Preview: Davey Graham –The Junction, Cambridge, 7 April 2007

Preview: Davey Graham –The Junction, Cambridge, 7 April 2007
Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Calling all you fingerstyle guitarists... Way back in the early 60s the most influential instrumental guitar player in the British folk revival was one Davey Graham. During that decade he released a string of eclectic albums with musical influences from all around the world. Most importantly it was Graham who introduced the DADGAD guitar tuning to British guitarists. Its main attraction is its modal sound, which when accompanying folk songs or instrumentals avoids that classical, western feel. It also allows the guitarist space to improvise while keeping a bass riff moving. Open G and other tunings were employed frequently by guitarists before this but it was Graham's use of DADGAD that added a new edge to the versatility of the fingerstyle guitarist.

He was often unpredictable. This did little to endear him to concert organisers. On one much quoted occasion, in the late 60s, he was booked for a tour of Australia. Stopping in Bombay for an hour, he was so taken by the place that he spontaneously changed his plans and spent the next six months wandering through India. Some of this sponteneity was put down to his drug taking, for which he is well known; this also contributed to him becoming a bit of a recluse.

Today he is being encouraged to play again. I heard him perform at the Holywell Music Rooms in Oxford last May. The venue was full. In fact there was so much interest in his performance that the organisers had to book an extra night. As the audience sat expectantly the evening was opened by Bert Jansch, which was a pleasure all of its own. Then Davey Graham came on to an unbelieveably rapturous reception. People were excited just to see him. The legend was standing in front of them.

There is no doubt that this man is an exceptional guitar player but - this is the difficult bit - his performance that night left me feeling sad. He stumbled and fell over the chords and strings throughout. Still the people listened, for though he was not able to play as in yesteryear, there was still a special something. And, you know, it did cause a sympathetic pain in his audience to hear a genius falter like that. A few people left in disgust; most stayed out of respect.

For a man who is credited with being the founder of world music over 40 years ago, for one who has influenced and been influenced by so many different musical traditions and styles, part of me wished he had left his history and his reputaton safely in tact and not appeared that night. But there is something else about all this; how we the listeners place such pressure on very talented people - when they don't meet our expectation, we don't want to know. It is an obvious thing to say, but Davey Graham is human. He is still a legend and his influence is beyond measure - but he is also unpredictable. He's quite consistent in this! So it will always be worth going to see him play live, fingerstyle guitar. You know Brian Keenan's survival adage: ‘Live in hope; expect nothing'. If you apply that to Graham's performance you might be pleasantly surprised - and hey, you will have seen and heard a legend!

Writer: Anne L Ryan