Julie Felix has been a very welcome fixture at the Glastonbury Goddess Conference for at least seventeen years but I’ve been a fan of her music since the 1960s, so couldn’t wait to interview her for Goddess Pages.
Curious, first, about her early life, I asked Julie about that. She told me that she remained a devout Catholic until her late teens and in fact remembers seeing Loretta Young play a nun in Come to the Stable, which came out around 1949. Loretta Young got an Oscar nomination for her part; Julie decided she wanted to be a nun. Fortunately, that didn’t last too long!
“Music is like breathing to me”
Had she, I wondered, been stage-struck when young? Julie told me she still has her precious autograph book from those days, with signatures from the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan. Certainly, her early life was spent surrounded by music; her father was in a Mariachi band and her mother always singing. But Julie was more interested in acting – on the stage, not in movies; she was a theatre major at college, where she once played Juliet.
But music was always there, even though Julie had no thoughts of becoming a musician, despite having sung in Hollywood coffee shops while still a student, even despite someone like Dave Crosby being a fan in those days. “Music is like breathing to me”, Julie told me. “It is just my life, and always has been.” She has had one of the longest and most successful careers in folk music ever, and never did learn to read music. Now, in her late 70s, Julie still appears in folk clubs and much larger venues to this day, with more gigs planned this year and a London birthday concert in June 2018… Julie will be 80!!
Europe and adventure
After graduating from the University of California Julie left for Europe and adventure. “It took two weeks to cross the Atlantic by sea”, she told me. Eventually landing in Greece, Julie was lucky enough to see Maria Callas in Medea, and of course it was on the island of Hydra where Julie met Leonard Cohen for the first time. He used to borrow her guitar to sing, but was mainly there to write. “I remember the pages of his book once blew out of the window, and how we both scrambled through the dusty streets to retrieve them.”
“I loved Greece”, she added. “The landscape reminded me of Mexico: the colours are so similar.” Before leaving to travel through Europe, Julie was an extra in Jules Dassin’s Phaedra, which starred Melina Mercouri in the title role.
The next part of her travels included Paris, Ibiza and Munich, where Julie sang Mexican songs in restaurants and hotels. “I didn’t have much political awareness at this point”, she told me. Later, she was invited to sing in a London folk club – “lots of Woody Guthrie”, she remembers. Someone made a tape of her and Julie was signed by Decca – the first folk singer ever signed on a major record label. “They didn’t know where to place me”, Julie reminisced – it’s only by chance I was included in the popular music category at Decca, since before the 60s all folk music was of an historical and classical nature. It was finally decided that I was a popular singer and not a classical one.”
Julie and the BBC
There were early TV appearances, too, notably on the Eamonn Andrews show where Julie played her first single, Someday Soon, and she was asked back the following week by popular demand. In a stroke of good fortune, Julie met David Frost in a lift at Kings Court North on the Kings Road, Chelsea. “He was living on the 5th floor and I was staying with my friend Val on the 3rd floor”, Julie added. “He introduced me to Jimmy Gilbert. They were going to use a jazz singer on the new show they were planning, but eventually chose me to be the resident singer of The Frost Report”. This, of course, was the programme which contributed to Julie becoming a household name in the mid-60s.
In 1968, Julie was given her own TV show on the BBC – the first such series in colour, with guests including Spike Milligan, Leonard Cohen and Dusty Springfield. I was still at school, and remember that show as the highlight of my week. It proved so popular that it sold to almost every country in the world. During filming for the show, which included visits to Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus, Julie found herself writing a song about Aphrodite, without really understanding why. Later she made her first “Goddess” album, Clotho’s Web, which came out in 1969. “I was a latecomer to feminism, but the goddess movement led me to honouring the divine feminine and then I began writing songs about strong women”, Julie told me.
“We need to welcome the divine feminine into our lives…”
I asked Julie to tell us more about her feminism and the connection with spirituality. “In the 60s my music was political, I was a protest singer. I still am! But my music did not reflect my spirituality.
"I was always interested in astrology, mysticism and healing, but it wasn't until feminism came along that I was able to combine both my spiritual beliefs and my fight for human rights. To be a woman, I learned, was political.
“In the 1980s I had a bit of an identity crisis and dropped out of the music scene for a year or two.” Julie returned to California and explored the “Aquarian arts”, then spent some time in Central America, where she took part in a peace march. Following this experience Julie returned to England, where she visited Glastonbury after reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon. She met Jamie George in the well-known Glastonbury bookshop, Gothic Image, and was invited to become the resident “troubadour” on Jamie’s Magical Britain tours. From 1993, at Lydia Ruyle’s suggestion, Julie ran her own Goddess tours, among the first to take place in Britain.
“The Goddess allows me to be both political and spiritual”, Julie told me. “I feel we need to welcome the divine feminine into our lives and into our hearts … Patriarchy has led to wars, killing, and the rape of mother earth. Both men and women need to feel the love of the feminine side of God.”
“Leonard Cohen once said to me: ‘I can’t wait for women to take over’”, she added: “He was right. Women are mothers; whether they physically have children or not. It’s only right that women should be the leading influence in making decisions that affect the whole community. In world decisions women would be best qualified to know what's best for the whole family... the global family. In native American tribes it was the grandmothers that made the decisions. I think we should consider this system in our present situation. I can only hope that women will have this kind of influence before it’s too late for the planet to survive.”
And the high kicks?
I couldn’t resist asking if these were still possible – and the reply was a very definite “Yes!”. In case you doubt that a woman in her late 70s really can still do that, here’s a photo from Oaxaca, Mexico, taken in 2016.
Julie’s plans for 2017 include running a workshop at the Glastonbury Goddess Conference in the summer. She will also be kicking off the whole event with an evening concert on 30th July. I can’t wait!