I’m sure many of you who follow folk music like to read the liner notes of albums, curious about the origins of a song. Occasionally you become familiar with a songwriter’s name and even more ocasionally (rarely) they materialise from out of those sleeve notes to release an album. A good example is Sandy Wright who Kris Drever has covered a number of classic songs from including ‘Beads and Feathers’ and ‘Steel and Stone’, he released ‘The Songs of Sandy Wright’ on Navigator Records.
Now cast your mind back to the BBC Folk Awards when The Unthanks sang a great song called ‘The King of Rome’. I’m sure many of you know the song, most probably via June Tabor who made the song famous and let it take flight around the world. The man who wrote it was in fact Dave Sudbury and it was shortly after the BBC Folk Awards that his daughter contacted me and sent his album ‘King of Rome – Songs of Dave Sudury’. It was a self release and was recorded by Andrew Cronshaw. All of the songs on the album share the common wisdom of a natural born storyteller but they go a lot further thanks to Dave’s unique singing style. I’ll be honest, it was one of most heartwarming albums I’d heard in years!
Dave Sudbury is a rare breed in this day and age where most stories travel via technology. All that technology has speeded life up and that saddens me to be honest, the realisation that word of mouth is a dying concept or at least is being used less frequently as peoples ‘spare time’ diminishes thanks to the growing number of daily distractions. I can’t say anything, I’m writing this on a website but there is a balance to be had and hearing music like Dave’s also makes you appreciate why folk clubs / sessions and collectives are so important today in keeping that song-writing tradition alive.
Anyway, I loved the album and the songs and the stories that Dave told so I contacted him for an interview:
Dave Sudbury in his own words
I was born in Derby in 1943 ( the first line of ‘ Dave Sudbury’s Blues’) into a warm working class family. Early memories of Christmas, get togethers at my Grandma’s and listening to old 78’s of Jimmy Rogers on a wind up gramaphone. Singing around the piano and stories about the war from my Dad and Uncles.
I had a happy ‘backstreet’ childhood, secondary modern school and then a factory apprenticeship at 16. After serving my time I went working on the North Sea gas pipelines. I was married young and soon had a family to support. The music that inspired me was usually American rooted, Blues, Country and early Rock n Roll. Bob Dylan, who seemed to channel all this stuff, has always been an inspiration. I bought a cheap guitar in my early thirties and learned three chords. I wrote a few, easy to play songs, and nervously sang them in local folk clubs. People said they liked them.
The music I’d always loved seemed to have come out of authentic, personal experience, so I tried to keep mine the same. While still working on pipelines and powerstations, a friend told me about the ‘Northern Arts Council’ songsearch contest. I sent off a couple and the ‘King of Rome‘ made it through to the final. I sang it in front of an audience and panel of judges (a bit like X factor). I didn’t win but June Tabor, who was one of the judges, asked to record it. Since then it’s flown around the world.
Growing up working class in the 1940,50,60’s left me with a desire to express something inside. Writing those songs, especially the ‘King’, was my way of doing that. I recorded the CD in Andrew Cronshaws frontroom. I’d listened to so much ‘Americana’ he had to keep reminding me to drop the accent and ‘keep it Derby’.
So here I am nearly 70, happily married for the second time, loads of grandkids, and still listening to old recordings of Jimmy Rogers.
I later asked Dave if he still sang in folk clubs. He doesn’t very often do gigs but he explained “I’ve been employed by a local psychiatric unit to facilitate singing groups, so apart from an occational invite to gig somewhere, the hospital’s where I do most of my performing”.
I was incredibly moved by Dave’s story, you can hear more tracks from his album in our playlist. He’s one of a Kind!
June Tabor – King of Rome
and still that song continues to take flight: