Born in Warwick, educated at Oxford University, by profession first librarian, then restaurateur but always a singer of songs where words matter as much as music, June Tabor is renowned as an explorer of a song's soul and a performer of gripping commitment. Her recorded work over the last thirty years shows a diversity of inspirations. Highlights include the early simplicity of the largely traditional Airs and Graces (1976), more modern material in a minimalist setting on Abyssinians (1983) and Aqaba (1988), the richness and diversity of Angel Tiger (1992) and Aleyn (1997, recorded live), A Quiet Eye (1999) with the Creative Jazz Orchestra adding inspirational weight and colour, and Rosa Mundi (2001), a very personal celebration of the Rose. More lately An Echo of Hooves (2003), dedicated to the story-telling power of the traditional Ballad, was particularly well-received and brought June the 'Singer of the Year' award at the 2004 BBC Folk Awards. She was subsequently filmed in concert for BBC4 Sessions, produced by the same team that has presented her several times on BBC TV's 'Later with Jools Holland'. 2005 saw two stunning releases, both on Topic Records - the career-overview 4-CD boxed set Always, and a new mainstream album At the Wood's Heart (2005). Early 2006 heralded a promising new musical relationship with English saxophonist/composer Iain Ballamy in the trio Quercus (along with June's long-time accompanist, pianist Huw Warren). The year also brought her back together with the Renga Ensemble of the London Philharmonic Orchestra for a further performance of a song cycle 'Soldier, Sailor, Shepherd' derived from the work of the C20th collector/folklorist Ruth L. Tongue. Touring in 2006 brought Andy Cutting and Mark Emerson to the fore as an accompanying duo, leading to June's latest album Apples (March 2007) adding Tim Harries' double bass and creating a dynamic piece of work with a character new to June's recordings. It offers testament to a strength of purpose which continues to produce work of a standard acknowledged to be the highest in its field: June Tabor's journey in song continues.
"As I get older, Tabor says, I understand more the depths of sorrow and joy that made the song." (The Guardian)
Notable collaborations, in addition to that with the CJO, have been with Maddy Prior as Silly Sisters, with Oysterband on the roots-rock classic Freedom and Rain (1990), with harpist Savourna Stevenson and bassist Danny Thompson on Singing the Storm, and with various international artists over a long period for the Passchendaele peace concerts . The long-term musical partnerships, with guitarist Martin Simpson (first recorded on A Cut Above, 1980) , and subsequently with pianist Huw Warren, have each made a significant contribution to the development of a remarkable artist who continues to portray the world's glory and grief in exquisite and poignant style.
"June Tabor... is quite simply one of Britain's greatest interpreters of popular song. She is a performer with an extraordinary range and the ability to mix intensity, passion and drama with a chillingly lived in voice that makes every song sound like a personal experience" (The Guardian)
"She can stop time and draw tears from the stoniest heart. She sings with compassion, honesty, stoicism and a painfully acute sense of life's transitory hold". (Sam Saunders, 2006)
In live performance, expect to be enthralled by this dark-voiced storyteller whose broad repertoire sets the anonymous genius of folk poetry alongside work from both the celebrated and the unsung heroes of modern British writing; expect an interweaving of words and music that will create an atmosphere to haunt the memory.
"As a paragon of the virtues that folk music holds in its cultural armoury, June Tabor must surely rate as number one. Her repertoire has never been blinkered by a quest for authenticity: she has covered all territories from Weimar ballads via jazz to the most trad of trad English folk. And yet, the sense of scholarship that she brings to her work never lets you forget that you are listening to, perhaps, the greatest interpreter and curator of indigenous British music." (BBC)
June Tabor (born December 31, 1947 in Warwick, England) is an English folk singer.
June Tabor was inspired to sing by hearing Anne Briggs' EP Hazards of Love in 1965.
"I went and locked myself in the bathroom for a fortnight and drove my mother mad. I learned the songs on that EP note for note, twiddle for twiddle. That's how I started singing. If I hadn't heard her I'd have probably done something entirely different."
