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Judy Collins was one of the few female singers heard regularly on John Peel's radio programmes of the late 1960s. She made her name with a series of LPs for Elektra Records in the American folk music boom, and was often compared with Joan Baez; however, in the late sixties Baez (never a Peel favourite) made records which sometimes seemed half-hearted and disappointing. By contrast, Judy Collins was far more successful in developing her style beyond the folksinger-with-guitar formula, thus retaining credibility with the audience who listened to Peel's shows of the time. Among the songwriters whose material she introduced were Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell; her accompanists included Roger McGuinn (of the Byrds), Stephen Stills (of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash) and, on one album, Ry Cooder.On the 1967 LP, In My Life, Collins was accompanied by an orchestra arranged by Joshua Rifkin. An ambitious and wide-ranging collection, it featured songs from already well-known writers (Bob Dylan, Donovan, Lennon-McCartney, Richard Farina), others who were yet to achieve fame (Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman), and a few from more exotic sources - a song by Jacques Brel; "Pirate Jenny", from Brecht and Weill's "The Threepenny Opera"; and "Marat/Sade", a medley of songs from the acclaimed "play with music", based on the original German play by the avant-garde writer Peter Weiss. As such, the LP was well-suited to the Perfumed Garden and Peel featured it regularly. Yet his favourite track was - as with Simon and Garfunkel's "Sparrow" - one that other fans of the artist concerned have overlooked; "Liverpool Lullaby", credited to Stan Kelly. It had a clear personal resonance for him and was an obvious choice for a late-night radio show, but the song was later recorded by Cilla Black, who also sang it on her BBC TV show. In spite of Black's more authentic Liverpudlian credentials, Peel paid no attention to her version of the song.
Peel also played tracks (often Leonard Cohen songs) from Judy Collins' 1968 album, Wildflowers, and the 1969 LP, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, on which she was accompanied by a studio band including the likes of Stills, James Burton and steel guitarist Buddy Emmons - the LP was very much in the country-rock style Peel then favoured. The 1970 album, Whales And Nightingales, included "Farewell to Tarwathie", a traditional ballad accompanied by the sound of humpback whales. This was played by Peel, after an LP of whale song, "Songs of the Humpback Whale", had become a surprise success and a hippy-era favourite. Another surprise success was Collins' version of the hymn "Amazing Grace", which had become popular in the US during the 1960s Civil Rights movement. It is not known whether Peel was the first to play Judy Collins' version, but he did give positive reviews of it on the New Singles page of Disc and Music Echo. He also played a 1969 version of the song, by a group called The Great Awakening, on Top Gear. This used multi-tracked guitars to simulate the sound of a gospel choir, and became the theme tune of Radio Geronimo, the radio station which broadcast all-night weekend music shows in hippy-era "underground" style (and which Peel supported) from Radio Monte Carlo during 1970. It is possible that this version inspired Collins to record the song. In his autobiography Peel's manager Clive Selwood, then head of Elektra's London office, describes how Radio 1 airplay of her album track led to its release as a single in the UK, after which it achieved chart success all around the world..
After 1970 Judy Collins gradually ceased to figure in Peel's playlists, although she continued to be played on the shows of Bob Harris and other Sounds of the 70s presenters. She has continued to record and perform into her seventh decade, and in 2011 starred in the BBC4 "Greenwich Village Revisited" concert at London's Barbican - a show hosted by Peel favourite Billy Bragg.
Festive Fifty Entries
Other Shows Played
(The list below was compiled only from database of this site and is likely to be incomplete. Please add more information if known.)
- 14 August 1967: Liverpool Lullaby (LP - In My Life) Elektra
- 24 November 1968: Both Sides Now (single) Elektra
- 16 February 1969: Story of Isaac (LP; Who Knows Where The Time Goes) Elektra EKS 74033 (JP; "a song by Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen...")
- 16 March 1969: Someday Soon (LP - Who Knows Where The Time Goes) Elektra