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Deborah Hodgson's IoW Blog



Deborah Hodgson

What's it like to play a major music festival and hang out with the big knobs backstage? Birmingham folk singer Deborah Hodgson can tell us with this exclusive blog about her recent appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival.

Emerging from a damp tent at 8.30 on Saturday morning, fuzzy head, frizzy hair, it felt hard to imagine I would be opening the Big Top stage of the Isle of Wight Festival 2009 in a few hours time.

We pitched our tents the night before, next to the portaloos in staff camping, then went to see Scottish folk-singer Eddi Reader perform on the Big Top, taking the opportunity to flyer her crowd to invite them to our performance.

A meet with Eddi afterwards was an inspiring start to an unforgettable weekend.
We exchanged CDs and she showed me a photograph of her mother when she was young, for no other reason than she felt like sharing it, and wished me luck for my gig.

Then over to the media tent with my manager/friend Zeena to promote the gig and see who we could find. We got chatting to the Californian band Iglu and Hartley, whose driver was from Kings Heath, Birmingham. I collaborated on a few duets with the lead singer, fusing Judy Garlands’ ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ with beat-boxing. Birth of a new genre I wonder?

The morning after was hectic as we all shared one dressing room in a leisure centre, my backdrop had gone missing, and the stage manager was fretting because we were 15 minutes late with the equipment as the pianist was waylaid barbecuing sausages.

Martinez, a beautiful Italian make-up artist put me at ease and sorted me out with false eyelashes, concealed the under-eye dark rings. She had a serene, gentle way about her and I thanked her for being such a calming influence and she replied, “ah zat is what Patrick Swayze said to me.” A charming insight into her world.

So, onto the stage for a sound check. It was a great performance space and being on a huge stage felt strangely comfortable. I seemed more at ease than I had at a local venue earlier that week where I practically strangled myself with my guitar strap due to the nerves.

A day before the festival I went to see a reike healer and she got rid of what she called my ‘dancing knees’ – she said they were shaking so much they made piercing noises in her ears. She did her angel reike thing for an hour or so, unblocked all the chakras, and said if my knees shook on stage she’d give me a refund – and no Elvis moves, so I’ll be calling to re-book.

The tent started to fill up as we started our first number, accompanied by Andy Teece on guitar and mandolin and Martin Riley on piano we played songs from the new CD ‘Love Will Find a Way’ opening with ‘Cardigan Bay’, ‘Taigh Allain’ and a version of Sandy Denny’s ‘Who knows where the time goes?’ There was relaxed vibe in the tent as people chilled happily to our music. As I introduced the final song the sound manager ran on stage to say we had run over time and we had to finish the set. We’d saved our best sunny festival tune til’ last and prepared the audience to sing ‘Dali-lily’ with us - there was no way we could leave, so we pushed on regardless, and faced the rollicking at the end of it.

Worth it to hear the crowd sing along, especially as Dali-lily, the eight year old who inspired the song, was in the audience herself.

All weekend, I met people with links to Wales, my hometown, and Worcester, where I currently live. The first person I was asked to sign a CD from immediately after my performance was by a girl from Worcester unbeknown to both of us. Also the Arcadian Kicks who were next on the bill were a Worcester band too.

Out of the 60,000 people that were at the festival I happened to meet two women by the name of Deborah Jane. This should have been my name, but my Dad forgot to register my middle name, so have always felt cut short. The first Deborah Jane I met was in the entourage of Goldie Lookin’ Chain’, who I was in school with in Newport and last saw when I was 15. (This was a funny reunion... folk singer meets rap artist... there’s talk of us doing a comedy concert for charity back in the hood.. watch this space). Coincidentally Deborah Jane owns a vintage boutique in the next town to me, I went to see her last week and she has offered to be my stylist and already sorted me out with some fab bo-ho outfits for next year’s tour.

The second Deborah Jane was coincidentally a good friend of Jon Giddings, the owner of the festival, who revived the Isle of Wight festival in 2002 from the sixties and gave me this opportunity when I last met him at a music conference last October. Strange to have met two Deborah Jane’s in one day – in the past I’ve toyed with the idea of this being my ‘stage name’ ....maybe these encounters are a sign to reconsider.

After the gig we handed out copies of the CD... then went over to the media tent to network some more. Fern Cotton was busy interviewing the main acts in the acoustic tent, I found myself sitting next to Charlotte Church on the lawn in the sunshine, while listening to Will Young perform a beautiful acoustic set.

I have always believed (in my head) that Will Young and I were destined to be best friends, and was a little disappointed when I finally met him that the feeling didn’t seem mutual! He was quite busy and I didn’t really get the chance to start forming this lifelong friendship.

I did however meet his guitarist Rupert Fenn, who is the nephew of Rick Fenn of 10CC – who I supported a few years ago in Wolverhampton – and having heard my CD he is keen to do some recording with me – so maybe there is still hope for a duet with Will one day.

Best performance at the festival was Paulo Nutini, he sang with such passion he could hardly stand up. I enjoyed talking with him, who was relaxed and sincere despite being pulled in all directions for interviews and signings.

