14th August 1971
Tom Jans and Mimi Farina
talk to Andrew Means
TO FORGE a memorable identity in this prolific world of
song is not the easiest of tasks, so the lasting impression left by Tom Jans and Mimi
Farina is one to be appreciated. Their voices blend superbly, and their performances are a
conscientious combination of good songs and thoughtful words Criticisms of their qualities
are apt to wander off at tangents Mimi is Joan Baez's younger sister and made several
records with her composer/novelist husband Richard before he was killed in a motorcycle
Tom and Mimi began working as a duo about a year ago At
the time Tom was singing in California and he met Jeffrey Shurtleff, who once recorded
with Joan Baez, at a club. Jeffrey introduced him to Joan who in turn introduced him to
Mimi. (Jeffrey is now making an album produced by Joan). Mimi was ready to get back into
music again and was looking for a suitable combination. Hence Tom and Mimi.
"I guess one of the reasons why l don't sing alone
I don't really think I'm a good performer on stage
it just lends itself too
much to the comparison with Joan.'' said Mimi. "I think Tom could sing alone, but I
Comparisons seem to be inevitable, not for musical reasons
so much as the fact that Joan and Mimi are sisters. Did this worry Mimi?
"People have been really nice about it. If I'm good
people say so. But generally there have been very few.
"I think people have been very accepting of Tom after
Dick. People who were Mimi and Dick fans might have resented the next person I sang with,
but in general they have been really nice."
Mimi's guitar playing is particularly striking, Many
female singers use guitars purely as chord instruments. Mimi picks out some complex
patterns which she integrates into the smooth flow of the duo's music.
"I think it's to make up for the lack of great
voice", she commented, "I have really enjoyed playing the guitar since I started
At one stage she met guitarist Bruce Langhorne, who
"was a great teacher and probably influenced me a lot."
The informality of the Cambridge Folk Festival obviously
took them by surprise, and it wasn't until Sunday that they really got into it. That's not
to say they didn't enjoy it, but their music isn't really folk and the sight of dozens of
banjo pickers bluegrassing at them probably aroused trepidation of the expectations of the
audience. Generally they found English audiences reserved if they didn't know the songs,
Which Mimi re-marked was quite understandable.
The force with which they criticised aspects of American
Society left a deep impression at Cambridge. Did they see their music as a vehicle for
"I think what's important is for us to be good
musicians and to live in such a way as to be respected" replied Mimi.
Tom added that it was very easy to criticise America on
stage, but it was also his home and he felt an attachment to it.
"What we are trying to do is let our lives be an
example. I really want to change the place and I can only do that by making my life as
good as possible.
"I guess part of the talking is to show we are
serious, because it could be a game - just travelling and singing." said Mimi.
"I really believe that there's a worldwide sense of
despair and if we can get in on any level and talk about it then it's worth it ''
Tom mentioned that it was too easy for an American
performer to think that what happened in America also applies in Britain. On the other
hand there were things that bothered people all over the world, like loneliness.
A couple of ago Tom and Mimi had their first album
together, "Take Heart", released in the States. It will be released in Britain
in September. Musicians include Sneaky Pete of the Flying Burrito Brothers. Nine of the
songs were written by Tom and Mimi. It's Tom's first lp, and he was very satisfied with
it. Mimi recorded two with Richard and one by herself. I asked her if there were any
points of comparison
''They are really completely different, mainly because the
material is mine and Tom's. The old records were really Richard's ideas and songs and
music and force. Everything was really Richard's force and this is really a turnabout.
It's the same I guess in that they are acoustic sounds with a little bit of bass. Tom and
I have more drums."
Tracks from Richard and Mimi's ''Reflections in A Crystal
Wind" and "Celebrations For A Grey Day" are to be reissued on a double
album in Britain. In retrospect what did she think of the two records they made together?
"I don't listen to them a lot. When I made them I
felt so out of it. I felt that they were not me, but occasionally I hear them in someone's
house and I am impressed. I think Dick was a really good poet. There's nothing to be
Did Tom and Mimi write songs quickly and easily? ''I
haven't written anything for almost half a year and I'm going crazy," said Mimi.
"I've got about four with only one verse, nothing seems to come -
"It's been a little easier for me, I've written two
since the record one that I'm proud of". Although they have written three or four
songs together, most of their composing has been separate. Tom believed that it was
preferable for a man and a woman to write together and thus incorporate each other's point
of view. Their style is acoustic and will undoubtedly remain over-ridingly so, but Mimi
has written an instrumental piece with which she wants to try her hand at playing electric
"We're thinking of putting together a small band for
the next tour", remarked Tom,"- piano drums and bass perhaps."
Tom and Mimi have finished their British appearances but
there are still two months - and gigs in Poland. Scandinavia and Paris - before they
return home to San Francisco.