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Just as we were coming to terms with the loss of Guy Clark last month, June began on an equally sorrowful note when the news came of the passing of Dave Swarbrick, one of the legendary figures in British folk music. Everyone has their own particular Swarb tale to tell, with some more colourful than others. My story is pretty ordinary; I first became aware of Dave when I swapped my copy of the Velvet Underground's White Light White Heat for Fairport Convention's Babbacombe Lee LP back in 1971 in the school playground. I then saw him in action with Fairport Convention during their wilderness years, sometime in the early 1970s, when the band's line-up changed at the rate of eight times per week. Doncaster Top Rank was the venue and although I was still at school, I managed to get past the burly doorman by hiding behind two curtains of hair with my nose sticking out in between. I don't really remember too much about that night other than the fact that I managed to lose my wristwatch and then cut myself on a piece of broken glass whilst down on my hands and knees looking for it. Of course, I also remember Swarb; how could anyone forget Swarb? The next time I saw him was at the 1980 Fairport Reunion at Cropredy, which I recall being held over a single day and featuring Richard and Linda Thompson, Ralph McTell and Fairport, with Swarb once again on that mad fiddle. It chucked it down as I recall. Charismatic, rough-hewn and with a distinctly cheeky humour, the fiddle player has subsequently frequently popped up in my record collection, be it a fresh-faced youth in the Ian Campbell Folk Group, as one half of possibly the most enduring duo in the history of British folk music (with Martin Carthy), as one quarter of my favourite 1980s bands Whippersnapper, and of course through his long association with Fairport Convention. Swarb was also a fine solo musician, a consistently great fiddle and mandolin player, a great songwriter, a fine singer and a wonderful character, who I'm sure will not be forgotten.
One of the places I saw Dave Swarbrick perform on more than one occasion was at the Beverley Folk Festival, which I managed to walk around last month on a fine Sunday afternoon. I couldn't make it for the entire festival this year due to other commitments but I accepted an invitation to spend Sunday afternoon there thanks to photographer Peter Dunwell. First stop was Ian Clayton's talk and writing workshop in an upstairs suite in the grandstand building. Ian spoke about some of his most popular books, community publishing, a little bit about his life as a writer, concluding with one of his engaging workshops, whilst the sound of a community choir hovered over the festival site below,. I had the advantage of sitting next to an open patio door, listening to the festival wake up, whilst listening to Ian's stories. Although I was only there a short time, I did manage to see sets by the bluegrass band Flats and Sharps, who I'd previously seen at Shepley Spring Festival, the American duo Wild Ponies and the York singer-songwriter Dan Webster playing the main stage joined by mandolin player Polly Bolton, which was one of the highlights of the day.
The live reviews included in this month's edition reveal Northern Sky's support for three of the five Songlines Series of concerts held at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds as part of the Yorkshire Festival. Mali's Rokia Traoré and Congolese outfit Mbongwana Star brought the rhythms of Africa to Leeds, whilst New Mexico's Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost, otherwise known as A Hawk and a Hacksaw immersed themselves once again in the musical traditions of Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey. Unfortunately, other commitments prevented Northern Sky from covering all five concerts, which also included the German experimentalist pianist Hauschka and our very own Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band.
On the CD review side of things, June has been relatively busy with new releases by RANT, Rachel Newton, Oliver Swain's Big Machine, Ray Hearne, Ninebarrow, Fraser Anderson, ALA.NI, Evie Ladin, The Bramble Napskins, Bonfire Radicals, Brooks Williams, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra, Molly Evans and more. My thanks to both Phil Carter and Liam Wilkinson for their contributions this month and I'm sure July will be equally busy.
We needn't dwell on the fact that the country is in chaos at the moment but as summer approaches and we fall effortlessly into July, the Northern Sky calendar is dominated by three high profile festivals, each of which Northern Sky will be supporting, bringing in due course, the usual 'walkabout' pictures, a few words of positivity and possibly one or two light hearted interviews. Watch out for full reports from the Cambridge Folk Festival, Underneath the Stars and Moonbeams throughout the month and if you're going to a summer festival yourself, we at Northern Sky wish you the best of fun.