We received the sad news today that David Swarbrick, London born Folk musician and singer (Fairport Convention, Martin Carthy) died this morning, he was 75. I’m sure this will come as a shock to many and we send our condolences to all his family and friends.
Regarded by many as Britain’s finest folk fiddler Dave Swarbrick has inspired and influenced countless musicians over five decades.
He joined the Ian Campbell Folk Group in 1960, he featured on a number of releases, most notably via Topic Records and Transatlantic. It was from1965 that he began to work with English folk’s, now legendary, guitarist and singer Martin Carthy. A partnership which, to my mind, was like no other. Whenever I heard Swarb’s name mentioned I always recollect their playing together. They were an unforgettable partnership and Carthy attributed Swarb’s playing to the ‘funny tunings’ he adopted on guitar.
David Suff of Topic Records had this to say about the great man:
Dave Swarbrick was such an extraordinary musician and character. One of the creative giants of English music in the late 20th century. His intuitive playing with Martin Carthy over the past fifty years is without doubt a highpoint of the folk revival. All at Topic send our thoughts to his family and friends.
and Sam Sweeney (Bellowhead, The Full English, Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party) shared these touching words:
I remember seeing Swarb as a six year old and being so inspired by his playing that I took up the fiddle almost straight away. Twenty one years later, his playing, generosity and passion for the fiddle have provided me with a huge amount of inspiration to keep doing what I’m doing. Without Swarb’s inimitable style and encouragement, I wouldn’t be playing the fiddle at all and for that I am eternally grateful. I feel so lucky to be able to play his old fiddle, The Hale-Bopp, to audiences the world over. His spirit lives on through that instrument and will continue to shine through the playing of countless fiddle players. Rest in peace, Dave. You are my hero.
As a session musician he was in high demand, he has appeared on countless albums over the years, his discography includes Martin Carthy, A.L. Lloyd, Julie Felix, Vashti Bunyan, John Renbourn, Al Stewart, Richard Thompson, Peter Bellamy and many more.
It was in 1969 that Swarb began his groundbreaking time with Fairport Convention when they were planning their third album, one that would mark a pivotal change in direction – Unhalfbrickling. Producer Joe Boyd asked the band who they would like to play fiddle and there was a resounding response of ‘Dave Swarbrick’. The electrification of his fiddle was achieved using a telephone mouthpiece microphone which was then fed into the mixing desk, he played on four tracks including the epic 11 minute A Sailor’s Life. Although Swarb moved from session musician to Fairport member he still maintained a strong loyalty and commitment to Martin Carthy.
He won his battle with emphysema after a life saving, double lung transplant in 2004 and his resilience and strength enabled him to return to the road. He travelled Britain, Europe and Australia playing with his new band ex-Fairporter Maartin Allcock and Kevin Dempsey as Swarb’s Lazarus, and went on to re-unite with both Martin Carthy and the late Alistair Hulett for outstanding duo tours.
In the Summer of 2010 Dave Swarbrick released a solo album with a stellar cast of accompanying musicians making appearances including Michael Burnham, Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Beryl Marriott, Kevin Dempsey, Martin Allcock, Simon Mayor, Jude Rees, and The Jason Wilson Band (Jason Wilson, Marcus Ali, Iain Green, Andrew Stewart, Bobby Hsu & R. J. Satchithananthan).
Reading through various books this morning after hearing this news I kept coming back to that period where he joined Fairport. He was blown away by Richard Thompson’s and in the accompanying book, written by Nigel Schofield, to the Swarb! boxset (released on Free Reed) Martin Carthy recalls the indecision Dave faced when he was asked to join Fairport. He told Martin “I just played with this guy Richard and I want to play with him for the rest of my life”. Martin told him to go and join…Here Is Richard performing a BBC Four Session with Swarb from 2013.
Dave Swarbrick 5 April 1941 – 3 June 2016.