Friday 3 June 2016

Dave Swarbrick

Dave Swarbrick in characteristic pose with fag
I'm sorry to hear that the virtuoso violinist Dave Swarbrick has died today aged 75. He was best known for his pioneering work with Fairport Convention, particularly on the ground-breaking album Liege & Lief which combined traditional English songs and tunes with rock instruments. So used have we become to what became known as folk rock that it easy to forget how controversial this was at the time. Folk purists regarded it as selling out, and as an innovation it was as contentious as Bob Dylan going electric. He was proficient on several other instruments, wrote songs and tunes in the traditional style, was in demand as a session musician, and released a string of solo albums.

I first saw him with Fairport Convention in the Southport Theatre in the late 1970s in the tour that preceded the group's calling it a day, except for annual reunions at Cropredy; eventually those reunions led to the band reforming. I later saw him on tour with Martin Carthy, a collaboration that happened periodically over the decades, and finally a couple of years ago at Cropredy, the festival that Fairport still holds annually. He was musically brilliant live, infectiously enthusiastic and, until his health problems began to take hold, a highly energetic performer.

In 1999, during one of his spells in hospital, the Daily Telegraph reported his death and published an obituary. Swarb was delighted with the highly complimentary nature of the tribute, bar the one obvious mistake, declaring "It's not the first time I've died in Coventry." He later told the Oxford Times: "I photocopied the obits, took them to gigs, signed them 'RIP Dave Swarbrick' and sold them for £1. After all, where else are you going to get a signed obituary? I had to stop, though, when The Telegraph got in touch and told me I couldn’t do it as they had the copyright."

He was received many awards for his work, including a lifetime achievement award, and saw Liege & Lief voted "Most Influential Folk Album of All Time".

Here is a masterclass of violin playing from 2014 with Richard Thompson who was in Fairport with Swarb in the early 1970s. After performing a set of tunes accompanied by Thompson, he plays along to Thompson's poignant song, Waltzing's For Dreamers.


  1. Thanks for sharing that clip with us, Nev. Some fine playing from both Swarb and Richard Thompson; both excellent musicians in their own right. Sad to learn that yet another legend has been taken from us, although I knew his health had not been good in recent years.

    Will have to dig out my copy of Liege & Lief, and play it loud.

    1. Actually Angel Delight would be a more appropriate album, particularly with songs like Big William, Bonny Black Hare and Wizard of the Worldly Game, where Dave Swarbrick’s singing is much to the fore.

  2. I did think of putting Matty Groves up but, great though that song is, I decided it was the predictable choice.

  3. From everything I've read, it seems that he was quite the rogue - but we could do with more people like that.

    Also reminded me of Sandy Denny's utterly spine-tingling voice. Hers was the first celebrity death that genuinely upset me.


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