Obituary: Judy Dinning, folk singer

Talented folk singer who supported Joan Baez at the Edmonton festival
Talented folk singer who supported Joan Baez at the Edmonton festival
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Born: 13 December, 1953, in Corbridge, Northumberland. Died: 2 October, 2013, in Hexham, aged 59

The world of folk music has lost one of its finest singers with the passing of Judy Dinning in Hexham after a long and courageous fight against breast cancer. Judith Ellen Henderson was born in Corbridge into a well known farming family from Ryehill, Slaley. From an early age she knew she wanted to be a singer, and at nine years old asked her mother if she could have singing lessons.

Throughout her school days she sang in many choirs and gave solo performances, and could well have gone down the classical route. But it was her love of folk music, especially that of her beloved Northumberland, that truly captivated her, and before long she had picked up the guitar and began doing floor spots at Hexham Folk Club in the mid-1970s.

During that time she formed Passport, a band made up of other local musicians, and recently unearthed recordings from those days show just how accomplished a singer she had already become.

Judy went on to study music at college in Newcastle, graduating three years later. By this time she had teamed up with Dave Smith, a highly acclaimed guitarist, and together they released Waiting for the Change in 1983, which received great reviews and climbed to number three on the Melody Maker folk charts.

Judy also teamed up with Bob Fox and Stu Luckley for some time, and also was asked to do the solo support slot for Ralph McTell at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

Family commitments saw Judy drop out of the scene for a while, but then in the 1990s she re-emerged in two bands, the all-female Lucky Bags and the internationally acclaimed Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies.

This brought Judy’s singing to a much wider audience, and over the following decade she would tour all over the world, performing in Australia, Canada, America and throughout Europe. Her proudest moment came when she supported one of her all-time favourites Joan Baez at Edmonton Folk Festival, and she was always made welcome by many of the top performers she met along the road.

In 2002 Judy formed Real Time with her partner Kenny Speirs, who had recently left the John Wright Band. Over the next 11 years they became one of the best known and loved bands on the UK and international folk circuits, and Judy’s voice was heard from Norway and Denmark to Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain on many a European tour.

This partnership also meant that Denholm in the Scottish Borders became Judy’s second home, and she soon had as many friends and fans on both sides of the Border. While Judy’s repertoire showed an eclectic taste in music, and also displayed her gifted song writing abilities, the music of her native Northumberland was her abiding passion.

She was proud to be part of the Northumbrian Anthology project, a 20-CD collection of songs and tunes from the north-east of England that brought together many of the top stars from both the folk and pop and rock worlds, including Sting, Jimmy Nail and Lindisfarne.

This led to the release of Judy’s solo album, Fine Times, and being invited to perform at the 2004 Sunday For Sammy charity concert in Newcastle alongside the likes of Brian Johnson from ACDC and the cast of Auf Wiedersehen Pet. She also recently contributed three songs to the Big River, Big Songs DVD, again in the company of many of the top Geordie stars.

Even this year Judy’s schedule was unrelenting. Following a very special concert at The Sage in Gateshead with Kenny and Claire Mann, Judy toured Holland in February and Germany in April, and on 18 July she made what was to be her last appearance, in a duo with Kenny for her old friend Jed Grimes at The Low Lights, North Shields.

Judy had contracted breast cancer in September 2009, and had undergone several operations and endured many courses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. With typical bravery and spirit, she kept touring right up to the end, her audiences never guessing her illness was quite so serious, and her voice as strong and moving as ever.

There are many singers who have received more accolades and achieved more fame, but when Judy sang everyone knew she was the real deal, up there with the best that these islands have ever produced.

It could well be that these accolades which eluded her in life will come in the future, as her recordings and legacy receive wider recognition and appreciation every time her unique voice is heard.