The folk music world mourns Dave Swarbrick, ‘the most influential fiddle player bar none’, who has died

Dave Swarbrick, who died last Friday - picture by Kirsry Handley
Dave Swarbrick, who died last Friday - picture by Kirsry Handley

Dave Swarbrick - Swarb - fiddle player with Fairport Convention for a decade and legendary musician and songwriter for half a century, died on June 3 of emphysema. He was 75.

Swarb - who at one time lived in Cropredy - made the front page of the Banbury Guardian in 1999 describing how he almost ‘died of laughter’ reading his own obituary, printed by The Telegraph who mistakenly believed he had passed away on tour in Germany.

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Fairport this week paid tribute to their friend on their website and and sympathy flowed in from around the world.

Swarb’s wife Jill wrote on his Facebook page: “It was the most beautiful and fitting passing that he so very much deserved after so many years of suffering.

“He did a lot for charity secretly, visiting people and fans in hospices and encouraging anyone to follow their hearts and practice hard if they wanted to play the fiddle better.”

The New York Times said: “Mr Swarbrick and Fairport Convention were prime movers in trad-rock which connected the 1960s ferment of folk-rock and psychedelia to a deep British heritage of storytelling ballads and nimble dance tunes.”

Swarb at the start of his career

Swarb at the start of his career

Swarb was described by Ashley Hutchings as ‘the most influential fiddle player bar none’. Among the accolades he received were the BBC Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement, the Gold Badge Of Merit from the British Society of Composers and Songwriters and the English Folk Dance and Song Society Gold Badge.

Swarb learned to play the fiddle at the age of 11. He played with a host of famous folk names including Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger, Ian Campbell Band and Martin Carthy with whom he was still gigging and recording together 51 years on in 2016, 
His involvement with Fairport Convention began in 1969 as a session musician on the album Unhalfbricking. He joined the band full time in time for the recording of the classic Liege and Lief. His session skills were in demand by the likes of Julie Felix, Nigel Denver, Young Tradition and Vashti Bunyan. He contributed to records by Sandy Denny, John Renbourn, Steve Ashley and Al Stewart.

After Fairport called it a day in 1979, he developed and led many other musical ventures – duos with Simon Nicol and Alistair Hulett, Whippersnapper, Lazarus, The Jason Wilson Band and The Keith Hancock Band and Band of Hope. He continued to be a regular guest at Cropredy, where his appearance was always greeted with a massive, welcoming roar.

Martin Allcock said: “Dave Swarbrick was my hero, my mentor, my teacher, my stage companion, my inspiration, my worst critic, my wicked uncle, my motivator but most of all my friend.

Dave Swarbrick (left) Trevor Lucas (right), Fairport Convention 1970s NNL-160706-135733001

Dave Swarbrick (left) Trevor Lucas (right), Fairport Convention 1970s NNL-160706-135733001

“Around 1972 I got his autograph when Fairport played in Manchester. I was 15. From 1975 onwards I got to know Dave Pegg and Swarb quite well and when the band came together again in 1985 I was asked to join. I stayed for eleven years.

“After his famous premature obituary was published, he asked me to play alongside him, firstly in a short lived quartet, Orchard, then the aptly-named trio Swarb’s Lazarus.

“We worked together to collect all of his recorded fiddle music into one volume, which we published in December. I’m so glad we got to finish the book which now stands as testament to his life’s work and that I knew this amazing man.”

With his health failing from emphysema, Swarb had a double lung transplant in 2004 which gave him a new lease of life and performance. 
He leaves three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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Dave Swarbrick ANL-140318-131409001