Band: Fairport Convention
Dave Swarbrick died aged seventy-five from pneumonia on 3rd June 2016, in hospital in Aberystwyth, Wales, U.K. Dave
was survived by his wife Jill, daughters; Emily and Isobel, son; Alexander, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Dave was born in New Malden, London. His family moved to Linton, near Grassington, North Yorkshire, where he learned to play the violin. In the late 1940s the family moved to Birmingham, where he attended Birmingham College of Art in the late 1950s, with the intention of becoming a printer. After winning a talent contest with his skiffle band playing guitar, he was introduced to Beryl and Roger Marriott, influential local folk musicians. The Marriotts took him under their wing and Beryl discovering that he had played the violin classically up until the skiffle craze, actively encouraged him to switch back to the fiddle whence he joined the Beryl Marriott Ceilidh Band.
He joined the Ian Campbell Folk Group in 1960 and embarked on his recording career, playing on one single, three EPs and seven albums with the group over the next few years. He contributed significantly to the BBC Radio Ballads series on recordings with the three most important figures in the British folk movement of the time A. L. Lloyd, Ewan MacColl, and MacColl's wife Peggy Seeger, as well as part of several collections to which the Ian Campbell Group contributed.
From 1965 he began to work with Martin Carthy, supporting him on his eponymous first album. The association was such a success that the next recording, Second Album in 1966, gave them equal billing. They produced another four highly regarded recordings between 1967 and 1968, including Byker Hill in1967, whose innovative arrangements of traditional songs made it one of the most influential folk albums of the decade. Dave Swarbrick also played on albums by Julie Felix, A. L. Lloyd and on the radio ballads, and became perhaps the most highly regarded interpreter of traditional material on the violin and certainly one of the most sought-after session musicians.
In 1967, Dave Swarbrick released his first solo album Rags, Reels and Airs , with guests Martin Carthy and Diz Disley, which has since become a benchmark for generations of folk fiddlers.
Originally, it was as a session musician that Swarbrick was called in by Joe Boyd, the manager of rising folk rock group Fairport Convention, in 1969, to undertake some overdubs on the Richard Thompson-penned track "Cajun Woman". Fairport had decided to play a traditional song "A Sailor's Life", which Dave had previously recorded with Carthy in 1969, and he was asked to contribute violin to the session. The result was an eleven-minute mini-epic that appeared on the 1969 album Unhalfbricking and which marked out a new direction for the band.
Subsequently, Dave Swarbrick was asked to join the group and was the first fiddler on the folk scene to electrify the violin. Martin Carthy later recalled that Dave had been indecisive about joining. Together, now with Dave Swarbrick co-writing with Richard Thompson "Crazy Man Michael", they created the groundbreaking album Liege & Lief in 1969. Dave's energetic and unique fiddle style was essential to the new sound and direction of the band, most marked on the medley of four jigs and reels that he arranged for the album and which were to become an essential part of almost every subsequent Fairport performance. Before the album was released, key members of the band, founder Ashley Hutchings and singer, guitarist and songwriter Sandy Denny left, and Dave Swarbrick stayed on with the band full-time, excited by the possibilities of performing traditional music in a rock context. His greater maturity, knowledge of folk song, reputation and personality meant that he soon emerged as the leading force in the band and continued to be so for the next decade, encouraging the band to bring in Dave Pegg, another graduate of the Ian Campbell Folk Group, on bass. However, Dave Swarbrick was already beginning to suffer the hearing problems that would dog the rest of his career.
The first album of this new line-up, Full House in 1970, although not as commercially successful as Liege & Lief, sold relatively well, and remains highly regarded. Like Liege & Lief it contained interpretations of traditional tunes, including the epic "Sir Patrick Spens" and another instrumental arranged by Dave Swarbrick, "Dirty Linen", but also contained songs jointly penned by Dave and guitarist Richard Thompson, including what would become their opening live song "Walk Awhile", and the nine-minute long anti-war anthem "Sloth". The partnership produced another three songs on Full House. However, the fruitful collaboration was ended when Thompson departed the band soon after.
As ex-Fairport Convention members embarked on their own careers, Dave Swarbrick was often called upon to provide musical support, as he did for albums by Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson. He also played on some of the most significant folk albums of the era, including work by John Renbourn, Al Stewart and Peter Bellamy. In the second half of the 1970s, he began to release a series of solo albums.
Without Thompson, Dave Swarbrick shouldered even more responsibility for leadership, writing and singing and the result was a remarkably ambitious folk-rock opera album "Babbacombe" Lee, mostly all written by Dave; telling the true story of John Babbacombe Lee, a man convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. The scaffold apparatus failed three times and Lee survived to spend much of his life in penal servitude. When Simon Nicol quit the band in 1971, Dave Swarbrick was the longest standing member and responsible for keeping the group afloat through a bewildering series of line-up changes and problematic projects.
The next album Rosie is chiefly notable for the title track, written by Dave Swarbrick, which is perhaps the song most closely associated with him, but overall it was not a critical success. The following release, Nine in 1974, relied heavily on the writing partnership between Dave Swarbrick and new member Trevor Lucas, but it perhaps lacked the vitality of previous collaborations. The fortunes of the band rallied when Sandy Denny rejoined in 1974 and on the resulting album Rising for the Moon Swarbrick took more of a backseat in writing and singing.
After Sandy Denny's final departure from the band, Dave Swarbrick managed to steer it through three more studio albums, turning a solo project into a Fairport album Gottle O'Geer in 1976 and two albums for Vertigo; The Bonny Bunch of Roses in 1977 and Tipplers Tales in 1978, which have since been seen as containing some of Dave Swarbrick's best fiddle work. However, all this was done amid financial and contractual difficulties and Dave's hearing problems were becoming severe and were aggravated by amplified performances. In 1979 the band played a farewell concert in Cropredy, Oxfordshire and disbanded.