Free Time

Dave Swarbrick interview

↑ The many faces of Swarb: taken from a set of prints from the 1970s

The late Dave Swarbrick was one of the world’s most legendary folk musicians. A revered fiddle-player, leading member of Fairport Convention and affectionately known to friends and fans as ‘Swarb’, the Moment magazine online caught up with Swarb for an exclusive chat, ahead of one of his Peterborough gigs...

Now in his 70s, Swarb’s contribution to folk music is off the scale: he’s influenced and inspired several generations of musicians and collaborated with a vast array of acclaimed music artists, including Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger – you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dazzling CV, certainly in the world of folk music.

But Swarb is endearingly modest, as well as philosophical. When asked about his successful career and his many achievements, he describes how the inevitable ageing process has affected his music – for the better!

‘As you get older, your work evolves as your body ages – there are things you can’t do that you could do when you were younger, physically. But at the same time I’m much more confident. If I make a mistake while I’m performing now, it doesn’t bother me and I carry on with no-one noticing! When I made mistakes as a young performer, it nearly destroyed me! It would throw me off for the next three tunes!’

Swarb is equally modest about the many remarkable collaborations that characterise his life as a musician. Perhaps the one most obvious ‘dream pairing’, him and Martin Carthy, he describes affectionately as being ‘like family’.

‘I’ve been working with Carth (Martin Carthy) on and off for 50 years. We have the sort of relationship where we disappear for 11 months and then just pick up where we left off. It just goes on and on, like family really.’

Of the future of folk, which is enjoying such a resurgence, he is optimistic but only cautiously so, not due to the quality or amount of talent coming through, but because of dwindling opportunities for musicians to do what they do best: access live venues and play their material in front of audiences, established and new, building a fanbase and developing their skills – and their careers.

‘The young people, they’re the future. We have to support them, although the choice of venues now is so limited. When I was young I remember printing up flyers for 275 venues in one area, which would be difficult to do now for live music venues, church halls, that kind of thing – they’re all closing down.’

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