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Julie Tippetts: Didn't You Used To Be Julie Driscoll?

Julie Tippetts: Didn't You Used To Be Julie Driscoll?
Duncan Heining By

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The respect in which Julie Tippetts is held by her fellow musicians and fans is truly heartening—and truly deserved. Back in the late sixties, then Julie Driscoll, she gave up a very different career trajectory in music, one that had begun with Steampacket and continued with Brian Auger & The Trinity, to follow a journey characterised by experimentation and self-discovery.

Though the qualities of Tippetts' voice are often acknowledged, her unique and personal approach to song-writing is less frequently noted. This seems surprising, given the sheer quality of the writing on her first two albums, 1969 and Sunset Glow (1976). Shadow Puppeteer followed in 1999, providing further evidence of her abilities, but still this aspect of her work went largely undocumented.

However, in 2010, with Ghosts of Gold, Tippetts began a partnership with Sheffield-based multi-instrumentalist and auteur Martin Archer. Three other fine records have followed—Tales of Finin, Serpentine and Vestigium -and the duo begin work on a new album in 2017. So, it is high time that this aspect of her story was told.

Back in 1968, Julie Driscoll was riding high in the charts with Bob Dylan's song "Wheels on Fire." She was a member, never the leader, of Julie Driscoll & the Brian Auger Trinity but the media loved her and singled her out from the band. Extremely photogenic, 'Jools' was as much a sixties icon as Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy but she neither sought nor enjoyed the attention.

She had been a professional musician from her teens, singing in nightclubs with her dad's band and recording her first single, "Take Me By The Hand" (Columbia), when she was fifteen. Hearing that maker-shaker Giorgio Gomelsky was looking for a 'girl' singer to record, she approached him at his club in Richmond, The Crawdaddy. While waiting for a suitable song for her, Gomelsky and organist Brian Auger started putting together a soul revue that would be called Steampacket. Julie was the obvious choice for one of the frontline singers and in 1965, aged seventeen, she joined fellow vocalists Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart, Auger, bassist Rick Brown and drummer Mickey Waller. Julie Driscoll & the Brian Auger Trinity emerged out of Steampacket around 1966, when Baldry and Stewart left to pursue solo careers. The new group continued the revue format to considerable live success performing, in the main, cover versions of blues and soul tunes.

Managed by Giorgio Gomelsky, Driscoll and Auger recorded Open for Gomelsky's Marmalade label in 1967. Side one featured a set of instrumentals, while side two featured the Trinity with vocals by Driscoll. "Wheels on Fire" was a huge success and seemed to promise much but the follow-up, an excellent and mature version of David Ackles' "Road to Cairo" failed to chart. Nevertheless, Gomelsky's confidence in the band was undiminished and they recorded the double LP Streetnoise in 1969.

By that point, Driscoll was twenty-one and had been gigging and touring constantly in Britain, Europe and in the States, where the group had opened for Led Zeppelin in California. As she explained, "I was four years solidly on the road with Auge, from Steampacket onwards. We had one week off in all that time. It was totally living out of a suitcase. I was exhausted." She was also sick of the fact, that she couldn't leave her flat without some snapper sticking a camera in her face. "When I left," she tells me, "I was doing a lot of writing and composing but I really didn't like the thing of going out and being recognised. I hated the lack of anonymity."

The first Trinity album, Open, had been an album of cover songs along with a number of instrumentals from Brian Auger. Streetnoise, however, featured three songs by Driscoll alone—"Czechoslovakia" (a protest song about the Soviet invasion), the folky "Vauxhall to the Lambeth Bridge" and "A Word About Colour." Lyrically, "A Word About Colour" is the strongest and most interesting.

"I suppose, I had a lot to get off my chest really," Tippetts explained. "But as we were doing a lot of travelling, I would have my guitar with me. I bought myself a Martin in New York, which I still have and which I love, and I started writing a lot of material."

And she added, "I was always searching for my identity. I think it was almost inevitable that the songs I was writing—because they were based on the guitar —would take on a different life. I suppose with hindsight, I was pulling in another direction. But I have to make this clear, it was not because I didn't love the work I was doing with Brian Auger and the Trinity. I loved it and I would love it to this day. Brian had found what he wanted to do and he perfected that. Whereas, I really needed to find something else."

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