In a rush towards electrification – pioneered in the late 1960s by the likes of The Pentangle, Fairport Convention and The Eclection – British folk musicians resolved to take traditional songs out of the elitist folk club circuit, dress them up in finest Carnaby Street threads and send them out into the world renewed with a youthful relevance and vigour. The new electric folk sound was a blend of historical reverence and musical experimentation informed by the psychedelic revolution and it propelled ancient ghosts into the zeitgeist. 

For a moment, a kind of musical take on the late Victorian Arts and Crafts movement spread through the underground. Whilst this sound saw few chart successes, 1970’s British Folk Rock gave us not only a new genre but a canon of wonderful records that seemed as apart from their place in time then as they do now. Revered acts such as Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny, Steeleye Span and Lindisfarne grew rapidly to become the elders of British Folk, yet in the shadow of those giants, and just as relevant, rustically titled ensembles including Mellow Candle, The Trees, Decameron, Dando Shaft, Storyteller and Hedgehog Pie also crafted their art.  

One of these lesser-known groupings was the three-piece Jade, fronted by singer songwriter Marian Segal. The trio’s captivating ‘Fly On Strangewings’ album briefly surfaced in 1970 but did not obtain the recognition it deserved, until the turn of the millennium. Centred around Marian’s exceptionally clear and expressive lead voice, the album is a collection of melodic, elaborately executed and original folk-rock and pop. Dave Waite’s deeply rich vocal tone and Rod Edwards counterpoint offsets perfectly Marian’s lead and the overall result is never less than heavenly, accompanied by a band made up of the finest UK session musicians of the era. 

Alternating between harpsichord-laden melancholy, fiddle driven exuberance and sweeping orchestration, the album combines a love for the English countryside with introspective lyrical poetry, in tune with the singer songwriters then emerging from the west coast of America. Jimmy Litherland’s excellent, electric guitar work accents the proceedings but it is Marian’s heartfelt songs that really carry the album beyond the status of mere ‘also ran’, challenging even the acknowledged queen of folk, Sandy Denny, with its blend of pathos, intelligence and romantic charm. This is epitomised by Marian’s masterly ‘Fly Me To The North’, a song that surely ranks amongst some of the great standards of popular music. How such a song writing talent failed to reach a wider audience is a mystery but having languished in obscurity and following a renewed interest in electric UK folk, not only is this classic album due for reappraisal but so is the career of one of the finest vocalists the UK has produced.  

The three-part harmonies of Marian, Dave and Rod were perfectly offset by the harder, denser electric rock sound that Jon had envisaged. Whilst in retrospect, it can be seen that many folk bands were going through this creative transformation, “As we became successful and met more artists professionally and socially, so we could see and hear the changes in the clubs”. 

Jade would be born as a front runner of the new UK folk rock sound. Through his contacts, Jon was able to call on many respected session players to record the debut album by Jade. As a result, when Marian Dave and Rod entered Trident Studios in March 1970, they were able to call on such talents as Pete Sears (Les Fleur de Lys, Sam Gopal’s Dream), Michael Rosen (The Eclection), Pete York (Spencer Davis Group, Hardin and York), Clem Cattini (the Ivy League, The Tornados and virtually everyone!), Terry Cox (Pentangle), Mick Waller (Rod Stewart) and Jimmy Litherland (Colosseum, Mogul Thrash). The album is crowned with some beautiful string arrangements by Phil Dennys, who also worked on another cult classic Coming From Reality, the second album by Rodriguez.  

Released on DJM in the UK in June 1970, FLY ON STRANGEWINGS featured entirely original material written by Marian and was housed in a beautiful gatefold sleeve depicting the trio in classic early ‘70s clothing, wandering wistfully across a wintry Hampstead Heath. The album wouldn’t appear in the US until June 1971 on Bell Records. Due to the fact another band called Jade already operated in America, the US version was cut down to a single sleeve and re-titled Marian Segal with Silver Jade and it not only suffered from an annoying tape ‘wow’ on one track but had an inferior sound quality. Nevertheless, the band managed to support the record with touring. Recently, details of an Australian issue of the album have emerged, suggesting it was also released in other territories.  

To perform live, the band not only had to do a great deal of rehearsing to replicate the complexity of the album but for financial reasons they had to perform mainly as a three piece, except when there was a particularly important gig. They carried out a short promotional tour of the UK supporting a UK single taken from the album, ‘Alan’s Song’ / ‘Amongst Anemones’ and performed on typically diverse ‘70s billings that included Atomic Rooster, The Strawbs, Johnny Winter and Anno Domini. 

When they were invited to appear on a TV show in Scotland, Jade met Rod McKuen. A poet and songwriter, Rod was then a huge star on both sides of the Atlantic. When the band found themselves sharing a flight with Rod back to London, they exchanged contact details on the plane. He called a few days later to invite Jade onto his BBC 2 television special with Petula Clark. It was such short notice that Pans People, who were dancing on the show, had to drop a number from their schedule to allow Jade to perform. Rod also asked Marian if he could record two songs from the Jade album and so ‘Fly Me To The North’ appeared on his 1971 LP Pastorale whilst ‘Mrs Adams’ was recorded for his 1974 LP Alone. He even invited the band to a 1971 Royal Albert Hall concert where he sang ‘Fly Me To The North’ and acknowledged Jade as they sat in the audience. At one point, Rod even wanted to sign Jade to his Stanyan label.  

Melody Maker made Jade’s album their ‘Folk Album of the Month’ upon its release. In March 1971, the band also appeared on Disco 2, the forerunner of the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test. In summer 1971, they toured America and performed for a week at the Bitter End in New York Village with Tom Paxton. Marian recalls: “I remember sitting in the early hours of the morning with Tom and Dave after our first club performance, drinking coffee to keep us awake and chatting like old friends. During the sound-check that afternoon, we turned around to find members of Fairport Convention sitting in the empty club smiling back at us. They had dropped in to say hello!”

Following the New York residency, they spent a week in Chicago at The Gate of Horn before a one-off performance at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. John Wetton (later of King Crimson) flew out to play bass with the band. Marian recalls the venue with fondness: “Brian Wilson climbed the back stairs to the dressing room to say how much he enjoyed the show whilst a few days later Joni Mitchell and her manager came up to say ‘hi’ in the bar and have a chat, whilst David Crosby stood nearby playing on the pinball machine in his tasselled suede jacket! It was a great time!” Staying in Los Angeles for a month before returning to the UK, Marian wrote several songs, including ‘Topanga’ which appears on disc three.  

After such a whirlwind of exposure in both the UK and America – where the press compared Marian to Sandy Denny – things appeared to be going very well for Jade. Unfortunately, the pressures of being together all the time and inexperience of the higher echelons of the music industry had started to cause fractures that split the band. They completed another recording session in autumn 1971 for a proposed non-album single with John Wetton on bass, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ / ‘Carolina In My Mind’, but these tracks remained unreleased until their inclusion on the Lightning Tree reissue of Jade’s album in 2003. 

Rod had already departed Jade to work with the George Martin-produced Edwards Hand project; he was replaced with his brother Gary with occasional backing vocals from Marian’s Sister Maggie. Jon Miller had been keen to develop Marian as a solo artist, moving her in a commercial direction, but sessions for a solo album in 1971 were not gelling together and this was clear, part way through. ‘Circle Round the Sun’ and ‘Middling Man’ on disc three are from that abandoned album but the rest of it will probably remain unreleased.   

Excerpts from: ‘No Sense of Time’ by Richard Allen June 2017 

For the ‘Marian Segal and Jade Anthology’  3 x disc box set released by Cherry Red Records 2017

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