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by Brian Peters
Janet Russell
anet Russell’s was a familiar face around the
folk clubs and festivals during the late 1980s and
early 90s. Combining powerful performances of
the Scottish song and ballad tradition with thoughtful
and sometimes waspish commentaries on socio-
political issues – feminism in particular – Janet
succeeded in presenting her material with a mixture
of conviction and good humour that pleased many
an audience. Her Secretary’s Song became the most
played song on Jim Lloyd’s BBC show Folk on 2,
and her role in the female quartet Sisters Unlimited
brought further acclaim. Recently, though, she’s
been a lot less visible. News of a new album and a
return to live work brought me to the front room of
the solid stone house in Silsden, West Yorkshire,
that Janet shares with her partner, the songwriter
Jim Woodland, and their two sons. I asked her what
she’d been up to.
“We moved North in 1989 when I was pregnant with my
first son, Tom. I carried on touring right through to ’95,
accompanied by Tom for the first six months; people
were great, they’d look after him while I was onstage
and put us both up. But it got more difficult when my
second son, Alfie, was born - one is manageable, but
two’s a handful! Jim was looking after them while he
got on with his writing, but it was difficult when I was
over in America for five or six weeks at a time, and we
decided jointly that I would stop touring and Jim would
take on more work. But now both my boys are into their
teens, and I’m feeling that it’s OK to get out and do a bit
Before we talk about Janet’s new Harbourtown CD,
Love Songs and Fighting Talk, perhaps we should go
back to the beginning, and her early influences. “I was
always big fan of Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman. I
liked Dusty Springfield as well, way back, but I didn’t
really start to hear proper traditional singers until I went
to university at St. Andrews. The folk club there was
fabulous; all of the Fisher family came through and I
liked Cilla Fisher in particular - her voice was gorgeous.
I liked the idea of going around folk clubs with my guitar,
being entertaining, and singing beautiful songs that
made people get involved. I wanted to be as strong as
Dick Gaughan.”
Janet’s guitar-playing was something she decided
to work on: “I wasn’t expecting to be a whiz-kid, but
I wanted to play accompaniments that would be
respectable and add a bit of interest, not just strum. A
teacher called Mr. Taylor at my school in Buckhaven
taught me the basics, and I picked stuff up from people
who came to the folk club. I’d say, ‘that’s really nice,
how’d you do that?’ and they’d sit me down and show
me stuff like open tunings, which I’ve always liked. I’m
never satisfied with my playing, but then I don’t sit down
and practice for hours. I’m in awe of people like Steve
Tilston, but you need a lot of discipline to be as good
as that.”
The Living Tradition - Page 1
Issue80.indd 14 14/7/08 14:48:26
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