Wednesday, 2 April 2014



You have just turned 73 and, if you go by the span of man's years as three score and 10, you are already on borrowed time. Ten years previously you had a double lung transplant after suffering for years with emphysema so what do you do to mark another birthday?

Dave Swarbrick
Picture courtesy of Rob Bridge
A: Put your feet up and listen to The Archers
B: Enjoy a sedentary existence for the remainder of your days
C: Pick up your fiddle and start a UK wide tour?

Folk legend Dave Swarbrick opted for the latter and his birthday, April 5, will be spent entertaining the people of Caerphilly and giving some young hopefuls the sort of exposure many would die for.

So when he could be taking life easy what keeps the former member of Fairport Convention going?
"The prescription department of the NHS," he suggests with an obviously wicked chuckle. "Why should I stop? As a musician there is no reason to stop, as long as you can do it there is no reason to, and even if you can't do it there's still no reason to stop."

Even after five decades of gigging it seem his enthusiasm for touring has not diminished one jot.
"Sometimes I feel more motivated because I am much more aware of time, and how much time one has left. That's a very motivating factor. You want to leave behind as much as you can. I still get a buzz from touring."

It's understandable that a man who has been close to death, and indeed was famously killed off by the Daily Telegraph in 1999, would be aware of how short life can be.
"It does tend to focus you, but then on the other hand most of my contemporaries are still playing. We all have the same kind of belief in that you are happy when you are doing what you do best. Really, if you stop work you become unhappy because you are not doing what you do best. I will croak on the road."

Swarb, originally from London has been a Midlander since the age of eight when his family moved to Birmingham and now lives in Coventry. The highly respected fiddle player may be in the autumn of his career but he still wants to stay involved and pass the baton, the title of the EP of emerging acts he has put together, to the next generation of folk musicians.
This is a great part of the motivation for his tour which is sponsored by the Folkstock Arts Foundation which wants to nurture and expose up-and-coming talent to the realities of working on the road as well as giving them some much needed time gigging and experience with one of the greats.

"I want to keep involved and know what's going on," explains Swarb in a voice which has been severely affected by the emphysema and lung transplant. "You tend to know a lot of stuff about your own generation and maybe the next generation, but the latest generation falls a little bit beyond your horizon really.
"We don't play the kind of music that everyone knows, although more people are becoming more interested in it now. It's very helpful to know where this music, that you have been involved with for so long, is going.
"Folkstock is one of the few organisations which works almost exclusively with young kids. I don't know of any other organisation which does that.
Sunjay Brayne
"It all stemmed from when I put an ad up on Facebook asking what's going on? Then Helen Meissner got in touch with me and said I should come have a listen to what's going on?"

Folkstock Arts Foundation is the brainchild of Meissner and exists to promote and nurture folk and acoustic musicians from all walks of life and to create a community linked by a passion for music and performing while being all inclusive and family friendly.

As part of this ethos Swarb has thrown out an invitation to artists who are local to the venues, he will be playing, to join him. He will be joined on his Shrewsbury leg of the tour by Stourbridge singer Sunjay Brayne who is making quite a name for himself, recently supporting Steeleye Span nationwide and Spiers & Boden in Wolverhampton.

"I made an EP with them," Swarb explained, "I got everyone to send in a track and I actually picked six or seven and was going to do an album but I was hospitalised so only had time to do four.
"So that's out on my birthday as an EP called Pass The Baton. That was quite fascinating really finding out what these people were up to. One of them was like Pentangle and there is a guy called John Farndon, who wrote a lovely song called Peace In Our Hearts."

Also on the album, which will be available on the tour and from Swarb's own website, are The Blue Pig Orchestra, Said The Maiden and Kelly Oliver.

So was the old workhorse pleasantly surprised by what he found in the new generation of folk troubadours?
"I was, I was taken aback a bit, but out of all the entrants only one was solidly traditional and that was Said The Maiden who are now on the tour with me."

Kelly Oliver
Swarb's name and reputation will draw people in and give youngsters an exposure they wouldn't get on their own, so does he think all established folk musicians, his peers, should do a similar thing?
"Yes I do, it would be very good. We will wait and see if it catches on, these kids need somewhere to play, they need an opening. I hope these kids take advantage of the opportunities."

