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Judie Tzuke: Survivor And Thriver Despite Decade Of Hell…

Treasured singer and songwriter Judie Tzuke is perhaps best known for her timeless 1979 classic, “Stay With Me Till Dawn”.

45 years later, Judie’s 22nd studio album, “Jude The Unsinkable”, is her defiant response to a decade of hardship – as she tells Lucy Boulter.



Heartache has long since provided such a rich seam of musical inspiration, it’s too easy sometimes to forget that behind the creative outpouring is a human being bearing painful scars.

And so it is humbling to delve into the real-life stories behind Judie Tzuke’s defiant new album – the soundtrack to a decade or more in which life tried very hard, but failed, to land a knockout punch on her.

These are stories told openly and with emotion by a songstress who wears her heart on her sleeve, and whose songs have become part of our own love stories over the years.

In a triumvirate of the worst kind of tribulations, Judie has stared death in the face not once but twice, and been forced out of the one long-term home in which she ever put down roots.

Eleven years ago, at the age of 57, Judie was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She initially chalked up her symptoms to menopause, but thankfully she sought medical advice and a much more serious problem was found early enough to treat successfully, though it involved major surgery.

More recently, she was an early Covid sufferer and struggled so much at times that she still dreads going to sleep at night even now. “Every night for six weeks I would wake up coughing, choking and unable to breathe. I’d get through it, but then wonder if I would get through it again tomorrow; it gave me a real fear of dying. Well, I’m not afraid of dying, but I felt very afraid of how I would die.

“I spoke to someone on the Covid helpline one night and he said: you tick all the boxes, and I can get an ambulance out to you right now. But I told him I could breathe right now, my concern was if I choked again – and I asked him what he would do.

“He told me if I could get through tonight, he thought I’d recover – and he said that the doctors didn’t yet wholly know what they were dealing with. So I got through it on my own, but I’ve still got a hangover of worrying if I’ll get through the night.”

Even four years later, the disease leaves a physical mark too. “My daughter and I both had the very bad Covid at the very beginning of the pandemic, and we both lost a lot of hair. I’ve always been known for my big hair, and it’s a bit more of an effort to make it look big these days! I’m getting a lot of regrowth now, which looks quite funny – like a little bucket head of blonde hair under my other hair – but it’s going to take a long time to get back to where I was, I think.

“It’s just such a relief to come through that, and to find I could still sing. In fact, that’s when I wrote “Jude The Unsinkable”, which became the album title track as I worked through all the feelings I went through over the last eleven years. None of it beat me. But God, I’m hoping that I’ve gone through everything now!”

You might reasonably assume that coming close to death not once but twice would be when it felt like the sky was falling in – but actually it is the loss of her home, after nearly 40 happy years and raising a family there, that Judie says is the one thing she will never get over.

“When I got cancer, my bank assured me they would support me,” Judie recalls with audible emotion cracking in her voice. “Then, just as I finished my treatment and everything was supposedly going to be fine, the bank said they had been discussing my account and they thought it was too stressful for me to have to keep paying this mortgage!

“They wanted me to sell the house and pay off the whole mortgage and, when we looked in the contract, it did say they were able to withdraw my mortgage offer at any time. I never defaulted; I didn’t not pay my mortgage, ever.

“The bank put me through more stress than the cancer caused me. I hate them. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right, what they did to me – and when I had just got over cancer. I will never get over that.

“I bought the house, in Weybridge, when I was 23, because my father left me money. I would rather have had my father, but as I didn’t have him, I had the money to buy a house with a tiny mortgage. It was a fantastic house, and it got us through a lot of very bad times because as musicians we didn’t earn a regular living and we could remortgage and then pay back.

“It wasn’t a fancy house, but it had lots of rooms and it was always full of waifs and strays, and random musicians who needed somewhere to live for a week and ended up staying for two years – and I love having a lot of people around me.

“But mostly that house was the only place where I ever put down roots, because we moved an awful lot in my childhood and so I never really felt at home. But I wanted to give that [stability] to my children. And I did. Losing it was just shocking and awful and terrible.”

