Julie Felix – Singer
Born, June 14, 1938; died, March 22, 2020
Julie Felix, who has died aged 81, was once described as Britain’s first lady of folk. This was despite the fact that Felix was an American who had played in Los Angeles coffee bars and hit the hippy trail before landing in swinging London. It was in England, however, where Felix’s career blossomed, moving through the burgeoning folk club scene to a record contract with Decca, then into the mainstream as a regular on David Frost’s TV satire show, The Frost Report, and on her own show, Once More with Felix.
The latter first appeared on BBC 2 in 1967, and was the first TV series to be broadcast in colour. Running until 1969, the show was also notable for its run of guests, who included Dusty Springfield, Donovan, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Spike Milligan and Leonard Cohen. Felix had met Cohen while back-packing around Europe, and on the programme duetted on his song, Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, which she recorded as a single. Felix went on to play the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, sharing a bill with Bob Dylan, whose songs she frequently covered.
Despite her mainstream high profile in the ‘60s, Felix didn’t have a hit single until 1970, with If I Could (El Condor Pasa). For generations of school-children she will forever be known for her version of Tom Paxton’s song, Going to the Zoo, on an album of children’s songs. This was despite her record company cultivated innocent image being shattered somewhat for being arrested for marijuana possession in 1968. She was defended in court by novelist John Mortimer QC.
Having taken time out from music at various points over the last fifty years, Felix was latterly taken up by a new generation looking to more organic sounds, and identifying with the sense of social justice that fired her new work.
Julie Ann Felix was born in Santa Barbara, California to Lorenzo Felix, a mariachi musician of Mexican origin, and Doris Felix (nee Roderhaver), of Native American and Welsh descent. Felix grew up surrounded by music, with her mother introducing her to the work of Burl Ives, while her father taught her to play guitar. She attended Westchester high school in Los Angeles, then went to the University of California, where she graduated in speech and drama.
Catching the beatnik zeitgeist, Felix played and sang in California coffee houses before travelling to Europe with her father’s guitar in tow. She met Cohen on the Greek island of Hydra, where he wrote poetry and novels prior to moving into song. Felix didn’t hang around for long, and arrived in London in 1964, just as the UK’s artistic underground was breaking cover.
Without any real drive to be a professional singer, Felix played the burgeoning folk club circuit. Despite her free and easy attitude to ambition, she was signed to Decca Records. While living in a flat in Chelsea, she met fellow resident David Frost in the lift on the way to the launch of her single eponymous debut album. Frost tagged along, and she eventually became resident singer on The Frost Report, which also featured the likes of John Cleese and Ronnie Barker. By that time, appearances on other TV shows saw Felix’s popularity rise, to the extent that she sold out the Royal Albert Hall.
Two more albums on Decca followed. In 1966, she married David Evans, with whom she wrote The Ones I Love the Most, which appeared on her album, Changes (1966), her first for the Fontana label. Other albums followed, though it wasn’t until she moved to Mickie Most’s RAK Records, a label more associated with bubblegum glam bands, that she made the pop charts. Felix followed the success of If I Could (El Condor Pasa) on RAK with Heaven is Here, penned by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson of Hot Chocolate.
Having been in the midst of the ‘60s social whirl, Felix ducked out of view, and in the late 1970s moved to Norway, where she released two albums, and scored a number 1 hit single with Hota Chocolata (1977). Moving back to California, Felix took time out from music, and studied yoga, meditation and healing, and became politically active. Fired by a peace march in Central America, she began to perform again, initially at benefit shows for the peace movement and refugees.
After returning to England in 1994, she set up her own Remarkable Records, and released Branches in the Mist, her first album for over a decade. She set up New Age folk club, The Magic Messenger, and became involved in the Goddess movement, dedicated to female spiritual deities.
Throughout the 2000s struck up a particular relationship with the Wynd Theatre, Melrose in the Scottish Borders, and in 2018, released what turned out to be her final album, Rock Me Goddess. While her own material was awash with New Age references, she also showed her political colours with a pro Jeremy Corbyn song, Corbynista. It was the last great protest song by a singer whose wayward musical path might have been forged in the ‘60s, but who kept the faith right to the end.
Felix is survived by her daughter, Tanit, and her sister, Elena.
The Herald, April 6h 2020