Judy Collins at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight was a chance to catch up with and listen to one of the defining singers of the 1960s folk music movement and, as expected, it was a more than interesting musical evening. When you have had a career in music that has spanned more than 60 years, where do you start when you put together a touring set list? Well, for anyone, that would be a difficult choice to make, but if you are Judy Collins and your career and life have also been spent around some of the most iconic names in music from her generation, then that task becomes an even bigger one; a song like “Chelsea Morning” very early in the set list was though as good a place as any to feature.
Judy Collins, at 80, is still a very special singer. Yes, of course, her voice has changed over the years, and anyone expecting Judy Collins on stage now to be exactly like the voice on their favourite vinyl album of the 1960s is being unrealistic. Still though, there is a voice and vocal ability that most of us would be happy to have at any time in our lives.
There are few people out there who can honestly say not only that “they were there”, but that “they were at the centre of their musical world” when it comes to talking about the 1960s, but Judy Collins can with honesty make that statement. How many people can casually drop into the introduction of “Mr Tambourine Man” that they were there when Bob Dylan was writing it, or that Leonard Cohen brought his poetry and words over to read to her - cue for “Suzanne”.
The 1960s was not just about music though, it was about many other things too, and amongst them was a growing awareness of political and environmental issues coupled with a rising awareness of people who were not afraid to stand up and be counted in words, songs and protest (often all three) about injustices and corruption that they saw all too often around them in every walk of life. It is clear from some opening comments about Brexit and Scotland’s lack of voice in outcome that Judy Collins has never been prepared to give up her “Freedom of Speech” over the years, and is now at times questioning why all too many people of this generation seem to have waived that right and the political situation both here and the USA is in such a desperate state of affairs.
If 1960s American folk and protest music was a tapestry that you could somehow unfold, then the threads of Judy Collin’s life would be intricately woven all through it, and so many now iconic names would be interwoven into this thread as they move throughout her life – names like Stephen Stills (who wrote “Judy Blue Eyes” about her) and John Denver (even before his name change).
There are of course songs that anyone coming to a Judy Collins concert would expect to be there, and two on my list were – “Send in The Clowns” and “Amazing Grace”. There were of course a few surprises too, including Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”.
This evening was a pleasant mixture of music and reminiscences that often shed new light for me upon the song itself, but it was not purely a nostalgia trip as Judy Collins has never stopped making and recording music throughout her long career and some of the music tonight came from the most recent album “Winter Stories”.
Judy Collins has also never stopped touring. A recent long run of shows with Stephen Stills and an upcoming tour with Arlo Guthrie are proof of someone who is still embodying the 1960s spirit of living your life to the full as you want it to be lived.
A nice touch too in announcing the concert to be a smart phone free event, a much needed reminder that we simply do not need technology to enjoy a show.
Review by Tom King