My Memory of Dave Swarbrick

I played support for Dave Swarbrick & Kevin Dempsey at Cambridge Folk Club in 2012. I hadn't seen Swarbs for the best part of 40 years (the Why is a complete 'nother story) and when he turned up in a wheelchair I was shocked because he looked so small. I knew he'd been ill for a very long time and on death's door at least once but when he started fiddling he seemed to fill the stage never mind the wheelchair. I started the evening with a short set that finished with a Lancashire-Maori version of Pokarekare Ana and then Swarbrick & Dempsey took to the stage.
The first half was brilliant with him and Kevin hoofing it up - Swarbs switching erratically from key to key and Dempsey on the guitar keeping pace with difficulty. It was a virtuoso performance in every respect.
Half time arrived and Swarbs ordered the three of us a pint and we discussed how I liked living in New Zealand and why he lived in the Blues Mountains in Oz for a few years then left. He even suggested we might get together and record Pokare sometime. I figured he was just being kind, but hey, at least he showed some interest.

One of the things we both shared was an interest in the on-going travesty that so much English folk-heritage music, song and dance had been hidden away in private and academic collections for a century of more. I know I get fairly pissy about this topic because robbing an ethnic group of its cultural treasures is recognised as racism. Like me Swarbs supported the notion that all this music (he reckoned upwards of thirty thousands manuscripts & notations) should be 'Freed' and given back to the ethnic English through the schools in England. I have never heard any other folk musician in England openly complain about this, and I thought I was the only one filled with righteous indignation. As it happens I wasn't, as I was about to find out.

In the second half Swarbs announced that he was going to play an English piece of music "that no English ears have heard for over 300 years because it was salted away and stuck in some rich f.....kers private collection. Which is this is the reason why I, and other English musicians like me, have been forced to play f....king Irish and Scottish tunes all our lives".
Swarbs never used to mince words after a few bevvies apparently.
He then proceeded to play a piece that was fully 10 minutes ling, with no interminable A, A, B, A repetitions, in fact no obvious repeats at all, at the end of which he received a standing ovation.
Dave Swarbrick - the only folk musician (other than me) who I ever heard criticise the hand that fed so many English folk musicians over the last 40 years - the custodians of our English folk culture that was collected in the late 1800s by British Victorian collectors of 'anything not nailed down' supposedly for the posterity of the English people, but was then hidden in private and academic collections and libraries, away from the eyes of the English people to whom it belonged.

I found a kindred spirit in Dave Swarbrick that day. A marvellous musician, a man who spoke his mind and wrung more out of life than many able-bodied people I've ever met. A true one-off.
RIP Swarbs

 
© PhilDrane Music 2016