final year. Judy performed her last concert on July 18th 2013, at the Low Lights, North Shields. It was indeed fitting that her farewell performance should be for her old friend Jed Grimes, in a duo with Kenny her partner and in her beloved Northumberland. She was laid to rest on October 11th in the churchyard in Whitley Chapel where she lived so happily, from where you can see Ryehill, once the Henderson family farm. But her music lives on, and surely all her many fans will treasure this wonderful collection of rarities and hidden gems that remind us all what an exceptional talent Judy Dinning was.