JULIE JULY BAND – Lady Of The First Light (Aurora Folk Records JJB19CD1)

Lady Of The First LightThe Julie July Band is best known currently for Julie’s sensitive reinterpretations of the Sandy Denny songbook, and their previous CD Who Knows Where The Time Goes represents a cross-section of classic Denny material. However, the live set I saw earlier this year included a wider range of Denny material (such as songs from her brief time with the Strawbs) and, intriguingly, first glimpses of material from their new CD. Lady Of The First Light doesn’t just move on from material associated with Sandy Denny, but eschews covers altogether, consisting entirely of original material written by members of the band. It’s a brave move, given that there are few bands in the Denny tribute niche, but many focused on original material. After all, any change in direction requires a certain amount of courage for a band that’s doing very nicely by doing what it already does, and you might expect the typical follower of a tribute band to be somewhat conservative. That said, it appears that a number of the band’s fans have been enquiring as to whether they do original material, and I don’t think they’ll find Lady Of The First Light disappointing.

The current line-up consists of Julie July (vocals), Steve Rezillo (lead guitar and producer of the CD), Don MacLeod (acoustic guitar), Gary Low (drums/percussion, sound engineering, production), and Nick Lyndon (bass guitar), though Julie is the only regular member of the band to be featured on the first track. The CD also features Chris Hutchison (piano, Hammond and vocals), Rebecca Rose (cello), Zoe Devenish (fiddle and vocals) and Nick Goode (fiddle).

  1. ‘Broken Wing’ was written by Julie July and Chris Hutchison, and is an effective ballad simply accompanied by Chris Hutchison’s piano and Rebecca Rose’s cello.
  2. ‘Raven’ was co-written by Julie July and acoustic guitarist Don Macleod. It’s an interesting lyric, hinting at the common cultural representation of the raven as a psychopomp, guiding the spirits of the dead into the afterlife. A good folk-y tune with some nice lead guitar.
  3. ‘Hallows To The Hills’ is the work of Nick Lyndon, its straightforward melody punctuated by some interesting time changes and carrying an ultimately hopeful lyric.
  4. Title track ‘Lady Of The First Light’ is the first of several songs written by Steve Rezillo. Lyrically, it’s an interesting parable with lots of Steve’s characteristically fluent lead guitar to back up Julie’s characteristically strong vocals.
  5. ‘Chicane’, also by Steve Rezillo, has less to do with F1 than with emotional chicanery: but who is being most deceived here? The ambiguity of the story is set against an attractive minor-key melody.
  6. ‘The Ballad Of Rory Starp’ (Steve Rezillo) is something of an oddity, drawing tension from the contrast of a lyric telling the tale of a highwayman against a rock-soaked tune and accompaniment, though with prominent fiddle. Yet it seems to work, somewhat like the use of classic rock in the Heath Ledger film A Knight’s Tale, or maybe the Eagle’s juxtaposition of rock and bluegrass on the Desperado
  7. ‘One Drink Is Too Many’ is another song by Nick Lyndon, with a country/folk-ish feel, dominated by acoustic guitar. There’s a nice country-ish twist to the storytellinglyric: “One drink is too many / too many is never enough“.
  8. ‘For All We Know’ (Steve Rezillo) shares a title but not much else with early hits for Nat King Cole or the Carpenters, though Steve Rezillo’s first lead break does remind me a little of Tony Peluso’s work with the Carpenters. (That’s a compliment, by the way.) Come to think of, there’s something a little 60s/70s about the lyrics, with lines that suggest stories not told here directly. Fascinating.
  9. The country-ish ‘The Healing And The Lies’ was co-written by Nick Lyndon & Emily Ewing, and is actually one of the tracks I remember standing out from the band’s set in Penzance a few months ago.
  10. ‘Black Heart’ is another collaboration between Julie July & Chris Hutchison, and opens with finely judged interplay between acoustic and very clean electric guitar. One of the slower, folkier tracks on the CD, and very effective.
  11. The CD ends with ‘Shine Together’, again written by Steve Rezillo, a suitably upbeat end to the CD with a strong chorus.

This is an excellent collection of songs, though I’m not sure there is a track that quite matches Sandy’s songwriting at its best, though ‘Raven’ comes close, for me, with its atmospheric lyric and attractive melody. That said, I don’t suppose the band plans to jettison the Sandy Denny songbook any time soon, and any or all of these songs would fit well into a Sandy-oriented set. In fact, it’s a collection that plays to their strengths. Julie’s vocals, always a little more mainstream than Sandy’s Gaelic-influenced ornamentation, are very well suited to this range of material, and the band’s instrumental support is as solid as ever. There are plenty of strong choruses here to encourage an audience, and it seems to me that this release can only widen Julie’s audience.

With such a strong start, I’m hopeful that the band will produce lots more original material, and if it does choose to go that route, I’m confident that there are even better things to come.

There will be an album launch party on the 9th June at the Old Rectifying House, Worcester WR1 3NN – tickets £8 from https://eventbrite.co.uk.

David Harley

Artist’s website: https://juliejuly.co.uk/

‘Lady Of The First Light’ – official video:

Julie July Band live in Penzance

Julie July Band
Photograph by Dave Pegg

With lots of milder spring weather finally making an appearance in Cornwall, what could be nicer than venturing down from the hills of Penwith for some live music at the Acorn Theatre? Well, it turns out that many of my neighbours took the opportunity of seeing the Julie July Band on the 30th March 2019, and I don’t think anyone was disappointed.

There has to be a certain sadness in a set comprised mostly of songs written by or associated with Sandy Denny, in that there is always an element of regret that there will be no more Denny songs, or further opportunities to hear that incomparable voice apart from those recordings already available. Yet when that set is executed with such charm, respect and professionalism, no one is likely to leave the theatre without feeling uplifted.

Julie started the show with Richard Farina’s ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ – starting an electric set with an unaccompanied song might seem a risky strategy, but the old Irish melody to which Farina set his lyric lends itself so well to an unaccompanied treatment and for me it was the perfect opening, seguing into a full band version of Sandy’s own ‘Listen, Listen’.

The rest of the set ranged over most of Sandy’s tragically short career, from the Dave Cousins songs ‘Tell Me What You See In Me’ and ‘And You Need Me’, from her brief spell with the Strawbs, to the Fotheringay version of ‘Gypsy Davey’, to songs from her solo albums like ‘Solo’ and ‘Blackwaterside’. They even found space to include the Inkspots’ ‘Whispering Grass’, which Sandy covered on Like An Old-Fashioned Waltz. While her time with Fairport Convention wasn’t represented much, two of the songs performed are associated as much with Fairport as with other recorded versions. ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ was recorded by both Fairport and the Strawbs, and the stunning ‘Fotheringay’, after which the later band was named, originally appeared on Fairport’s What We Did On Our Holidays.

Julie has promised that the band will always include Sandy Denny songs, and so they should: songs like these should never be forgotten, and Julie is an accomplished and sensitive interpreter of Sandy’s material, and the band provides her with excellent support. I was particularly struck by Steve Rezillo’s fluent lead guitar, especially on ‘Fotheringay’ with its interplay with Don MacLeod’s intricate acoustic guitar. That said, I was also intrigued to get my first aural glimpse of several tracks from the band’s forthcoming CD of original material, Lady Of The First Light, due for release in May, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the band proved here that they can do justice to a whole bunch of Sandy’s songs apart from those on their CD from last year Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Given the chance to attend one of their concerts, I think any Sandy Denny fan will find much to enjoy, and if you’re not familiar with these songs, you have a treat in store.

David Harley

Artist’s website: juliejuly.co.uk/

‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – live: