Davy Graham 1940-2008
David Michael Gordon “Davy” Graham, (26 November 1940–15 December 2008)
Graham was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire to a Guyanese mother and a Scottish father. Although he never had any music theory lessons he learnt to play the piano and harmonica as a child and then took up the classical guitar at the age of 12. As a teenager he was strongly influenced by the folk guitar player Steve Benbow who had travelled widely with the army and played a guitar style influenced by Morrocan music
Davy was (and is) the inspiration for a generation of guitarists, from Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch and Paul Simon, to Jimmy Page and Graham Coxon. A contemporary of Bob Dylan, he worked with other formative musicians such Geno Foreman and Alexis Korner, and was part of a unique grouping of talent – Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones, Roy Harper and John and Beverly Martyn, at the height of Hippy culture with everything that went with that. He performed for Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Margaret and took parts in major films. He was the first to travel abroad in search of inspiration, playing for his food and bed and pulling together the music from India, the Middle East, and the Balkans, bringing that music back to the UK and lighting the huge interest in acoustic guitar in the 1960’s and 70’s.
All of Me 1981
Davy Graham performing at the Troubadour with Louis Killen – Alison Chapman McLean
It was not in Graham’s nature to pursue fame and fortune and he retired to relative obscurity for many years, when he engaged in charity work and teaching as well as protracted periods of drug use, before beginning to tour again in the years before his death. His childlike, almost obsessive, enthusiasm for music never left him, however, and he would gladly give a free private concert to any chance acquaintance.
I started to play the guitar about seven years ago, while I was still at school- homework always gave in to music, so I was no genius! As soon as I got home, I would put on a blues record- Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree and Muddy Waters and many others as well as modern jazz greats like Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus and Thelonious Monk, who are still my favourites. (Moanin … Link)
When I got tired of the city and a job suffocating in an office, I went to Paris and sang and played in the streets to cinema queues and up and down the French Riviera. I must admit I was very glad when I was invited to play in night clubs where I could put down the plectrum and play finger style as I still do. Every summer for three years I would break the chains of a job (anything from librarian to crate-humper) and leave for the continent, taking £5– the fare to Paris, freedom and the sun of the Cote d’Azur. When I came back to England in the winter of 1961, I started to get more regular work playing in folk song clubs, and got my first “break” playing as accompanist along with Alexis Korner for Shirley Abicair, the Australian folk singer on broadcasts for radio, a TV series and a concert at the Royal Festival Hall.
When people ask me what type of guitar I play, I usually say “Blues, bits and pieces”. A mixture of jazz and folk influences. I think that every number has its own particular mood. Before I play I don’t know exactly what notes will come out, but I know the mood the number conjures up in me, so that on the framework of, say, a 12-bar blues with a slow tempo and a minor key, I can make the guitar cry by whining the strings.
On the other hand, for a calypso or fast rocking blues, I can use running single-line phrases with clipped notes to convey movement and excitement, filling in with block chords to keep the pulse of the number. For me, the richness of the guitar as a solo instrument, or a accompaniment to a singer lies in it’s many voices and moods.
For the last two years, I have been playing in Nick’s diner near Earl’s Court where I eat excellent steaks and am acquiring a taste for good wine and cigars! Over the past year I have made half a dozen solo TV appearances, though I love to play with a band. I have recently joined Alexis’ “Blues Incorporated” and have a ball both playing, and watching the dancers. All is said now except that I sincerely hope you enjoy this record either to listen to, or as a background to good conversation!
Davy Graham 1963
Davy Graham and Diz Disley
Diz performed funny songs like “Rex, the Piddling Pup”, “With ’er ’ead Tucked Underneath ’er Arm” and other silly George Formby tunes, to the delight of those folk club audiences. But Diz wowed people with amazing Django pieces too, playing swing tunes effortlessly and with great style. He was a force to be reckoned with. It’s no surprise that Paul Simon, who had spent a year or so in London in the mid-sixties, wrote about Diz in a song on his first hit album. The song is “A Simple Desultory Philippic”, in which Paul writes, “I’ve been Walt Disneyed, Diz Disleyed, Rolling Stoned and Beatled til I’m blind…” It’s the same album on which Paul recorded (and brought to international prominence) Davy Graham’s perennial pickers’ anthem, “Anji.”
At the age of 19 Graham wrote what is probably his most famous composition, the acoustic guitar solo “Angi” (sometimes spelled “Anji”: see below). His biographer Colin Harper credits Graham with single-handledly inventing the concept of the folk guitar instrumental. At the time (1964 ish), to be able to play “Anji” was a mark of considerable skill, and many guitarists developed their own versions, mostly fast furious and complicated, whereas Davy’s original was relatively simple, but dark and moody. He described it as a “work song” rather than a blues. To my mind, it is still far and away the best. (Anji Link)
Steve Benbow was still playing in pubs around Brentford, Isleworth and Hounslow until the Friday before his death. He was, as Colin Harper justifiably dubbed him in his Jansch biography, Dazzling Stranger (2000), “Britain’s First Folk Guitarist”. Benbow’s generosity to Davy Graham helped instil in Graham a similar spirit of open-handedness and the sharing of knowledge, for example, with Martin Carthy.
Davy Graham was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008 and died on 15 December 2008. He is survived by his 2 daughters, Mercy and Kim