Phone interviews are slightly frustrating for obvious reasons, but occasionally the subject provides details which compensate for the absence of visuals. Survivor -winner Richard Hatch told me down the line that he was naked (having just stepped out of the shower). Joan Rivers was in her New York apartment, and looked out at the snow with a dog on her lap. But when I called folk singer Judy Small she was in a stringently urban environment -“ the office from which she practises family law.
It’s the perfect balance, explained Small cheerily. My -˜during the week’ work is both an intellectual challenge and provides a stable lifestyle -¦ And I also see that the legal work that I do and the music that I do are part of the same thing. I see the work that I do in the world as being vaguely aimed in the direction of social justice. I hope that I’m headed in that direction.
Small has been headed firmly in that direction for almost 20 years, with nine albums and a 10th on the way. She’s performed with Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, and her songs have been recorded by Ronnie Gilbert, Eric Bogle and Charlie King, to name a few. Along the road she’s embraced styles that include jazz and rock but folk music has been her long-time companion. It’s a style that satisfies needs both political and aesthetic, and one that Small says is growing in popularity.
Why this music is becoming so popular is because people are starting to really think about their world -¦ Small said. It’s when things get really heavy that you start looking outside of your own life and your own circle, and go, -˜Maybe I do have an interest and should have a say in the world.’ And that’s when music that has some guts and politics comes to the fore.
Small acknowledges that her own music has evolved and that she certainly doesn’t sing about Vietnam any more. She has revived one song about US imperialism though that needed little revision. It’s refreshing to talk to an artist who is blissfully unconcerned about being seen as political, as well as being quite happy to discuss her sexuality.
Small has been open about being a lesbian long before k.d. lang and Ms Etheridge. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir were the first group to record one of her songs, and Small’s ninth album Let The Rainbow Shine consisted of tracks with lesbian and gay themes.
I’m a 78er, I was there at the first Mardi Gras parade, so Mardi Gras has always been very special to me, Small said. There’s also something about giving something back to my community -¦ Mardi Gras is certainly a way I can be out there and say I’m proud of my community. Small added this year’s festival program was especially exciting for her, with a return to community events being a positive result of the Mardi Gras collapse.
Fans of Small should note that this is not a solo gig, with Small joined by UK duo Chris While and Julie Matthews. I always say that Chris While has the voice that I should have had. I reckon she was behind me in the line when God was giving out voices and she pushed me out of the way, Small laughed.
Contented and confident in love and career, Small nevertheless shared that one of life’s dreams still eluded her.
I always say that my major ambition is one day to find a busker playing one of my songs and say to them, -˜Where did you get that?’ Small said. And they’ll say, -˜I dunno, it’s just an old folk song.’ I reckon that’ll be real success!
Judy Small performs in concert with Chris While and Julie Matthews for one show only on Sunday 16 February at 3pm at the Basement, Reilby Place, Circular Quay. Tickets are $22 and $26 and may be booked on 9251 2797.