Tabor at Sidmouth Folk Week, 2010
|Born||31 December 1947|
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."
Remarking on how she developed her now-characteristic style in an interview in 2008, she added,
"I have no musical education whatsoever...I just learned the songs and copied the phrasing by playing those records ad nauseam, trying out both [Anne Briggs and Belle Stewart] singers' styles. Then I tried putting the two together, and missing a few bits out - and that's approximately what I've been doing ever since. It's also why I don't do singing workshops, because that's about as much as I can tell anyone."
Her earliest public performances were at the Heart of England Folk Club, in the Fox and Vivian pub in Leamington Spa in the mid 1960s.
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. An appearance at Sidmouth Folk Festival led to folk club bookings and she contributed to various records. One of her earliest recordings was in 1972 on an anthology called Stagfolk Live. She also featured on Rosie Hardman's Firebird (1972) and The First Folk Review Record (1974). At the time she was singing purely traditional unaccompanied material but in 1976 she collaborated with Maddy Prior on the Silly Sisters album and tour, with a full band that included Nic Jones. It provided the launching pad that same year (1976) for her first album in her own right, 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 (decade).) 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, although she made some guest appearances with Fairport Convention during this period. 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, 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 did not record it himself until 1996, on his album of the same title.
In 1983, the BBC TV series Spyship was broadcast, with Tabor 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 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 Tabor sharing the stage with Coope Boyes and Simpson. On 30 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 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. Allmusic 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 24 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. Tabor is frequently experimental but avoids modernism. For example, she frequently sings traditional songs with a piano accompaniment. On the album Singing The Storm (1996) 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 Oysterband. 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 Tabor has performed on three 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 Gnus 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.
The accompanying book to the Topic Records 70 year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten lists Aqaba as one of their classic albums,:69 and three tracks appear in the compilation. A Place Called England from A Quiet Eye is track eight on the second CD and two tracks appear on the seventh CD, While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping from Airs & Graces is track two and Hedger and Ditcher from the Silly Sisters album No More To The Dance is track seventeen.