And now he is mixing with this new wave of musicians has he noticed any major differences in the sounds or performance?
"There is a big difference in the belief. When I started out almost inevitably you became political, the whole scene was on the left, I don't know if it still is. I am not out there sufficiently enough to know. I'm a cynical old bastard and I doubt it's there to the same extent. You can tell by the stuff people are writing really. I don't hear too much protest."

So is he on a mission to get people back to linking their songs to politics?
"It would be good yes, we could do with a few young Ewan MacColls."

Being involved with the folk scene for so long does he think things have changed for the better?
"Yes, it's much more recognised. I have gone through various folk booms, there is always a folk boom coming. But this is the first time I have seen anything tangible in terms of the kids, it reminds me of skiffle where everyone was having a go."

Swarb is certain the experience of working with young, relatively unknowns will benefit both parties.
"I hope I will learn something from all these kids I am meeting and playing alongside. I will learn a lot and not just about the music, I will learn a lot about the generation. I will learn a lot about technology. There will be a lot of stuff going on that I don't have a clue about. And I will learn what they think of us.
"I am playing now with people who have never heard of me. That in itself is going to be interesting. and I am also going to be showing them some things, so it's a two-way street. Attitude is also something that is going to be interesting. When I started, being a professional was something that crept up on me."

So what was he like when he was starting out?
"I was always aware of my shortcomings but the idea of making a living out of doing it would have seemed impossible really. I was working with the Ian Campbell Group and at the same time I was an apprentice printer with a six year apprenticeship. To go pro, because the Campbells had decided to, meant I had to come to some agreement with I.C.I it just seemed impossible."
Said The Maiden

By then his interest in folk music was already deeply ingrained but where did it start?
"I heard it when I was young and that was it, I loved it. If you hear it you love it. I thought it was really exciting stuff and for years I played in a ceilidh band it was led by one of the greatest musicians of her generation, a woman called Beryl Marriott. She died a couple of years ago in her eighties."

And what about choosing to be a fiddle player?
"The fiddle kind of chose me. When I was a kid I played it for a little while but I shoved it in the attic and played the guitar but when I played with Beryl I happened to mention I had played a bit and she said in horror 'And you're playing the guitar?'
"She said guitar players were two a penny, you must get the fiddle out and she enthused and convinced me to get it and play. That was it really. I started playing at the back of the band with the drummer then when I got a bit better I played with the accordion player and then moved to play with the guitarist and then I moved to be with the fiddle player and finally ended up in front of the mic."

Does the fact other people see him as a master of the fiddle sit easy with him?
"I try to steer away from all that really. It's daunting. If you've got those thoughts in your head when you're playing you fuck up. So I try and stay away from it."

The Blue Pig Orchestra
You would need a roll or two of wallpaper to list the musicians, bands and singers Swarb has been involved with and he was part of one of the most influential bands of his generation, Fairport Convention, so was he aware at the time he could be having a massive impact on the world of folk and music in general?
"I wouldn't say a massive impact but I did feel something was going on that hadn't gone on before. Definitely in the Liege & Leif stage and towards the end of my time there. Around about that time it was going in a direction which was breathtaking really."

So is there anything he would have liked to have done or anything that he has missed?
"You know I can't think of a single thing. I have been very blessed really, I have played with some wonderful people. They were wonderful musicians and good all round people. I have had a blast really."

And one piece of advice to someone who is just starting out or trying to get on to the circuit what would it be?
"I would definitely tell them to look at the business side of things. Then for goodness sake enjoy it, practice and play what you enjoy. Don't worry about trying to make it big. Play what you enjoy, if you enjoy it then others will. No one wants to spend their hard-earned money looking at a sour puss."

Dave Swarbrick will be at the Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury on April 17. Tickets are £12 and the show starts 8pm. Box office 01743 281281. On April 25 Swarb will be playing The Musician Pub, Leicester, Tickets are £11 in advance and £13 on the door. Call 0116 251 0080

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