(The quotation is from liner notes on the album "A Collection" by Anne Briggs)
She attended St Hugh's College, Oxford University and appeared on University Challenge in 1968, as captain of the college team. She joined the Heritage Society at Oxford University and sang with a group called Mistral. One of her earliest recordings was in 1972 on an anthology called Stagfolk Live. Her breakthrough occurred in 1976 when she recorded the album Silly Sisters with Maddy Prior. Shortly thereafter in the same year, she recorded her solo debut, Airs and Graces. She later joined again with Prior, this time using the name Silly Sisters for their duo. Starting in 1977 Martin Simpson joined her in the recording studio for three albums before he moved to America in 1987. (Simpson has returned from America to be a guest guitarist on albums in the 2000s.) After his departure, she started working closely with pianist Huw Warren.
Tabor stopped performing professionally for a time after working for decades as a singer. During this time, she worked as a librarian and, with her then-husband David Taylor, ran a restaurant called "Passepartout" in Penrith, Cumbria, England before returning to music professionally in the 1990s.
In 1990, June Tabor recorded an album with the folk-rock band The Oyster Band titled Freedom and Rain. She went on tour with the Oyster Band, and the Rykodisc label published a limited-run promotional live album the following year. Many of her current fans first discovered her through this tour and album with the Oyster Band. In 1992 Elvis Costello wrote "All this Useless Beauty" specifically for Tabor, and she recorded it on Angel Tiger. Costello didn't record it himself until 1996, on his album of the same title.
In 1983 the BBC TV series "Spyship" was broadcast, with June singing the title song. In 1997 she appeared on Ken Russell's "In Search of English Folk Song" broadcast of Channel 4. Tim Winton, author of the 2001 novel "Dirt Music" which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, made a selection of music to echo the themes of the novel. The CD "Dirt Music" (2001) includes "He Fades Away" by June Tabor, a painful tale of the slow death of a miner. (The song originally appeared on her 1994 CD "Against the Streams.") In 2002 the "Passchendale Peace Concert" in Flanders had June sharing the stage with Coope Boyes and Simpson. On 30th June 2006 BBC Radio 3 broadcast "Night Waves" to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It was broadcast live, with World War I songs sung by June Tabor, and a discussion with Michael Morpurgo and Kate Adie.
Over the years she has worked in various genres including jazz and art song, but generally with a sparse and sombre tone to it. Her 2003 album An Echo of Hooves marked a return to the traditional ballad form after concentrating on other styles for several years, and was highly acclaimed. The All Music Guide said of this album "A stunning jewel in a remarkable career, and one of the best things Tabor’s ever released." Always (2005) is a boxed set of four CDs, spanning her whole career and containing rare recordings.
On 24th October 2003 Tabor appeared on Later With Jools Holland (BBC TV), singing "Hughie Graeme". This was later issued as part of a compilation DVD from the series. Folk Britannia was the name of a concert at the Barbican centre, and a TV mini-series (February 2006, repeated in October). She sang "Fair Margaret and Sweet William" at the Barbican, under the heading "Daughters of Albion". Tabor contributed one song to Ashley Hutchings' project Street Cries (2001) and one to a collection of folk musicians singing songs by the Beatles - Rubber Folk (2006). She chose to sing Lennon's "In My Life" A cappella. June tends to be adventurous in a way that avoids modernism. For example she frequently sings traditional songs with a piano accompaniment. On the album Singing The Storm (2000) she sings to the accompaniment of Savourna Stevenson's harp, and Danny Thompson's bass. In May 2004 she performed as part of "The Big Session" and sang an adaptation of Love Will Tear Us Apart as a duet with John Jones of The Oyster Band. In 1992, "The Wire" voted "Queen Among the Heather" one of the "Top 50 Rhythms of all Time".
The lighter side of her character can be seen in her work with Les Barker's The Mrs Ackroyd Band which performs his comic work. So far June has performed on 3 of their albums, the 1990 Oranges and Lemmings (singing "The Trains of Waterloo", a parody of the folk song "The Plains of Waterloo" in a duet with Martin Carthy), the 1994 Guns and Roses (singing "The January June", a send up of her perceived sombre character) and the 2003 Yelp! (singing "There's a hole in my bodhran", to the tune of "There's a Hole in my Bucket"). She sang two songs on Beat The Retreat, a tribute to Richard Thompson.