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Scout Beck

Julie Felix
Founder of Folk

Scout Beck, Editor

She's known as the first lady of folk yet Julie Felix - originally from the US, now based in the UK says this title is outdated.

Looking at her history that's modesty talking. She was the first female folk singer to be signed to a major label. She knew Leonard Cohen before he was famous; she performed in Ibiza before it was what we now know it to be; she spent considerable time with Bob Dylan in 1969. She protested when it was dangerous, she sang for and about women, and she still does it now.

A proud mother, a great performer, an innovative -if accidental as she claims- leader for female folk and protest singers, this is what Julie Felix had to say to us.

Can you tell me a little of your background?

"Gosh! Well I was born in Santa Barbara California. My father was born in Mexico, he was a musician, my mother was a teacher. I grew up in Los Angeles, went to university at Santa Barbara, didn't really know what career I wanted but I wanted to explore, have adventures- when you're out in southern California you're kind of isolated from anything except America and maybe a bit of Mexico, so in 1962/3 I left the states and went to Greece.

"A friend and I went on a boat. It took 2 weeks to get there from New York. We went to Pedra on a fishing boat then went to Hydra, an island and there were no package tours or anything like that, there were no cars on the island only donkeys and steps and things. The only foreigners that were there were artists and there were several writers.One was a young writer from Canada and he was writing his first novel and his name was Leonard Cohen.

"So I met Leonard Cohen in the first few days I was in Europe really but he wasn't famous and nor was I. I met several interesting people there then I hitch-hiked around Europe and ended up in Ibiza, and that was before it is like it is now, there were no foreigners there except a few Germans and I started singing in a little cafe and eventually they said I didn't have permission to sing there so I got a ride with some jazz musicians up to Munich and I kicked around there for a while with these musicians and I ended up singing in a Persian restaurant.

"People used to come to the restaurant to hear me and one of the guys was a guy who booked artists into hotels for the American military so I did some of that for a while and eventually I came to England in 1964.

" I was singing around folk clubs with a couple of Scottish singers I'd met over in Germany. Then a tape was made of mine and I got my first record contract in 1964 and I was the first folk singer to sign to a major label.

Hence the title First lady of folk?

"Yes that's quite old but maybe I still am in some weird way."

What were the highlights of that time?

"One was going on just before Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969 and I actually visited with him for quite a while before he went on stage and I was sitting at the back of the stage with his manager and stuff. It's something to sing at the Isle of Wight with people further than the eye could see. It was an unreal situation. Bob Dylan hadn't sung for several years and it was his kind of reappearance."

You're songs seem fairly personal yet you also come under the 'political' category, where would you put yourself?

"It's interesting. A couple of weeks ago I played for a women's festival called WIT(Women in Tune) and they asked me to give a little talk and I though "oh god what am I going to talk about?"

"There were a lot of people politically engaged with all what's happening these days and yet I feel very spiritually involved.

"I sing at the Goddess conference every year and I feel a very close connection to nature, when people ask me my religion I say I am a Pagan - it has a very negative connotation but really it means people of the land.

"So anyway I was political in this spiritual thing where I started getting involved with healing and astrology and trying to figure out the great mysteries of life and I was still political and it always seemed like a dichotomy."

How difficult was it to be political, and female at that time?

"When I got involved with the Goddess movement I was introduced to lots of feminists. Up till then I was a kind of closet feminist. But when I got involved with people who were studying the plight of women and going back to prehistoric times when the goddess was revered and the deity was female like Isis, that really got me involved.

"And then I realised that being a woman is political. The Goddess movement, the feminist movement allowed me to pull together both the spiritual and the political so I still sing a lot of political songs and I sing a lot of women's songs and I sing songs of healing and all those kind of categories and I weave them together.

"I sometimes say on stage if we want to create a peace in the world we have to find inner peace and that's the spiritual journey, hopefully weaving those threads together and being able to understand the greater picture - to get angry where its appropriate with the misjustice we are experiencing, especially with all the violence in the world.
And a lot, a lot, a lot of stuff against women. They talk about all the wars and yet you know the practice of rape is just accepted. There's a lot to protest about."

Do you find the songs you wrote in the 60s are perhaps even more relevant now?

"A lot of the protest songs are more relevant like 'Masters of War' and a lot of Dylan's songs and other peoples songs as well. I sing 'Universal Soldier' by Buffy Sainte-Marie and that's still very relevant. I have a song called Tiger Eyes and it talks about the twin towers and how drug companies rip us off and it covers several areas of concern."

What would you say you were most proud of that you have done professionally?

"That's interesting. Professionally a peace march I went on in the 80's in central America. I'm very proud I went on that march. It was a dangerous march and if we hadn't been there some of the indigenous people would have been in more danger than they already were. That was a central America peace march that ended up in Mexico city. I'm proud of that. I'm proud I've managed to be a singer for 50 years, its my 50th anniversary this year from 1964 to 2014. Personally however it's to be a mother."

What excites you now musically and professionally?

"To be honest I don't really listen to any new singers but there's this one guy Passenger - I think he writes some nice songs. Are there any protest singers out there I don't know of any?!"

What can you tell me about upcoming album 'La Que Sabe'?

"It's a compilation, songs that are really woman-focused some more specifically than others. They are songs to empower women, but a lot of men like them too!

"La Que Sabe is inspired by a book called 'Women who run with Wolves' I wanted to put all the songs under that kind of heading.

"I was looking for a title from all the songs that are on there and then I decided to use that one even if it can't be pronounced very well!"

Finally I wanted to ask you about the quote 'Only the genuine last the course'.

"Ah, 'only the genuine last the course' that's from the sleeve notes from one of my albums.

"To maintain being a performer for most of a lifetime you have to be a dedicated artist."