Review and Photography by John Bentley

Dave Swarbrick was an iconic figure in the folk music scene, probably most famous for being fiddler, singer and composer with folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention and for his collaborations with English folk-revival legend Martin Carthy. Gig Junkies reviewed their concert at Settle’s Victoria Hall in 2015, on what turned out to be their final tour together. Alas Dave passed-away in 2016 leaving instructions that there should be no funeral. However, before he died he did talk about one last celebratory bash with his friends. Now some of those musical friends and collaborators have got together to organise a touring tribute to the man and his music – ‘Swarb! Suits Him Well’. Hebden Bridge is the first date of the tour and The Trades Club is sold-out.

Simon Swarbrick, Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick: Dave Swarbrick Tribute Concert, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 18/01/18

The Jason Wilson Band act as ‘house band’ for the evening. Jason Wilson is an accomplished Canadian musician who collaborated on two albums with Swarb, so he knows his music well. Jason is also writing Dave Swarbrick’s biography, assisted by Dave’s widow, Jill.

Dave Swarbrick Tribute Concert, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 18/01/18

The gig starts with a raising of glasses to Swarb, after which the band launch into ‘The Fair Haired Child’, featuring Swarb’s nephew, Simon Swarbrick, on violin. Next is one of the best-known Fairport Convention songs that Swarb contributed to, ‘Matty Groves’, from the celebrated ‘Leig and Leif’ album. This is a rather laid-back jazzy, piano-led version, engaging although somewhat different from Fairport’s take on this traditional song. It’s followed by a couple of songs from ‘Kailyard Tales’, Wilson’s last album collaboration with Dave Swarbrick, which is released to coincide with this current tour.

Simon Swarbrick: Dave Swarbrick Tribute Concert, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 18/01/18

The band is now joined on stage by ‘squeezebox legend’ John Kirkpatrick, one-time member of Steeleye Span and another serial musical-collaborator. He leads the band through ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, another Fairport Convention standard, which originally featured Dave Swarbrick singing and playing fiddle.

John Kirkpatrick: Dave Swarbrick Tribute Concert, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 18/01/18

Martin Carthy probably collaborated with Swarb more times than any other musician and he now takes the stage to perform ‘Prince Heathen’: Swarb played mandolin on Carthy’s original recording. Some of Carthy’s best songs are lengthy adaptations of traditional songs, which generally involve sex, death, betrayal and all-round unpleasant behaviour and this is one of them. Carthy initially stumbles over the song and is unhappy – he’s performed it many times and is annoyed with himself. Bravely he gets the band to restart and he really puts his soul into the performance. It’s an epic song that really benefits from having a full band backing. Later there are more treats as Carthy and the band perform two more gems from his back catalogue, ‘Dominion of the Sword’ and ‘Lovely Joan’.

Martin Carthy: Dave Swarbrick Tribute Concert, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 18/01/18

Next it’s another Fairport Song and one of the evening’s highlights, ‘Now Be Thankful’. Originally written by Swarb and Richard Thompson it’s very ably sung by Kirkpatrick, who sounds uncannily like Swarbrick. Later Kirkpatrick sings another of Thompson’s songs from the Fairport days, ‘Crazy Man Michael’. He jokes that if you close your eyes you might imagine it’s Sandy Denny singing it. Denny sang on the original, of course. Band members add some nice saxophone and violin parts.

Dave Swarbrick Tribute Concert, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 18/01/18

Guest on the programme tonight is another veteran folky, Steve Tilston. Performing two of his own songs he tells us about how he appeared on a bill touring with Fairport Convention and Mott the Hoople. At one point up in northern Scandinavia he entered into a wager with the other musicians as to whether Swarbrick would jump into an icy pool. Swarbrick, renowned for antics, did jump in and the wager cost Tilston £100. Furthermore Swarb emerged from the icy pool with cigarette still alight and firmly wedged between his lips.

Steve Tilston: Dave Swarbrick Tribute Concert, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 18/01/18

It’s getting near the end now and the band play a quirky combination of Robert Burns’ ‘Red Rose’ and Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’. This appeared on a 2014 collaboration between Wilson and Swarbrick – Swarb was a reggae fan. Swarb wrote a song for Carthy, ‘Carthy’s March’, which is performed next, back to back with ‘Lemon Tree’, another Swarbrick composition. Carthy reveals the latter song’s origin: Swarbrick smuggled some lemons back from Australia, hoping to grow a lemon tree from the seeds to complement his gin and tonic habit. Unfortunately for him it turned out that the lemons he brought back were seedless. The band finishes the evening with Fairport’s ‘Walk Awhile’, although the enthusiastic audience response coaxes them back for an encore, ‘Spanish Ladies Medley’, a tune that Carthy and Swarbrick originally recorded in 1967.

Dave Swarbrick Tribute Concert, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, 18/01/18

No doubt Swarb would approve of the evening, a diverse celebration by his fellow musicians, drawing on music from across his long career and deeply appreciated by the audience in the packed-out Trades Club.

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