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Playsongs People ~ No.3 Janet Russell


I can date the first time I heard Janet's dark-chocolatey-warm voice to 1990 when I was editing a book for World Wide Fund for Nature. Sandra (Playsongs People No.1) had told me about a gig happening at the Cellar Upstairs, near London's Tottenham Court Road. The last song in Janet's set was a real heart-render ~ both in melody and words, and she sang it with great vividness and feeling. Afterwards, she got me in touch with Nick Keir, the writer, and Nick produced the lyric which we printed in The Green Umbrella: stories, songs, poems and starting points for environmental assemblies. I'll quote you the last verse, written in 1990, because, given where we are now in Climate Crisis, one has to wonder how many more todays it will take to turn around and save our shared home:


We want a world where the skies are wide open, We want clear seas where the bright fishes play, We want a moment to gaze at the sunset, We'll make it happen, we're starting today! This is the Earth, it spins through the heavens, This is the Earth, it's yours and it's mine, We're going to lift up a big green umbrella, This is the Earth, it's a gift for all time ~

And today, today, the children are singing, Praise to the sun and the sky and the Earth, We're going to raise a big green umbrella, Care for the world now we know what it's worth, And the children are singing today.


(Nick Keir © 1991)


A couple of years later, Sandra, Leon, Janet and I piled into an empty classroom in Northumberland with all of their instruments and all of my hand-held percussion orchestra of sandpaper blocks (great train chuffers), party blowers, duck quackers, and woodblocks, along with sheaves of lyrics and lead sheets of songs I'd put together for two new Playsongs Publications. Anthony Robb, headteacher ~ and party blower impresario ~ was our host and our sound engineer. And that's when Janet became Playsongs Person number 3. Here's her duo with Sandra, singing the Scots lullaby, Hush a Baw Birdie, Croon, taught to me by my mum:

Janet's collaborations with Sandra have been so many during her years as a professional singer-songwriter. Together they, with Peta Webb and Rosie Davis, formed Sisters Unlimited, performing across the UK and across three decades from 1987 when they came together during a gig for International Women's Day.


Alongside her solo work and collaborations with the great voices of UK folk ~ among them Sandra Kerr and Leon Rosselson, Frankie Armstrong, Reem Kelani, Peggy Seeger, Rob Johnson, and the late Roy Bailey ~ Janet has been the inspirational leader of community choirs and vocal harmony workshops.


For me, she's all of that, AND she's the intimate and fun-filled voice of the Wiggle Worm in Sleepytime Playsongs, and an arm full of other giggle-producing treats for babies and toddlers and their grownups. Here's Pat a cake from Livelytime Playsongs:


Janet has been part of the making of every Playsongs Publication since that first collaboration in Anthony's school ~ most recently we've made the three new Grand Playsongs together. We'll feature some of those in later blogs, but for starters, I recommend to you Janet's singing of (track 30) Wee Willie Winkie ~ the full length, broad Scots original. Stream it here on Playsongs Grand Sleepover.


So ~ thank you, Janet Russell, Playsongs Person No.3.


Janet's discography

Solo recordings :

“Gathering the Fragments” – Harbourtown Records, HARC 003

“Bright Shining Morning?” – Harbourtown Records, HARCD 026

“Love Songs and Fighting Talk” – Harbourtown Records, HARCD 052

With other artists :

“Janet Russell and Christine Kydd” – Greentrax CDTRAX 011

“Dancin’Chantin’” – Greentrax CDTRAX 077

“Take These Chains from my Heart” a narrative CD with songs about a performer’s fightback from a stroke. With Taffy Thomas, storyteller. TT 006

“The Stones of Callanish” (various artists) DOG 005/6

“No Limits” with Sisters Unlimited, – Harbourtown Records, HARCD 013

“No Bed of Roses” with Sisters Unlimited – Fellside FE104

“No Change of Heart” with Sisters Unlimited – SISU Records SISU 003

“doodle I doe” with JigJaw – doodle i records 001

“Sleepytime Songs” with Sandra Kerr and Leon Rosselson – Playsongs

“Livelytime Songs” with Sandra Kerr and Leon rosselson – Playsongs

“Grand Day Out” with various artists – Playsongs

“Grand Sleepover” – with various artists – Playsongs

“Grand Exercise” – with various artists - Playsongs

“The most striking feature of Janet Russell’s arresting voice is a lower register whose distinctive power and edge make dramatic listening” Tony Rose, The Guardian


And here's Janet leading a harmony workshop at Darlington Folk Festival:

https://youtu.be/kAKDuuo1Vuc

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