Obituary: Anthea Joseph
Thursday 08 January 1998
When the unknown Bob Dylan arrived in Britain for the first time, it is sometimes said that his only guide was a piece of paper from Pete Seegar bearing the words, "Troubadour Folk Club, London, ask for Anthea". The story is probably apocryphal but it illustrates the pivotal role in the music business of Anthea Joseph, the tall, elegant PR specialist-come- minder.
Joseph was one of those essential functionaries without whom the music business would find it impossible to operate. Stories accrued round her and she became an improbable combination of legend and friend to many of the biggest names who emerged from the folk boom of the Sixties and the folk rock vogue of the Seventies.
The daughter of socialist parents - her mother, Elizabeth Young, had a fair claim to be considered Britain's first film critic, at the Daily Worker, while her father was Noel Joseph of the News Chronicle - Anthea grew up in Suffolk and was inexplicably given a convent education. Reconciling the conflicting values of home and school was, she said, invaluable training for her future career.
She found her way to the Troubadour Folk Club in the mid-Fifties via a chance encounter with a trio of buskers that included Redd Sullivan. Her sometimes intimidating presence on the club door placed her in an ideal position to meet the young lions of the Sixties folk world, like Bert Jansch and Davy Graham. Among them were some American singer/songwriters who were to become household names and she not infrequently found herself supplying emergency accommodation to these itinerants. While tales of the young Dylan sleeping on her floor would seem to be dubious, the dependence on her of many others, including Paul Simon and Tom Paxton, appears well established.
A friendship with Dylan, however, did begin at the Troubadour. In the 1965 tour documentary Don't Look Back, it is Anthea Joseph's dramatically anxious face Dylan is seen reassuring after a hotel glass-breaking incident. That friendship continued into the Nineties when, leaving a Rolling Stones party that had become tedious, Joseph and Dylan spent four hours walking the rainswept London streets.
She joined Joe Boyd's WitchSeasons organisation in 1968, toured America with Fairport Convention in the early Seventies, worked for a while with the ICA and for CBS artists' relations (1976-86), and eventually settled into an appropriate niche with Maurice Oberstein, chairman of Polygram records. In 1991, she reduced this commitment to a part-time job to look after her ailing mother, but was away in London when her mother had a heart attack and inadvertently set fire to the house they shared in Suffolk.
She more or less gave up the music business and devoted herself to restoring the house, making only occasional forays into her old world. At the skiffle reunion at London's 100 Club and Fairport Convention's Snape Maltings gig in 1997, she appeared happy and relaxed but was concealing both physical and depressive illness as earlier years of overwork and later rural isolation took their toll.
Most people in the music business have an Anthea story and she encouraged this, volubly indulging her friend Quentin Crisp's practice of not spoiling a good story for a ha'porth of truth. Curiously it is the more improbable tales that are best attested. Wally Whyton used to tell how, visiting Nashville for the first time as a BBC presenter, he heard a brilliant American banjo picker he had never met or heard before. Introducing himself as a guitarist, Whyton said he was from England. "Oh," said the banjo picker, Bill Keith. "A guitar player from England. You must know Anthea."
- John Pilgrim
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