She never sought commercial success, fame or fortune and as a result Anne Briggs is not as well known or widely appreciated as those she inspired and influenced such as Sandy Denny or June Tabor. She was born in Nottinghamshire in 1944 and spent much of the 1960s and the early 1970s playing up and down the folk clubs in the UK and her recorded output was limited to 3 LPs.
It was on a cycling trip to Edinburgh in 1959 when the teenage Briggs met Bert Jansch and thereafter the two developed a rapport and chemistry that had a great impact on each other. A few years later in 1962 Ewan MacColl was playing in Nottingham under the billing of Centre 42 (a response to the TUC ‘Resolution 42’ which sought to devolve cultural activities outside London) and upon hearing Briggs singing he invited her to appear onstage. She was such a success that she became a full time member of the band.
Briggs spent much of the 1960s touring and playing live. Her year was divided between the summer months being spent with the Dubliners in Ireland and then the UK folk clubs during the winter. It was during this period that she gained a reputation as the ‘wild woman’ of folk.
Her recorded output is fairly limited. One of her earliest recordings released in 1964 was the highly influential EP ‘Hazards of Love’ (also giving inspiration to the Decemberists for their most recent release). After this EP her first album ‘Anne Briggs’ didn’t appear for another 7 years in 1971. The album was mainly traditional unaccompanied songs and included ‘Black Water Side’ a traditional song that found its way from Briggs to Led Zeppelin via Bet Jansch. However, it was the album ‘The Time Has Come’ for which she is probably best remembered. The album contained songs such as “Ride Ride” and “Step right up” mostly written by Briggs with predominantly acoustic guitar. The album may have contained her finest work, but it failed to sell and she drifted from view. Her final release was ‘Sing A song for you’ released in 1973 but this faired even worse and became her last studio album. By now she was living in the Hebrides and working as a market gardener.
Anne Briggs sold pitifully low number of records during her recording career and although she is alive and well and still living in Scotland she has only appeared rarely on stage such as at a memorial concert for Bert Lloyd in 1990. However, her influence has never been stronger and singers such as Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy and even the Athletes have said how much impact her work has had on them. The Unthanks have recently included a cover of her song ‘Living By the Water’ on their most recent album. Anne Briggs had a huge impact on the folk music in Britain in the 1960s and although her recorded output is limited its power, beauty and impact remains timeless.
The Hazards of Love EP (1964)
Anne Briggs (1971)
The Time Has Come (1971)
Sing a Song for You (1973)