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February 2024 update: partly a deserved promotion back to the top of the site, partly a natural response to Maggie Holland alerting me to a photograph of the real, proper sort of gardener: Mr Harding himself ...
It is not a case of brutal honesty, just honesty, to suggest that June Tabor is technically a more accomplished singer than Maggie Holland.
Normally, when confronted by a song Tabor and almost anyone else has sung, I will plump for her. She has a voice that belongs up there with the best; few others, in any genre, can match it. There is soul, depth, exquisite phrasing and all the joys of one of the finest examples of humanity's only wholly natural musical instrument.
Why, therefore, do I prefer Maggie Holland's singing of A Proper Sort of Gardener? It is not because, or just because, Holland wrote the song.
My views on some covers of Dylan, Cohen and others are - or should be, he said a little pompously - well known.
Nor is it because she generously came to my aid when I needed a warm, witty or wise Preston North End supporter for another place and, though we have never met, she came up trumps (can we still say t(T)rumps?).
Perhaps it just because the song comes straight from the heart, from genuine childhood memory of encountering the right kind of adult.
Holland can sing. She does so without the sort of glaring faults I inflicted on an audience at the Gecko in Le Lavandou not so long ago. She sings her song honestly, remembering the kindly, green-fingered neighbour, Mr Harding, who far from being angry when he saw her picking his flowers, realised they were for her mum and smiled.
It is almost impossible not to warm to each of the characters in the story. Holland herself wrote this in a quote I found at https://mainlynorfolk.info/june.tabor/songs/apropersortofgardener.html, words I think I remember from elsewhere (the inlay notes for her CD, Bones?) ...
I was exclusively a singer of other people's songs who didn't believe she could write, until 1987 when Jon Moore persuaded me to do so through a combination of nagging and encouragement. Initially, he also wrote tunes for my words; included are Sandy Hill, Never Too Late, and A Proper Sort of Gardener. The latter is, like all the best once-upon-a-time stories, completely true; the Bass beer factory still stands on the site of Mr Harding's garden in Alton, Hants. Mr Harding was recently laid to rest in the same graveyard as my parents.
The MainlyNorfolk link you see just above includes a clip of Vicki Guillory singing the song, excellently and unaccompanied, at the Sage in Gateshead (North-eastern England).
As for June Tabor, she can hardly be unaware of my admiration (we've met and I probably bowed). Not for the first time, however, a beautiful song is etched on my mind because I cannot forget how its author told the story within ....