Saturday, June 04, 2016

Swarb & Peace

I know everyone is processing the loss of one of the great icons of our lifetimes -- perhaps The Greatest that ever was -- but I am here this afternoon to illustrate to you all that we lost not just one, but two mighty and venerated champions yesterday.
He cheated death many, many times, did this person. The famous story goes that when Fairport Convention's Full House lineup were living in the converted pub (appropriately named The Angel), and the royalty check came for him that day, and he rushed out to blow it on antiques, that the brass bed he acquired simply would not fit in the space where his previous one had been, at the front of the room under the window.
So the legend has it he spent the evening rearranging his quarters to accomodate the giant bed, eventually placing it at the far end of the room away from the window. So, the following morning, when the lorry driver had the massive heart attack and died at the wheel and came barreling through the wall in precisely the spot the bed used to be in, he'd be sitting on the new one astonished as the bread truck, and its deceased pilot, came to rest right at his feet. "There's a hole in the wall where a lorry came in, let's split." as the song goes.
He cheated death so many times he named one of his bands Swarb's Lazarus. The last 12 years of his life, he had someone else's lungs, for goodness' sakes. How many people can get onstage and sing and play songs with someone else's lungs?!? I'm afraid I'm at a loss to name any besides David Swarbrick -- the master fiddler of the British Folk Renaissance -- who passed away yesterday at last after 75 years altering, or given his mastery of traditional music, perhaps restoring, the ears of the human race.
I discovered his music as so many have and do, through the pre-eminent band of which he was such an integral element. I dunno that on the day he formally joined them -- in 1969 for the recording of their masterpiece of Electric Folk Liege and Lief -- that Swarb ever imagined that shortly afterwards the two central figures of Fairport Convention would suddenly leave, and he would become the frontman, custodian and champion of the group through some of its greatest triumphs.
The truth is that for me, the records Fairport made immediately after Ashley Hutchings and Sandy Denny moved on to other, equally as fantastic groups (Steeleye Span and Fotheringay, respectively) -- especially Full House and the epic concept album "Babbacombe" Lee -- were, for me, their very best. The latter -- a musical voyage through the story of John Lee, aka The Man They Could Not Hang, written and masterminded by Swarb -- is for me one of the very best of the genres: both Electric Folk and concept LPs.
There really aren't words to express what this man's music means to me and to millions like me, and the sense of gratitude that fills me as I write this. Last week, when I tributed Swarb's major collaborator Martin Carthy, I mentioned how at the time these folks came on the scene, the folk traditions of Great Britain were in danger of dying out, subsumed by the rising tide of radio, TV and the age of distractive, global mass media then dawning. 
It took them to reanimate the traditions they sought to preserve, by marrying the tunes of the airs and reels to the words of the unaccompanied songs -- and building something totally new and old at the same time with it -- that caused Celtic music to spring from certain extinction to the lofty, assumed place it holds in today's musical pantheon.
And once they plugged it all in and turned it up to 11, they created something that would last forever plus one day. David Swarbrick was and is an indispensable figure in the entire process and without him, my life and the life of this world would not be what it is. He may not have ever weighed more than a couple of hundred pounds soaking wet, but he is and in a sense will always be one of the Heavyweight Champions of the music of all our lifetimes.
To mark his passing at 75 yesterday, I have placed into the cloud a PAL DVD of the tremendous documentary film It All Comes 'Round Again, which was made in 1987 to celebrate what was then the 20th anniversary of Fairport Convention. It has never seen official DVD release and features two hours of music and interviews with several of Fairport's architects, including extensive tales and stories from Swarb himself.
Fairport Convention
"It All Comes 'Round Again"
(dir.: Paul Kovit, 1987)

01 The Lark In the Morning
02 Cat On the Mixer
03 Three Left Feet
04 Time Will Show the Wiser
05 A Sailor's Life
06 Come All Ye
07 The Hens March Through the Midden/The Four Poster Bed
08 Now Be Thankful
09 Hand of Kindness
10 Angel Delight
11 It'll Take a Long Time
12 When I Was Sixteen
13 Rosie
14 Polly On the Shore
15 Solo
16 Adieu, Adieu
17 Fiddlestix
18 The Hiring Fair
19 Matty Groves
20 The Rutland Reel/Sack the Juggler
21 Meet On the Ledge
22 Portmeiron

Total time: 1:50:43

A two-hour documentary tracing the history of Britain's premier folk-rock group, Fairport Convention. Featuring the band, in various incarnations, live throughout 1967-1987 and interviews with Fairporters Simon Nicol, David Swarbrick, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Pegg and Richard Thompson, journalist Patrick Humphries and record producer Joe Boyd, among others.

PAL DVD from 1987 master Hi-Fi VHS; this film has never been released on DVD officially
4.14 GB total/June 2016 archive link
Obviously this is kind of a grievous day, with arguably the most famed and revered athlete that will ever live leaving us merely hours after this legendary musician breathed his last. I haven't any answers but to let these people live in your hearts and minds and to relate to your children what they meant and who they were, so that their living legacies can carry on far into the future of our world. To that end, I invite you to pull down this magnificent documentary and let it fill you with the Joy that Dave Swarbrick -- and Muhammad Ali -- intended us all to feel at the invocation of their names and their lasting contribution to our lives.--J.
The bigger the tree
The deeper the roots
The grass that is trodden underfoot
Give it Time
and it will surely rise again
4.5.1941 - 6.3.2016

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