Who: Judie Tzuke and Bailey Tzuke in concert
Where: Martlets Hall, Burgess Hill
When: 17th March 2012
Judie Tzuke has been touring the UK since the late 1970s. Then, coming off the back of a hit single in “Stay with Me Till Dawn” and her first album, she was one of a range of young hopefuls launching out on a career when the possibilities seemed endless. Now in 2012, as a seasoned professional touring the UK to promote her new album “One Less Tree”, the probabilities seem a lot more limited. She never made the premiership of UK stars but particularly during the nineteen-eighties she maintained a healthy profile which saw her more like to appear in Kerrang! than Smash Hits. She never achieved another hit single but there were chart positions for three albums on Rocket, three on Chrysalis, one on Castle / Legacy and then a difficult album with Polydor before one on CBS / Sony and then a return to Castle for one last album in the early 1990s before a retreat to her own record label, website and little store distribution.
Many of her loyal supporters look back to those early days of the late 70s and early 80s as a golden era for Ms Tzuke. The albums were regular and tours featured a steady band which featured Mike Paxman on guitars, John “Rhino” Edwards on bass (later with Status Quo) and Paul Muggleton who is now Judie’s producer and husband. However, close examination suggests that her career since 1992’s Wonderland (the last before the launch of her own label, “Big Moon Records”) has served her better allowing her to follow her own vision and a clearer opportunity for her producer to present a unity of sound. By comparison, even her biggest commercially successful album, Welcome to the Cruise, sounds crucially uneven – despite featuring some of her best and best-known songwriting.
So in 2012, it is Martlets Hall in Burgess Hill, a long step away from her rock chick days, a pleasant, professional but rather sedate venue that shares its premises with the local library. But the truth is that whilst she never made the top-rack of celebrities (and everything about her demeanour tells you how much she never really wanted that or would have fitted in there), she did make the upper-echelons of the songwriting world and her performance oozes the ease and class of everything she has achieved.
Speaking of achievements, the show is opened by another of Judie’s, her daughter Bailey Tzuke. Bailey has also worked quietly and confidently at developing her art. Like her Mum, she was thrust into a spotlight of sorts, following a breakthrough single, when she teamed with young band, the Freemasons for a hit cover with the Alanis Morissette composition, Uninvited. Her goal though seems to be to follow her mother’s example of developing the songwriters’ craft and her set is laden with new compositions with only “My Waltz” surviving from the times that I have seen her set in the past.
Bailey’s acquits herself well although her set is a little too brief but tonight is her Mum’s and so she makes way for the elder Tzuke.
Judie’s set (to the delights of those who have followed her career for a long time) draws on all periods of her career. Surprise inclusions include “How Sweet It is” which debuted on her 1985 album “The Cat is Out” and disappeared from her live-show not long after. This song points up how the years have improved Judie’s understanding of her work. Listening back to a live recording of the same song from that 1985 tour points up how much she was encumbered then by the male backing vocals which had become part of her sound at the point and the tendency to write in the key that favoured her band rather than her voice. Now with Bailey on backing vocals and a greater understanding of her voice and its strengths, this song which I have always loved is now even more delightful.
In fact, this band with which she performs tonight (an augmented version of the one that had accompanied Bailey’s set a little earlier) is perhaps the finest she has had accompanying her in her whole career. While those who have been watching Judie’s journey since the beginning might argue for the aforementioned troupe of her early days and an argument can be made for the outfit from the “Secret Agent” period which was fired by the guitar solos of David Goodes, I think this is a better fit.
Guitars are now provided by Graham Kearns , who switches between acoustic and electric. On drums we have Matt Racher (who continuing the family theme is Judie’s son-in-law) who proves to be a powerhouse who drives both sets. Jimmy Sims is on bass and acquits himself well but best of all is keyboardist Jonny Dyke. Dyke shows a familiarity not only with the whole canon of Ms Tzuke’s catalogue but also with the eras in which they were recorded. Consequently, the restoration to the set of “Living on the Coast” from Judie’s Sportscar album brings with it a keyboard solo which just reeks of the sound of the early 80s and the earlier days of electronic keyboards. Without allowing the sound to become too camp for the modern audience, Jonny explores and expands upon the song without losing sight of the original melody.
But what the band primarily does and does so well is present a sonic throne for the presentation of THAT voice and the tender wordplay that Judie’s songwriting exhibits so well. There are other survivors of the earlier period of Judie’s career – Stay with Me Till Dawn (of course), Sportscar and Sukarita. There are examples aplenty from the period when Judie really began to play to her strengths – Vivien (from Wonderland) and Joan of Arc (from Under the Angels) particularly shine but much of the set is given over to songs from the new album. These were performed in just an appealing and convincing way that anyone in the auditorium who had not acquired a copy from her website before the show must have been buying one from merchandising as they left.
Judie Tzuke’s career has not been without its fair share of hesitant steps and badly made choices but the legacy of her career should be clear for all to see – not only in her own work but also in her daughter’s. When the dust has settled, she deserves a greater degree of attention than she has at times been given and her success can be seen in the quality of her songs.