Norfolk & Suffolk

Julia Clifford: Norfolk and Suffolk

In 1978, Julia and her husband John, who had been extremely ill, moved out of London to live in Thetford in Norfolk, near their oldest son John. They lost no time in finding music sessions and making musical friends, sometimes in unlikely settings, such as one of the local morris teams, (based in the village where I live, which is how I came to meet her soon afterwards) and the Albion alternative lifestyle fairs. Despite not driving, they often travelled some distance in pursuit of music, as Thetford itself provided little or nothing on this front.  Friends such as Jonathan Reynolds, Chris Morley (Norwich), George and Eileen Monger (Stowmarket), Nigel Towse (Eye)  and Caroline and Michael Kilbane (Ipswich) would pick them up and take them out to sessions across Norfolk and Suffolk, and occasionally into Cambridge and Essex.

Jonathan Reynolds wrote this lovely little vignette of his visits to the Cliffords’ house in the late 1970s:

“By the time I knew them [John was] stick thin and very gaunt, with paper-thin skin … [he] would always sit on a hard chair by the wall, hugging a metal radiator for warmth. On the rare occasion when we persuaded him to play his accordion, he needed help to pick it up and put it on; and as often as not he’d sit with his fingers poised over the keys but just talk instead. Mentally, however, John was still very sharp, and he ruled proceedings when I visited. He was for ever suggesting tunes that Julia should play: “Julia, Julia, play the one that goes …” and he would whistle. He had a completely tuneless, breathy whistle which always sounded exactly the same to me whatever the tune (actually it sounded like someone whistling Schoenberg into a teacup), but
somehow Julia could recognise his intention. She would giggle girlishly, and say “Oh, I haven’t played that one for years and years, not since [some milestone date decades earlier]” – and then she would push her glasses up her nose with her right thumb, uncurl her fist to free the bow, and
play the thing perfectly. I remember that she loved being asked to play slides.”

After John died in May 1981, Julia continued to play, and indeed could be said to find a new lease of life through music, with regular “engagements” and visitors to the bungalow, despite bouts of painful illness through her late 70s. In the last three years of her life she made fewer outings, but would still pick up the fiddle and welcome musical visitors.

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