Fairport Convention's Dave Swarbrick dies at 75
Virtuoso fiddler who found fame as a member of Fairport Convention has died after struggle with emphysema
Folk musician Dave Swarbrick has died at 75, his family have announced. Best known for his work with the hugely influential folk group Fairport Convention, Swarbrick was a virtuosic violin player and one of the most highly regarded musicians of the 1960s folk revival. He also wrote, arranged and sang, and performed on the viola, mandolin and mandola, and guitar.
Swarbrick – known as “Swarb” – began his musical career as a guitarist in a ceilidh band in the late 1950s, before joining the Birmingham-based Ian Campbell Folk Group as a fiddle player. He first worked with Fairport Convention in 1969 as a session musician, subsequently becoming a member of the group, and was the first fiddler on the UK folk scene to electrify the violin. His writing and playing was a key ingredient in the group’s Liege & Lief album, a record that rewrote the folk landscape with its electrified versions of traditional English folksongs.
During the 1970s, alongside his leading role in Fairport Convention, Swarbrick became a sought-after session musician, working with acts including Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy. Between 1976 and 2010 he released 12 solo albums, and in 2007 joined the 1969 Fairport Convention lineup (with Chris While standing in for the late Sandy Denny), to perform the Liege & Lief album in full.
Swarbrick suffered from emphysema, underwent three tracheotomies and was on occasion forced to perform with an oxygen canister on stage to help with his breathing. During one of his spells in hospital in 1999, the Daily Telegraph prematurely announced his death and published his obituary. At his next public appearance, he apparently took delight in signing copies of the obit for fans, saying: “It’s not the first time I’ve died in Coventry.”
In 2004 he received a double lung transplant, and in recent years continued to record and perform live; a 2006 collaboration with Martin Carthy produced the critically acclaimed album Straws in the Wind and won the duo a BBC folk award. “I’ve always loved working hard and playing live,” said Swarbrick in a 2004 interview in the Guardian.