In my memory, Marie Little is a stunning young woman with a gorgeous voice and a warm, outgoing nature to complement the physical beauty. Men of all ages at the North-eastern folk clubs in and around 1970 were mesmerised, though women loved her, too.
Then my days as a club organiser petered out, I moved south and Marie retreated to family life. Or so I thought. In reality, it is me that has been away, not her; Marie kept going, steadily and without fanfare. In her own words, she has "always been there".
The North East that both Marie and I consider home, though neither of us was born there, had a vibrant if uneven folk scene in the era when I knew her. There was the odd serious traditional club, where contemporary music or indeed any deviation from unaccompanied or sparsely accompanied British folk song was frowned upon, and there were the more relaxed, and sometimes more unruly, clubs of the sort I helped to run.
Marie fitted the second category much more comfortably, though her delivery of traditional songs was no less impressive than that of her repertoire of newer material.
The idea for this interview came as I browsed what a chap called Big Mick at the Mudcat folk discussion site described as "maybe one of Mudcat's best threads ever.......it is wonderful that these names are set free from the imprisonment of time".
Marie's name was mentioned during that debate - "Betsy" referring to the woman who was "known as Little in the 1960s, she married Pete Smith but still calls herself Marie Little. Great singer guitarist an'all..."
And Flossie Malavialle, a French singer also living in the North East, made sure I wouldn't forget the thought, by singling her out for praise when I interviewed her a couple of months ago.
Even if I had harboured doubts about making contact with Marie, these would have evaporated the moment I saw the brilliant title of her album Hot Pants to Hot Flushes. And I am delighted that after so many years, we have exchanged thoughts, albeit at a distance of nearly 4,000 miles.
In keeping with the developing practice of Salut! Live, I decided to let her speak for herself, treating the interview in question and answer form rather than as a written feature. Also in keeping with the site's preferences, there will be a short second instalment devoted to Marie's short responses to quickfire questions.
The pictures come courtesy of Roger Liptrot and his Folk Images sites........
So where have you been half my life? From being a popular feature of the North-eastern folk club circuit, you seemed to disappear, then reappear
I have always been here, I have never pushed for work or advertised so I am not in peoples faces but the work has been steady for the last 30 years and I have been to great places and met lots of great people. I am lucky in that the gigs have come to me rather than me chasing them
I read or heard somewhere that you more or less put music on the back burner while bringing up your family. Tell me about the family (I remember you were married to a builder, but that may be my memory playing tricks but I don't think you had children then. But that is going back to 1970 or not long after)
I was born in Salford, Lancs in 1950. My husband Pete Smith and I came to the North East in 1973 to help set up a building co operative in Sunderland. I had Ruth in 1974 and Michael in 1976. I love the North East and consider it my home though I will always be a Salford lass.You can take the girl out of Salford but not Salford out of the lass!!
Were you a full time mum or did you keep up in some way with music or some other work?
When I just had Ruthie I used to visit my mam's in Salford and worked a 50-mile radius of Manchester but when I had Michael as well my singing became more local
How and why did you return (or, depending on previous answers, return more fully) to live performances?
I was always here singing but have done other things with my life as well. I was involved in a women's co operative (called little women), ran a pub, got involved with various projects. I went to college in 1984 to do a creative and performing arts degree ( it was like Fame! fab!!) in order to do
something socially useful with my music. Worked part time for social services doing music with people with learning disabilities for 15 years (I loved it!) but left two years ago due to family committments. I continued to gig throughout, working all over the country and abroad
What music have you listened to for pleasure and how have your tastes change if at all?
I can't listen to music as background, I have to LISTEN to it, but I am so busy I dont get much opportunity other than on long car journeys. I listen to a lot more country music now but my tastes in music are varied, I am even into opera these days!
What, by extension of that question, do you make of the younger wave? Kate Rusby probably no longer qualifies but it stems to some extent from when she was first becoming active on the scene, and much has followed.
I think there are some fab young musicians and singers coming up to the scene. Unfortunately they have very little stage craft. It is not enough to be a good musician, you have to communicate with your audience and that really comes with experience. They don't watch and learn from the old hands as we did. They will cotton on eventually, or fade away. There are also much fewer gigs on the scene and a lot more people chasing them, it is exceedingly hard to earn a living from folk music
I love the title of your album Hot Pants to Hot Flushes. Men drooled over you - even if, like me, they never saw the hot pants. Were you aware of the effect you had, were you comfortable with it, is it an era you look back with pride/affection/irritation?
I don't know about men drooling over me but looking back over old photos I realise I probably wasn't a bad looking bird. I was happily married (at 18) and it never was an issue. There was total trust in my relationship and men respected this and although I have always been very open and friendly and accessible I never gave out the "wrong" signal. I had a fab time on the road and was always well looked after and respected because I was woman on my own. (I must say it was not always the same for male artists and groups)
How, in your own assessment, have you aged (using the verb in its true sense, not to suggest for a second that you are old!)? Musically, as a personality, physically...answer it any way you wish
I think I have aged well. I have certainly advanced both mentally and spiritually. I also think I am singing and playing better than I ever did. I could do with losing a bit of weight and sometimes I get big bags under my eyes when I am tired, but, apart from a bit of high blood pressure and tired leg syndrome, I am in pretty good nick
What about the voice? When were you aware you could sing well? How in your view has that altered? What do you most enjoy singing (genre, particular songs etc)
As I said, the voice has got better. Whilst at college I had singing lessons which improved my voice no end. I never considered myself a good singer (even though I got gigs). In fact, I could never undersstand why people booked me. I didn't think I was that good really. At college I had a revelation. I was working with brilliant musicians but when we went o ut on gigs it was ME not them that went down well. I realised for the first time in my life (at the grand age of 34 after 15yrs gigging) that I did have a talent and that was my communication and delivery and interpretation of the songs I sing. I also have the knack of picking good material. So, I worked harder at the package I was delivering, ie voice and guitar whilst the others had a great package but had to work on their delivery. It was a very good learningand thankfully my audience also appreciates my choice of songs
curve. I have a very wide range of material covering trad, contemporary, country, music hall, songs of social significance, sketches etc. If it takes my fancy I sing it
Any remaining ambitions, hopes, unfulfilled dreams?
No. I am one of those lucky people who could die tomorrow and have no regrets. I would not change anything (even the bad stuff in life helps you grow as a person). I have never been ambitious but opportunities have come to my door and I have accepted them and had a wonderful time. Life is THE JOURNEY not the goals!
Click on this final image to see the track listing for Marie's album, which can be purchased from her own site. Part two of the interview features her answers to 10 questions, from flippant to thought provoking