"Swarb is such a good player you cant help but learn from him. He picks things up so quickly and inspires you to play
better. Thats how good he is." The description is Martin Carthy's but it could have been from any of the many great musicians
he's played with in a long and glittering career. Pure and simply, he is the greatest fiddle player who ever picked up a bow
in the folk world - and one of its bubbliest, most colourful larger-than-life characters.
Swarb was born in London in April,
1941, although his family moved to Yorkshire when he was just three months old and it was there he was first taught to play
the fiddle by a local musician (remembered only as Mr Bootham) at the age of six. Later the family moved to Birmingham. Swarb
left school at 15 to be an apprentice printer with ICI. He never did make it as a printer as his fiddle talents became recognised
by the emergent local folk scene. He started playing with a local group playing traditional tunes led by Beryl and Roger Marriott
and came to national attention playing on three of the landmark Radio Ballads
created for the BBC by Ewan MacColl
, Peggy Seeger
and Charles Parker. He finally abandoned all pretence at a "proper job" after joining the Ian Campbell Folk Group
who went on to become one of the most popular folk groups in the country.
One day on a train to London he got chatting
to a couple of Americans carrying a bunch of instruments and worried expressions. The Charles River Valley Boys
were on their way to a gig at Earl's Court's Troubadour club
but their fiddle player had walked out on them. True to form, Swarb agreed to step into the breach and played the gig with
them. Among those impressed at the Troubadour that night was Martin Carthy. Carthy and Swarb became firm friends, with a similar
philosophy about music. However, after falling in love, Swarb decided to follow his heart and move to Denmark. He hadn't realised
you needed a work permit and only got as far as the Hook Of Holland. Ignominiously deported back to Blighty with no work,
no money and nowhere to live, he landed on Martin Carthys doorstep. About to go off on a long tour, Carthy offered to take
Swarb with him and they'd split the money. They improvised as they went along but the makeshift partnership proved an instant
hit and over the next three and a half years the duo became the hottest property on the folk scene, recording four albums
In August, 1969 Swarb agreed to join Fairport Convention
and embarked on a whole catalogue of new adventures which saw him develop from outrageously gifted fiddler to the focal point
of the group, eventually sharing lead vocal duties and becoming a prominent songwriter. Perhaps his most astonishing achievement
with Fairport on this score was the finely crafted Babbacombe Lee
album of 1972. It was a concept album conceived and written entirely by Swarb, and told the true story of John Lee, a convicted
murderer who was given a reprieve when the hangmans trapdoor mysteriously failed to kill him on three separate occasions.
Yet even during the frenzy of Fairport, Swarb took time out to record a series of beautiful acoustic solo albums reminding
us of his deeply emotional artistry playing traditional tunes without the weight and excitement of an electric band around
him. One of them Lift The Lid And Listen,
reunited him with
his first musical partners Beryl and Roger Marriott
Suffering from ear problems after 15 years playing electric music,
Swarb finally left Fairport in 1984 and formed the acoustic group Whippersnapper with Kevin Dempsey, Chris Leslie and Martin
Jenkins. They, too, produced some startling music of intricate arrangements and rare verve and drive, but the pressures of
keeping a band of this nature and size on the road were considerable and by the turn of the 90s Swarb was a free agent again.
His celebrated partnership with Martin Carthy was revived with similar instinctive magic and success to first time round and
they both became part of the folk "supergroup" Band Of Hope with Roy Bailey, Steafan Hannigan, John Kirkpatrick and Chris
Hinson, making one CD together.
Since then, Swarb has played with a variety of different groups and partnerships, including
Martin Carthy, Kevin Dempsey and Alistair Hulett, with whom he worked extensively in Australia. In 1999, he became seriously
ill following a chest infection, leading the Daily Telegraph to erroneously announce his death. Swarb joined a select group
of people who've read their own obituaries
. "Its not the first time I've died in Coventry," he joked after. He was well enough to attend a Swarb Aid concert held in
his honour and returned to the stage, albeit initially in a wheelchair. He has continued to recover and resume a brilliant
career. The man is a legend.
On Saturday 2nd October 2004 at 5a.m surgeons confirmed that Dave would undergo a double lung transplant operation
that day and at 8a.m. he was on the operating table. Seven hours later he had a new pair of lungs.
On the Thursday 7th October Swarb was transfered from Intensive Care and is next door in the High Dependency Unit. After
nearly five years on an oxygen diet, respirators and nebulisers he's learning to breathe again all by himself. And now..........he's
out on the road playing, as only Swarb can play.