‘We paved the way for the Rolling Stones’: Ottilie Patterson, the forgotten first lady of British blues

She was a standout singer – but crumbled after a brutal marriage and backstreet abortion. Ahead of a new reissue, her peers recall what happened to this singular talent

The late British jazz singer George Melly used to ask his audiences: “Who is the greatest blues vocalist Britain has ever produced?” He’d tease them, asking, “Mick Jagger? No! Steve Winwood? No! Van Morrison? No!”, before suggesting the greatest of all time was Ottilie Patterson. Who?

County Down-born Patterson surely is the finest blues vocalist hailing from these damp isles. She was also an excellent jazz and folk singer, and her mellifluous voice can even be heard singing Shakespeare sonnets and baroque late-60s psychedelia. She blazed a trail that everyone from Dusty Springfield to Amy Winehouse has since followed; the Rolling Stones, Patterson said, “didn’t come out of a vacuum – we paved the way”. Her best recordings are exquisite: moody blues with swagger. Yet Patterson has been almost entirely forgotten, an unheralded pioneer. Thankfully, 2023 looks to be the year that she finally receives her due, with a new BBC documentary, My Name Is Ottilie, and a Record Store Day reissue of her 1969 album 3000 Years With Ottilie leading the way.

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