’60s FACE AND IMPROV EMINENCE JULIE TIPPETTS FORGES ON
JULIE TIPPETTS is keeping warm by her Rayburn oven at home in Gloucestershire this windy March morning. “I better check the bin’s not blown over,” she laughs. She’s unused to doing inter views these days – “They got too invasive in the ’60s so I stopped,” she explains – but she’s called MOJO to talk about
Sound On Stone, the exceptional third volume in her and her late husband Keith Tippett’s
Couple In Spirit duet series.
While their previous work captured the pair’s spontaneous improv-sparring, Julie was left to construct the album alone after
Keith’s passing in 2020. Multi-tracking her vocal over previously unissued concert performances, the result is a powerful exploration of grief and healing. “I tried to listen to it before the inter view,” she says. “I started to cr y.”
Born in London in 1947, Julie Driscoll sang and played guitar from a young age, and accompanied her dad’s West End club combo in her early teens. When she first met Tippett in 1969, she’d already drawn a line under a successful pop career. Working with Giorgio Gomelsky, between 1964 and ’67 she issued a series of solo singles before joining R&B revue Steampacket alongside Long John Baldr y, Rod Stewart and Hammond organ specialist Brian Auger, her voice now a cr ystal clear, expressive blues-soul wail. “Nina [Simone] was the touchstone,” she says. “If you could stir emotion like Nina…”
When Steampacket split, she and Auger regrouped as Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity. They blended psych, blues and jazz on 1967’s Open and 1969’s Streetnoise.
A June ’68 UK Number 5 with then-unreleased Bob Dylan song This Wheel’s On Fire, meanwhile, brought Julie the adulation that accompanies hits. Her striking image – shag pixie hair, cat eyeliner, psych garb – made her an icon of the high ’60s. “I hated it,” she says today, “the constant attention, of being on show.”
After appearing on 1969’s 33¹/³ Revolutions Per Monkee TV special (“we flew in, did it, flew out,” she recalls) and a tour of the States supporting Led Zeppelin, she quit the group. “I was exhausted,” she says. “In the four years together, we had worked constantly with only one week off. There was amazing camaraderie but I’d had enough.”
After Gomelsky introduced her to jazzer Keith Tippetts’ music at the 100 Club, she recalls, “we became inseparable, like magnets.” Thereafter, she embraced the possibilities of vocal improv on highly regarded solo LPs and with groups, most notably Centipede, Ovar y Lodge and the Ark. In addition, there have been collaborations with Maggie Nicols and Carla Bley, tributes to Robert Wyatt and numerous educational workshops at home and abroad. Famously, she also re-recorded This Wheel’s On Fire for sitcom Absolutely Fabulous in 1992. As for the future, she admits it’s been hard. “I was broken,” she says. “But I’ve been recording with friends. I’m still doing things, still learning. There’s a magic in improv that’s unexplained, that never goes.”
“I hated the constant attention, of being on show.” JULIE TIPPETTS