Anne Briggs

TrackAlbum
She Moves Through The FairEdinburgh Folk Festival Vol.1
Martinmas TimeThe Bird In The Bush
Blackwater SideAnne Briggs
Willie O'WinsburyAnne Briggs
Go Your WayAnne Briggs
The Snow It Melts The SoonestAnne Briggs
The Time Has ComeThe Time Has Come
Fine HorsemanThe Time Has Come
Standing On The ShoreThe Time Has Come
Tangled ManThe Time Has Come

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Contributor: Brian Greene

It feels odd to single out the finest recordings made by an artist who was never all that keen to have her voice taped. But then Anne Briggs’s reluctance to be a musical star is so much of her compelling story. If you want to read a lengthy rundown of that story, get the Topic Records compilation CD Anne Briggs: A Collection and read Colin Harper’s extensive and thoughtful liner notes there. The short version is:

Briggs left her Nottinghamshire home when a teenager in the early 1960s. She fell in with a folk music set and quickly made a name for herself among influential people within that circuit, via her singing. Words fail when one attempts to describe her voice. To say it’s rich is to utter a foolish understatement. To label it evocative is to barely scratch the surface. It’s a voice that arrested the attention of those who heard it at festivals and in folk clubs through the 60s, and that continues to influence today’s artists. In her earliest years of singing for audiences Briggs’s specialty was a cappella numbers. She could silence a room full of hearty coffee or ale drinkers with just that voice of hers, no instruments needed. And performing for live audiences was how she felt music should be presented. She didn’t believe in recording. Luckily for us, she got convinced to enter studios and have her singing captured – well, up to a certain time she allowed that. As for her temperament through these years, Briggs appears to have been a wild child: a kind of severe free spirit who could stand any of the fellas drink for drink. All you have to do is look at the few pictures of Briggs in her youthful years, to get a sense of the intensity she carried around.

Along the way over her first decade as a performing artist, Briggs’s resonant singing was caught on tape here and there. Some of those sessions are included on the compilation referred to in the first paragraph here. Also, there was The Hazards Of Love EP that Topic issued in ’63. But it wasn’t until 1971 that an actual Anne Briggs long player was let out onto the world. And, as if to make up for lost time, two were done in that same year: her eponymous debut on Topic and then The Time Has Come which was released by CBS.

Many of Briggs’s most ardent fans seem to favor the self-titled album but the follow-up is the one that’s always nailed me to the floor the most. On both records the instrumentation is sparse but it’s even more so on Anne Briggs and perhaps this is a big part of why many of her ardent admirers prefer that one; because there really is the sense that instrumental accompaniment is always just in the way of her singing. Yet the playing on The Time Has Come is most effective, to my ears; I always feel like I’m hearing the acoustic tracks from Led Zeppelin III with a powerful female vocalist in the place of Robert Plant.

Briggs actually made another album in 1973, Sing A Song For You, with the band Ragged Robin backing her. It didn’t see release until decades later and, honestly, I think it’s skippable, the magic of Briggs’s two ’71 albums and the earlier recordings just not there somehow. After that record, that was it for her as a vocal artist. She simply ceased making albums or singing in public, then seemingly retreating to a life of quiet domesticity.

Whether she was interpreting traditional folk fare or performing compositions she wrote on her own or with Bert Jansch, Anne Briggs is a pure artist whose formidable vocal work is a lasting force. Some might say it’s a shame that she only made the few recordings before retreating away from the public eye. But her will was always as strong as her singing, and this is how she wanted things so this is how they are. You can pick up A Collection – which contains a smattering of her early recordings and the entirety of The Hazards Of Love and Anne Briggs – and The Time Has Come, and you will possess the essential elements of one of the most vital folk catalogs to be found.

 

Anne Briggs biography (iTunes)

The first two tracks in Brian’s topper-ten are also included on Anne Briggs: A Collection CD. The Hazards Of Love EP was reissued by Topic as a limited edition vinyl for Record Store Day this year. The Hazards Of Love was also the inspiration for The Decemberists’ 2009 album of the same name – see toppermost #213.

TopperPost #310

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Jul 3, 2014

    Brian, thanks for this great list on a very fine singer, indeed… I would probably have to have her great version of ‘The Recruited Collier’ and the superb version of ‘Go Your Way’ which she recorded with Bert Jansch for the Acoustic Routes album in my top ten, though…

    • Brian Greene
      Jul 8, 2014

      Andrew, thanks for the feedback. It was hard to keep the list to 10 songs even though Anne recorded so little! I agree with you that those two others deserve recognition.

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