During the ‘60s Julie Driscoll spent years on the road firstly with Steampacket (featuring Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart) and then with Brian Auger’s Trinity, scoring one massive hit with a haunting rendition of Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire.”
The resulting weight of media intrusion and physical exhaustion forced Driscoll to quit the road and evaluate her life. 1969 was the year she stepped off the pop star treadmill and the title of her first solo album detailing twelve months of profound personal change.
Blessed with an amazingly supple singing voice Driscoll was always capable of belting it out in a soaring technique that drew on Nina Simone’s fire and ice for inspiration. “A New Awakening”, “Break Out”, and “Walk Down”, display a phenomenal force that was all her own and which she controlled with a sassy precision.
Newly remastered from the original tapes by the team at Eclectic Discs, the album was produced by legendary Svengali Giorgio Gomelsky (assisted by a young Eddie Offord at the desk) and boasts a stellar line-up that includes elements of Keith Tippett’s band, Nucleus and Blossom Toes.
Driscoll’s alienation with the pop scene is explored in some depth during “Leaving It All Behind.” Karl Jenkins’ (Nucleus and later Soft Machine), twisting oboe provides a brightly manic counterpoint to the dark, brooding lyrics “I have changed somehow/ things are different now in me/Now I think it’s time to wake up or I know I’m going to break-up again.”
Sizzling throughout with an exhilarating sense of freedom and discovery, as befits an album whose central theme is about taking control of her life, it features a series of remarkably strong vocal performances throughout.
On the aptly titled “Break Out”, Driscoll sings with her characteristic passion, hitting a glass-threatening note around the three minute mark as though she can barely contain the music that’s flowing from her.
In some senses such tracks wouldn’t sound too much out of place in Driscoll’s immediate musical past. However, the other half of the album is graced with exquisite ballads and more introverted material where Driscoll’s astute use of harmony is a joy to hear.
On The Choice and Lullaby, her voice is embellished only by Bob Downes’ graceful flute and chiming guitar from Brian Godding respectively and her own fragile acoustic guitar. We can hear an astonishing sensitivity and intimacy with melody that would barely be possible within the broad brushstrokes of Auger’s Trinity.
The raw confessional of “I Nearly Forgot – But I Went Back” is a peerless tour de force veers from intimacy to a scorching intensity whose nearest equivalent would appear to be Jeff Buckley at his most vocally gymnastic! It’s impossible to think of another female vocalist capable of this kind of concentrated singing and writing then or now.
When Gomelsky’s Marmalade label floundered, 1969 was left on the shelf until 1971 where it was belatedly released on Polydor.
By then Julie had already embarked on a musical journey with husband Keith Tippett to explore the outer edges of jazz and free improvisation on challenging and occasionally beautiful albums such as Septober Energy and Blueprint.
Caught somewhere on the breeze between folk, jazz and rock,1969 was Julie Driscoll setting sail toward those exotic and esoteric worlds and its reissue reminds us what a truly unique talent she was.