The Wales - Midlands connection reappeared as I bumped into a singer-songwriter called Pete Lawrie from Penarth, who has just signed to Island records looking for a backing singer – as it happens he is recording with the same producer as me in the Midlands... Gavin Monaghan at the Magic Garden and I’m hoping to return with him in the summer. It’s a small ...and mysterious world.

At 6pm everyone was told to look at the sky – the most amazing display of the Red Arrows, watching the planes make rainbows and hearts in the sky was a brilliant moment, and sharing it with the whole family, my close friends and my 18 month year old nephew, Dylan in my arms shouting the words “more, more” from his limited vocabulary was a really special memory.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, after Stereophonics played on the Saturday evening I was looking forward to the privilege of a nightcap in the artists bar to find my friend collapsed and slightly out of her mind after drinking too much vodka.

I couldn’t carry her alone, so called for a buggy to take her to the medical tent, which she unconsciously decided to try and drive, put her foot on the accelerator, nearly careering into five paramedics, bashing her head onto the bar and giving herself a black eye - folk n’ roll.

Sunday was a little more relaxed and one of the main highlights of the weekend was meeting '60s folk legend Judy Collins. At 70 years of age her voice was still heavenly, as she sang ‘Amazing Grace’ against the angels on the backdrop of the main stage. As American folk singer Richard Farina once said, "If amethysts could sing...they would sound like Judy Collins”. There was a certain spirituality in her performance.

I had the pleasure of meeting her backstage, and she was every bit as graceful in person as she was on stage. She was the only person I felt compelled to ask to have a photo with. In the ten minutes I shared talking with her, you could see in her eyes, and feel in her hand as she held mine, that she has lived an extraordinary life - a career spanning 40 years, played with legends Dylan, Joni and Leonard Cohen, and written songs and books that speak to the heart and heal others, inspired by the tragedy in her own life, including the suicide of her son in 1992.
Immediately after my encounter with Judy I met an inspiring author called Brian, who had a collection of Judy Collins LP’s for her to sign – including the album ‘Who Knows where the Time Goes?’ – so we talked about this song, which I’d performed the day before, and he introduced me to his friend Rebecca Fitzgerald - who lives on the island in the manor house called ‘Farringford’ where poet Lord Alfred Tennyson lived for 40 years. An amazing couple with amazing stories.

I felt a real connection with this women, who’s mantra was to make anything happen. She had a rare beauty, a wildness and magic in her blue eyes, pale skin and black hair, and looked like she was from a Bronte novel. It was difficult to say how old she was, there was a timeless quality to her.

Rebecca decided last year to bring music to the home of Tennyson, she invited American songwriter, Patti Smith to stay at the house and perform a unique one-off concert for the Isle of Wight and she ended up staying in the house for a week...and this August Rebecca will be celebrating Tennyson’s 200th birthday with a gig from Fairport Convention's ‘Rainbow Chasers.’ Strangely, I was going to call my CD this, but changed it to “Love Will Find A Way” after a song on my CD which uses the lyrics from a poetry book called ‘The Golden Treasury’, edited by Palgrave – the author is anonymous but Rebecca informed me that this was Tennyson’s best friend and he selected all the poems in this book. An interesting revelation.

We talked about putting music to some Tennyson poetry and I remembered the first poem I ever got published when I was 12 was based on the Lady of Shallot, by song for the album maybe.

She plans to invite Robert Plant and another international folk legend (secret at this stage) to play at Farringford next year, and I’ve no doubt in my mind she’ll make it happen. Robert Plant lives near to me and I have a gig in his local soon, he very nearly came to the CD launch – but cancelled at the last minute for a dancing lesson ... so I’m hoping I can help make an introduction.

Rebecca then took me to visit the ‘Dimbola’ tent, an exhibition of art, including some beautiful photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian photographer specialising in female portraits.

That was the beauty of the festival, such an interesting and diverse range of people from photographers, to managers, to authors who had written books on Joni Mitchell, pop bands to rap artists to folk legends to a hotelier with an ambition to get one of the most world famous songwriters to perform in her living room.
It’s meeting people like this that was the best part of the experience. Not meeting celebrities – but meeting people – real people, people with dreams, with ideas, and with the courage to make life a little less ordinary.

The Pixies who performed on the main stage, were interviewed on ITV2 and asked what the festival meant to them and Black Francis pulled a strange face and said “what does it mean to me?” as if it were a stupid question.

I guess for bands that have been doing it for years, it’s just another gig, but when you’re starting out, being given the opportunity to play at an historic festival, where Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez played in the 60’s and to be one of 50 artists name’s on the memorabilia felt like a real honour, and has been a wonderful platform to connect with people as an artist on a larger scale than I’m used to.

It’s back to playing at the local pub, and performing at weddings and funerals, and people have asked if it now feels flat for me ... but quite the opposite, I’m feeling inspired, writing new songs with a new direction, maybe under a new name and looking forward to a new adventure, whatever that may be.



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