These experiences, each one life-changing but amplified somehow by their compression into barely more than a decade, might have defeated many. But this is Judie Tzuke, and her act of defiance and survival was to curate the artistic output that doubtless served as therapy – and thus good has come from bad, and “Jude the Unsinkable” was released on 5th April 2024 via Big Moon Records.

Dropping a new album for the first time in six-and-a-half years, since “Peace Has Broken Out” in 2017, is the perfect end to a celebratory week for Judie. When we spoke, she was remarkably chipper for someone who had just celebrated her 68th birthday the night before – an intimate gig at the Crooked Billet near Henley, with supper cooked by their “amazing chef”.

And as we chatted, it became crystal clear to me that Judie is doing so much more than “surviving” not least to those who love her most; she is positively thriving as a mum and grandma.

Daughters Bailey (36) and Tallula (celebrating her 30th birthday this year) live in the neighbouring towns either side of Judie in Surrey, and Bailey’s nine-year-old daughter, Rani, is taking Judie back to her musical heritage.

“We’re learning guitar together now! She sings and writes her own songs; she’s really musical. We’ve both got guitars, and I’ve cut all my nails off – and I’m relearning the guitar as she learns it. She’s an incredible little human. I’m sure she will be working in music in some way one day – although I’d really like her to learn to be an accountant or something as well, because I don’t want her to go through what I’ve gone through!” Bailey will be out on the “Jude the Unsinkable” tour later this year, as a member of Judie’s support act, T.I.G.Y.

Even this band name is testament to the tough times Judie has survived in her life. It stands for Thoughts I Give You, and was inspired by the diaries kept by Judie’s younger sister, Wendy, who tragically died in a road accident just as Judie’s first album was released in 1979.

T.I.G.Y.’s music is a bittersweet listen, full of indisputable emotion – and Judie says Bailey is just like her in that way. “Music for Bailey, just as for me, has never been about making money. I think T.I.G.Y.’s songs are beautiful songs, and they’re just getting better and better – but it’s hard to reach people without a big label, and the labels are looking for Beyoncé or something. The kind of music you choose to do dictates a lot, however beautiful it is.”

This principle of reaching an audience grabs my attention. After all, I’m chatting to someone who has made multiple albums and toured live over five decades. She has headlined Glastonbury. She’s opened for Elton John in his record-breaking, 400,000-strong gig in New York’s Central Park.

But I’m willing to risk a wager that the moment her audience loves most is when she brings out her biggest hit: “Stay With Me Till Dawn”.

They’re right to love it, of course. It dominated the UK Charts in 1979, and was recently voted one of the Top 50 Songs Of The Last 50 Years in a BBC poll. And it’s the soundtrack to first loves and lost loves for a generation (or more). But I wonder if Judie ever tires of it – given her body of work, years of musical output, and emotional integrity?

“Yes and no. I think it does upset me that I don’t reach more people and that I’m not able to relax into my body of work and let it look after me in my old age,” she admits. “But ‘Stay With Me Till Dawn’ gave me a life. It gave me a career.

“I don’t understand why it is the one song out of all my songs that has done that; I think I’ve written better songs. I think people associate it with their first love, or first sex, you know, and when people come to see me you can tell the audience are transported back to that time in their lives.

“I’m very lucky that I wrote that song, and that it reached people like that. I just sometimes wish I could reach a bigger audience with all the other songs I’ve written. And the thing is, I think that song is of an era – but I don’t think I am!

“I think my new album is contemporary and people say: oh my god, it could be on the radio, I thought it was going to be all ballads. People have a preconceived idea of me, but I’ve moved with my influences. I’m not just from the ‘70s – though I think it was one of the best times for new music!”

Timeless and surviving. That feels a fair way to describe this vocal powerhouse who chooses to use her hardship for good, and turn her pain into beauty. It seems to me that Judie is seizing a new lease of life. She’s reclaiming her health and has lost weight (and did her birthday gig last week wearing her favourite stage clothes from nearly 30 years ago!)

She’s loving family life and being creative – with the new album and a 24-date album tour later this year. Jude the unsinkable? You bet…




Words: Lucy Boulter





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