Okay, so was 21, and in my final year at university. My social life had been somewhat curtailed, partly because of the additional workload in studying for my finals, but mostly because my boyfriend (nobody used the term SO way back then) was spending a year working in Saudi Arabia and I, good little girl that I was, had promised to wait for him. Since he and his motorbike had provided the transport for 'most everywhere I went, I tended to be stuck at home.
A friend of mine was playing guitar at the folk club and asked me to go along. It seemed like a goodish plan to me, particularly since the friend, besides being a fine musician, was decidedly easy on the eye and 100% gay - providing me with all the benefits of being seen around with a gorgeous guy and none of the problems of people gossiping that I was being unfaithful. If anyone did say anything to my other half, all I'd have to do is laugh and say "I was with Jerry, fool."
So off we went, and Jerry did his set. He was very good, as always, and was promptly booked to do four more evenings. Then the owner of the club came on, and started to play guitar and sing - he was much better at the former than the latter. Halfway through "Cry Me a River," he faltered and forgot the words entirely. Struggling, he asked the audience to "help me out, please." It had always been one of my favourite songs, and I'd had enough to drink to suppress any shyness, so I lifted my voice, and while he played, I finished the song for him.
Which is how I came to be booked to sing support for Jake Thackray the following week.
Jake was a 'name'. Not a big star, but still well-known. Born in Yorkshire in 1939, he was raised a Catholic, and started his career as a teacher. However, he'd become well known through TV spots as a singer/songwriter on British shows like The Frost Report and That's Life. I'd seen him on TV, and heard his records, and was thrilled to get the chance to see him live, for free, even if I was terrified.
So there I was, the next week, sat out front, singing along to Mike's guitar, while Mike fretted, because Jake was late. Finally he arrived, however. A tall, thin, saturnine figure in his late 40's. Dark haired, a little pale, his eyes hooded with heavy lids, hollows in his cheeks, and dressed in a thick, chunky sweater that someone had obviously made for him. As Mike and I finished up, he applauded roundly.
Mike and I made our way to the bar, and Jake bought us both a drink, and commented that he wished more folk singers were "As pretty - and young -- as you, luv." He spoke softly with a discernible, but not thick, Yorkshire accent. We chatted as we drank, but quietly. Jake makes no secret that he prefers small folk clubs to big venues - basically, he's a shy, private kind of man, although he's performed on TV, and in front of huge crowds, including the royal family.
When we finished the drink, he took his guitar, and walked slowly to the front, and started his set. Now, everybody there knew what to expect, but perhaps you don't. Imagine, if you will, a tall, serious looking man, his voice doleful. He's often described as lugubrious, and there is certainly an air of mournfulness about him. Just like so many folk singers. He strikes a chord, and begins to sing… " Isabel makes love upon national monuments/ With style and enthusiasm and anyone at all./She's done Stonehenge and the Houses of Parliament/ But so far little Isabel's never played the Albert Hall."
Because Jake's funny. He's really, truly, funny in the same way as Charlie Chaplin is funny - firstly because of the sheer genius of his wit - his songs twist the language, do strange things with rhyme and metre, but always are deliciously humorous - but also through the contrast with the downbeat melancholy of the performer.
I spent the rest of the evening doubled up in laughter. He did "Brother Gorilla" his own translation of a song by French singer Georges Brassens. He did "Family Tree" and he did the song that's become a standard in every pub where Folk is committed, "The Bantam Cock." It was a wonderful evening. He didn't do an encore though - he doesn't believe in them "Why should I go off-stage and pretend to be halfway to the bus-stop, only to be dragged back by your applause - what would happen if you didn't applaud and I'd left half me best songs unsung?" Somehow, that's Jake all over.
Jake Thackray died on 26 December 2002, after a long illness. It's sad to discover that this modest man, who never lived high on the hog (his stage outfit was either a plain black suit or a home knitted sweater) died bankrupt.