Recommended CDs

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Davey Graham, Folk Pioneer, R.I.P.

Folk, Blues, and Beyond is one of those albums that changed the musical direction of a generation and is still cited today by anyone who really aspires to play the acoustic guitar. Most people find him, as I did, as a result of familiarity with the great Bert Jansch. Now I suppose the connection is at one more remove, but Bernard Butler, who worships Jansch, certainly knows him. And I suppose the proto-emo pissings of Neil Drake are where most younger people would have heard the influence of Davey Graham, even if they were unaware of it.

But everyone knows at least one tune of Graham's, Angi, as a result of its being covered by Paul Simon (who changed the spelling to Anji) and many others.

After the 60s Graham basically lost the next 30 years or more of his life to drugs, but he had returned to playing in recent years. A good job was done of issuing some of his old albums at the beginning of this century. They also issued "After Hours", recorded in a student's room at Hull University in 1967 after Graham's performance there the same evening. This is one of my favourite recordings by Graham. That's the sort of setting where you hear real music that no producer has sprinkled with so-called magic dust. Its release was a shot in the arm for anyone who's ever played a "concert" in someone's bedsit or student digs (I've spent some of the most enjoyable musical hours of my life in those settings).

Nowadays aspiring musicians make digital recordings on computers and upload them to MySpace. Graham belonged to that generation of musicians who paid their dues by busking their way around Europe (Ralph McTell is another guy who learned his trade this way, busking in subways or near cinema queues. McTell learned ragtime from a young American who'd studied with the legendary Gary Davies whom McTell met while busking on a freezing cold day on the Left Bank in Paris; you just don't get that sort of experience from the internet).

Graham's travels also took him to India, where he became one of the first British musicians to come under the spell of Ravi Shankar and Indian music generally (see under Harrison, George). Graham was one of the founders of British "folk baroque", which mixed American blues and English folk, renaissance and early classical music, plus what was not then, but is now called "world music." Thus we have lost not merely a fine musician, but a true pioneer.

At least we still have Bert Jansch, who now can quite properly be said to be the finest living British acoustic guitar player, a controversial claim while Graham was alive.

No comments: