“Ask Me No Questions” by Bridget St. John - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1969Album Chart of the Decade: 1960s

TJR says

The fanciful notion of running a record label, free from the constraints of the “straights”, had been burning with John Peel for a considerable period of time; Bridget St. John was the catalyst which spurred the idea on from fantasy to reality. Her 1968 session for his Night Ride Radio Show (her first public exposure) was simply too good not to be realised on record – but no-one else was showing an interest. In the launch ad for Dandelion Records (the International Times, 18 July 1969), Peel explained:

”The half-witted, idealistic notion behind Dandelion and our other violent, capitalist enterprise, Biscuit Music, is that any profits, if such there be, should go to the artists, not to Clive nor myself. We want to record people whose songs and poems we like and whom we like as people. At the moment this means Bridget St. John, Beau, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre and the Occasional Word Ensemble. If people like their records, and I honestly can't think of any reason why they shouldn't, then we'll be able to record a host of other people you've probably never heard of either.”

His manager and label partner, Clive Selwood, had some previous music-biz know-how with Elektra, and he too shared Peel’s passion. The base was ideal – and the 22-year-old Bridget St. John was the first beneficiary. Her debut album “Ask Me No Questions”, featuring 5 of the songs which had so enchanted Peel in her ’68 session, was released in the summer of 1969 on Dandelion S-63750 in a fetching gatefold sleeve, and was distributed by CBS at the time. Although it received many favourable music press reviews, it sold poorly. Well, I mean, if Nick Drake couldn’t sell then what chance did Bridget have?

The comparisons with Nick Drake run deeper than that superficial point though; that is to say she doesn’t know the meaning of a bad song and makes heavenly, lovely pieces through use of her everyday poeticism, appealing character and considerable ability on the guitar. Vocally, Bridget is deeper and darker than Sandy Denny, whilst often sharing similarly plaintive traits. She herself would cite her real-life mentor John Martyn, and in particular his picking, as a key-influence and, indeed, he plays second guitar on two of the tracks; “Curl Your Toes” and the stunning title-track itself.

“It’s all about the artists” was a key-phrase that Peel would use in regards to Dandelion and, already, a tightly-knit circle seems to be forming, with Ric Sanders, of the aforementioned The Occasional Word Ensemble, also lending second guitar contribution to “Lizard-Long-Tongue Boy” and the magnificent “Many Happy Returns”, on which he also delivers some slick and neat blues licks on bottleneck guitar. Bustling commuters and British people in wet weather get the short-shrift on the album’s memorable and clever opener, “To B Without A Hitch”, which also served as the album’s lead single. The pace of the song accelerates and slows as the frantic hoi-polloi are compared with the chilled hitch hiker. Of the many fabulous lines in the song my favourite has to be “Water does no more than get you soaking, but people act as if they’re going to drown.” As she herself later commented: “I’m not a narrative songwriter, I don’t sit down to write stories, I just write feelings out… I get high off people, ideas and things”.

Another first half highlight is the gorgeous “Barefeet And Hot Pavements”, which introduces lightly slapped bongos by Simon Stable into the mix. It seems to extoll the virtues of the carefree, hippy generation, but could just as easily be interpreted universally as a message to simply “be yourself and pay no mind to the judgemental ones”.

The very best is saved ‘til last with the near eight-minute title-track, “Ask Me No Questions”, which has a gentle beauty which could melt even the most battle-hardened of soldiers. The track screams (subtly) “make love not war”. After a heavenly 4 minutes, you think it might be all over. But producer John Peel had other ideas. As he later recalled: “I was allowed my head on this one, so there’s an unparalleled number of birdsong on there. Because we weren’t quite sure about the copyright on the original recordings, we just stacked loads and loads on top of each other … so you probably hear things like corncrakes existing in an environment along with meadow pippets – are there such things as meadow pippets? And someone will tell you that they can’t coexist and don’t live in the same part of the world… but on this record they do. There are also church bells and kind of wind effects, and two guitars, the second of them played by John Martyn. And a bit of a masterwork, I see it as being. I am almost entirely certain that I am unique in this.” Peelie is certainly not unique in that anymore – as many from the reissue generation will testify. St. John and Martyn emerge from the other side of the “meadow pippets”, seemingly still engaged with their sublime refrains from a minute or two earlier. It’s really quite the most stunning finale.

My initial thoughts were that this album was a bit samey on fist listen, but the subtle variations are soon apparent for those still listening intently by the third spin. Several times around, the brilliance absolutely shines; this is a sparkling debut from a beguiling new artist. That John Peel feller knew talent when he heard it ; – )

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [03:07] 9.5.png Bridget St. John - To B Without A Hitch (Bridget Hobbs) Folk
A2 [03:01] 7.2.png Bridget St. John - Autumn Lullaby (Bridget Hobbs) Songwriter
A3 [03:00] 7.1.png Bridget St. John - Curl Your Toes (Bridget Hobbs) Folk
A4 [03:13] 6.9.png Bridget St. John - Like Never Before (Bridget Hobbs) Songwriter
A5 [03:59] 7.1.png Bridget St. John - The Curious Crystals Of Unusual Purity (Bridget Hobbs) Folk
A6 [02:45] 9.3.png Bridget St. John - Barefeet And Hot Pavements (Bridget Hobbs) Folk
B1 [02:34] 7.0.png Bridget St. John - I Like To Be With You In The Sun (Bridget Hobbs) Folk
B2 [03:08] 6.8.png Bridget St. John - Lizard-Long-Tongue Boy (Bridget Hobbs) Folk
B3 [04:11] 6.7.png Bridget St. John - Hello Again (Of Course) (Bridget Hobbs) Folk
B4 [02:16] 8.7.png Bridget St. John - Many Happy Returns (Bridget Hobbs) Folk
B5 [04:56] 6.0.png Bridget St. John - Broken Faith (Bridget Hobbs) Songwriter
B6 [07:48] 9.6.png Bridget St. John - Ask Me No Questions (Bridget Hobbs) Folk

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