Dave Brady

Voice of Swan Arcade


Dave Bradley (Dave Brady), singer, hotelier and roadie: born Ilkley, Yorkshire 12 August 1943; married 1966 Heather Johnston (one son, one daughter); died London 29 May 2006.

He had one arm, blazing eyes, a wild, bushy beard and a full-blooded, penetrating voice that seemed to explode out of him and pin you against the wall with irresistible force. When Dave Brady yelled "Sing, yer buggers, SING" in a broad Yorkshire accent at a concert or folk club, his audiences did not dare not to sing along with him.

In nearly 20 years fronting various line-ups of the mainly a capella group Swan Arcade, Brady was one of the most colourful and charismatic figures thrown up in the British folk revival of the 1960s. Dismissive of his disability (he had lost his arm in a motorbike crash when he was 17), he played the concertina to a fine standard and in later years was proud to be a roadie for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, hauling heavy equipment and driving the van.

He was most noted for his roaring, ranting interpretations of stirring English traditional songs like "The Battle of Sowerby Bridge" and "Lord Willoughby", but he was also a mould-breaker who loved to integrate everything from blues, gospel and the pop songs of the day into his highly individual vision of folk song. Swan Arcade were often seen as direct inheritors of the sometimes eccentric unaccompanied close-harmony style so distinctively defined in the mid-1960s by Young Tradition, and were sometimes even dismissed by some critics as mere imitators.

Yet the passions engendered by Brady and the breadth of material they encompassed set them well apart - among the Swan Arcade classics were brilliant harmony versions of the Beatles' "Paperback Writer" and the Kinks' "Lola", as well as contemporary political songs like Kay Sutcliffe's "Coal Not Dole" and Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding."

The son of a skilled metal worker, he was born Dave Bradley in a wartime hospital at Ilkley on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, but was raised in Bradford, where he became a keen climber and potholer. These trips invariably ended in a visit to some of the Yorkshire pubs already in the throes of the emergent British folk-song revival which quickly fired Dave's imagination. He taught himself guitar and concertina and started to sing at local clubs, developing a lifelong passion for singing folk songs. The amputation of his right arm prevented him from playing guitar but not the concertina and he continued to make his mark on the local folk scene, adopting the name Brady after Bradley was misspelt on a poster (he reverted to his birth name Bradley in later life).

At a folk club in Leeds he met his future wife Heather, a student of Russian and German, and they started singing as a duo. After decided they needed a bass voice to expand the sound, they invited another Yorkshireman, Jim Boyes, to join. Formed in 1970, the band took the name Swan Arcade as a gesture of defiance against the demolition of a Victorian shopping arcade in Bradford and took up the mantle of other vocal groups like Young Tradition and the Watersons.

Some blanched at the hectoring, bombastic style and many in the staider confines of the English Folk Dance & Song Society recoiled at the raucousness of it all. Yet Brady could rouse an audience like few others and, within the close harmonies of the group and the trailblazingly broad roots of the repertoire, he would also sing with great tenderness and sensitivity.

They recorded their first LP, Swan Arcade, in 1971 on Bill Leader's Trailer label, with a cover photograph of them standing on the steps of a church in Haworth and featuring one of their big stage numbers, "The Battle of Sowerby Bridge", a song Brady had collected from a local singer in Halifax.

When Boyes moved out of the area and left the band after a couple of years, he was briefly replaced by Royston Wood, formerly bass singer with Young Tradition (who had split in 1969) and the Albion Band, inciting further comparisons with YT, though Wood was in the group for less than a year before being replaced by Brian Miller. Among their fans was the DJ John Peel, who played them extensively and gave them three live sessions on his show, although it wasn't until 1976 that Swan Arcade released their second album, Matchless, by which time Boyes was back in the fold.

Swan Arcade split in 1978 and Dave and Heather Brady opened a guesthouse at Seascale in Cumbria, with Heather doing the cooking and Dave acting as a larger-than-life mein host. On occasions he would dress up in a different costume to serve each course and, when one guest asked for "a bucket of chips", Dave Brady took him at his word and produced a bucketful. When another diner told him he must have mustard with everything, Brady came up with a pudding smothered in mustard.

The fact that many of the customers worked at the nearby Sellafield plant didn't deter Brady from hanging his guitar in the dining room emblazoned with the slogan "Nuclear Power! No Thanks!" and he would sometimes regale his guests with anti-nuclear songs.

Swan Arcade reformed in 1983, releasing a brand new album, Together Forever, full of the passionate harmonies and intriguing mix of material that had made them so popular first time round. At Whitby Folk Week in 1986 they finally joined forces with the other great enduring harmony vocal group of the era, the Watersons, initially as a charity gig for a local school, under the name of the Boggle Hole Chorale. When news spread, they performed a few more times with the Watersons, as Blue Murder, but after another album, Diving for Pearls, in 1987, Swan Arcade split again - this time for good.

Both Dave and Heather Brady became involved in politics. Heather, still a Labour councillor, went on to become mayor of Carlisle while Dave was the agent for the Carlisle MP Eric Martley. He also got himself an unlikely day job, as transport manager for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Taken aback by the sight of a one-armed man applying to work for them lifting equipment around, the interviewers asked him how he envisaged lifting timpani with one arm. Dave Brady's reply was "What's timpani? You show me one and I'll show you how I'll lift it." He got the job.

He ultimately stayed with the SCO as road manager for 18 happy years, driving the truck, setting up the equipment and energetically taking charge behind the scenes and even found an outlet for his singing, performing with Mr McFall's Chamber, a strange avant-cabaret splinter group from the SCO formed by the violinist Robert McFall, involving classical arrangements of a bizarre mix of modern music. He was also a keen golfer, an expert with a chainsaw, a fine wine enthusiast, a racing fan, a potholer and an exceptional raconteur.

In the late 1990s the Bradys split and after retiring from his work with the SCO last September, Dave moved to Wiltshire with his new partner Sue. By then suffering from emphysema, he no longer had the lungs to sing and died after collapsing with a chest infection at Waterloo Station while returning home from a holiday in France.

Colin Irwin

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