Sunday night was a good night to celebrate an anniversary with a lady who has been a consistent presence in the UK music industry for 30 years and who has simply one of the greatest voices in rock. More of that in a little while but first let me give you a bit of chronology and a bit of background for those who came in late.
Judie Tzuke first rose to public view (after a couple of false starts) with her album, “Welcome to the Cruise”, in 1979. The single taken from the album, “Stay With Me Till Dawn”, remains her only success on the UK singles chart. After that she was known mainly as an albums’ artist – but because of “….Dawn” she was principally recognised for her ability to compose and sing ballads.
“Welcome to the Cruise” had some great songs but lacked a little in cogent direction in the production department. Her second and third albums, “Sportscar” and “I Am the Phoenix”, took her in a rockier direction. These albums closed out her contract with Rocket (a label owned by Elton John).
Her first album for her new label, Chrysalis, was “Shoot the Moon” in 1982. It was followed by a live set “Road Noise” which showed that her and her band could certainly rock out. Her audience had expanded to include the fringes of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” brigade and whilst each of these albums charted, she had become cast as another “rock chick” appreciated by those who liked their Stevie Nicks and Heart albums. Trouble was that too narrowly defined Judie’s talents and it was a mould that she was to seek to break out of, even if she lost her audience in the process.
1983s “Ritmo” was an effort to take her music in a more keyboard dominated but funkier and rhythmic direction. It didn’t sell as well as its predecessors and Chrysalis withdrew their backing.
Another label move followed as she switched to Legacy for an album “The Cat is Out” which sought to combine the synthesizers of “Ritmo” with the rock and ballads of her commercial successes. Crucially, Judie was to leave most of the composing to her band on this one giving a suggestion that she was not convinced by what might be perceived by some as a backward step. Bad distribution and a lower profile label led to a further decline in sales despite a successful tour. This 1985 album was to be her one and only for Legacy and heralded the beginning of the splintering of her touring band:bassist John “Rhino” Edwards left and joined Status Quo.
The cat may have been out but Ms Tzuke seemed to be heading for cover. It was four years before she resurfaced with a new long term deal with Polydor, a new album and a promised new tour. The album “Turning Stones” gave her the most disappointing chart placing to date and was more esoteric than “Ritmo” and a much more determined effort than its predecessor. Whether because of disappointing sales or some other reason the tour was swiftly cancelled, the album disappeared from the shelves after one pressing and the much talked of long association with Polydor was brief indeed.
CBS was the next label to take a chance on Judie and in 1991 they released the patchy affair “Left Hand Talking”. This had a re-working of “Stay With Me Till Dawn”, covers of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and Judee Sill’s “Jesus was a Cross Maker” and seven new compositions that were good in their own right but didn’t necessarily feel like they belonged together. It was the first album in Tzuke’s career that hadn’t charted and the record company promoted the preceding single (the Beach Boys song) with much more vigour than they did the album.
Another year, another label. Castle Communications were the parent company behind Legacy who had released the 1985 album and it was back to them and their “Essential” imprint that Judie headed in 1992. “Wonderland” was a much more thought out affair than its predecessor and was accompanied by some live concerts, TV promotion and a couple of singles. Still sales were unremarkable despite guest appearances on the album by Queen’s Brian May and the current classical darling of the moment, Nigel Kennedy. This was Tzuke at her most mature and thoughtful and still the public wasn’t biting. It was becoming clear that Judie’s days of charting albums and big sales were behind her. If she was to carry on in the music industry then the emphasis would need to be on artistic integrity and a refusal to bend to the whims of the major labels – whilst retaining the support of a dedicated fanbase. It would take a couple of years to figure this out but when it happened Judie Tzuke’s internet-only, artist-owned label, Big Moon, would be a pioneer of its kind.
The second part of Judie Tzuke’s career saw her produce a series of thoughtful studio albums and several live recordings each accompanied by a tour of small-to-medium sized venues around the UK. By this time Judie had settled into domestic life with two children, Bailey and Tallula, by her bandmate, Paul Muggleton. The rest of her original touring band had gone their separate ways with last man standing Mike Paxman soon to be heading in new directions too.
Four years had again elapsed before the appearance of 1996’s Under the Angels. The album couldn’t be found in the stores but healthy promotion was achieved at live concerts where the fact that Judie had a new album, and her own label was notified to everyone who attended. This was alongside “Wonderland” the most accomplished set of Ms Tzuke’s career and her new artistic freedom fitted her well.
Tours in February and June 1997 were recorded for the live album “Over the Moon” which covered the whole of her career to date and when the touring was finished and with sales of the live album healthy, Judie set to work on the next studio album “Secret Agent” which was released in 1998.
This formula of studio album – tour – live album was obviously the way to go and so the last leg of the “Secret Agent” tour was recorded for “Six Days Before the Flood” which was released immediately before the next studio set “Queen Secret Keeper” in 2001.
Another outside label, East Central One came sniffing around this album and promised to make a single out of “Drive” from the record. Its failure to materialise can only have further battered Tzuke’s opinion of record labels.
Undeterred, “Drive Live” was 2002’s live document of the 2001 tour of the album. By now, Judie’s recording studio, label and home had become the nurturing ground for another generation of musicians who were learning their trade, co-writing and being mentored by Judie. Their presence was seen increasingly on her tours and also began to reflect itself in the music charts as first Lucie Silvas and then Judie’s daughter, Bailey Tzuke began to make their presence known.
But everything has its time and this cycle of activity was about to slow down and give way to another chapter. But first there were some loose ends to tie up. First an album of covers “The Beauty of Hindsight – Volume 1”, again accompanied by a tour – this time with a tour programme partially written by yours truly.
2004’s album “The End of the Beginning” had a title which said everything. This was probably one of the three best albums of her career but it was also the last of its kind to date. If Big Moon was to continue it was going to need to move in a new direction which would allow Judie to break out of the constant cycle of touring and recording and allow her to concentrate on her work developing others’ talents, songwriting with her circle of friends but also with the increasingly large number of acts that the majors were pushing in her direction. The beginning of Big Moon had been one thing and that time was at an end and now there was a new thing but first time for one last regular tour (again accompanied by a tour booklet in which my writings were featured).
It would be three years before there would be another Judie Tzuke album on Big Moon and with “Songs 1” and its follow up “Songs 2”, the emphasis was away from a thematic album and back with a much looser collection of songs which just reflected the songwriting prior to its release. When a tour came, it was much less Judie and made room for performances from the stable of talent she was developing with Ms Tzuke like a proud mother hen pushing her associates out into the limelight.
Now in 2009, I hear whispers of a new development with talk of an album partially made up of old songs and to be released into the stores by a label other than Big Moon……. Haven’t we heard and seen this before….. and it didn’t work then.
Only time will tell whether this latest chapter in the career of the unsinkable Judie Tzuke will be a high point or a low point.
In the meantime, there was a gathering of friends and fans to help her celebrate her thirty years in the business and I’ll tell you about that in a subsequent post……….