Davy Graham

I saw quite a lot of Davy Graham, mainly in London's Notting Dale zone, from the mid-1960s on,
writes Michael Horovitz. The newly swinging/anti-war underground was visibly dissolving boundaries between social and artistic media. In June '65 the First International Poetry Incarnation – the first large-scale gathering of countercultural tribes – transformed the hitherto rigidly establishmentarian Albert Hall into a hotbed of (a)political protest and Dionysiac revelry, at which Davy was the only musician featured alongside 17 poets from eight countries.

This megagig's internationalist impulse was one he had embraced from birth to a Guyanese mother and Scots-Gaelic father, and articulated by travelling far and wide throughout his late teens and twenties, absorbing diverse world musics and stringed instrument techniques. He was always up for "a session" of joints, booze, listening to records, plus conversational and musical impros, and was as happy digging or playing baroque music and raga as blues and bebop.

After the 1967 Rolling Stones bust he accompanied me with perfect guitar phrasing and pitch on a "Legalise Pot" poem at a benefit in Ronnie Scott's Old Place. It was warming to feel the relish for his skills coming as strongly from the hardcore jazzers present as from the bright younger folkies, whose delight and amazement at his innovations I had shared at traditional song venues like Les Cousins and The Troubadour.

When Allen Ginsberg spoke tenderly at the climax of a Hyde Park rally later that year, Davy exhorted the enraptured circle in whose midst he was sat to "Let's all hold hands" – and they did! There was an aspiration to innocence about him which both reflected and replenished the idealism of that late '60s "Love Generation", but when commercial and state control forces closed in around May '68, the beat/hippy dreams were fragmented, and Davy's personal flower-child stance wilted as abruptly as anyone's I knew.

Increasingly heavy drug-taking, partly encouraged by the incorrigible smack evangelist Alex Trocchi, took him way beyond adjustments to clock-time etc, which had never been his strong point. I gave up on booking him for gigs after two no-shows – one of them a massively star-studded and lucrative one in Brussels.

Getting stoned (mainly on amphetamines) afforded him little perceptible pleasure or inspiration, whilestripping away much that his explorations, performances and recordings had built up during his youth. Iwent on bumping into him round Portobello Road, where his feisty mother and sensitive sisters stayed based,into the mid-1970s, but he seemed to get less and less coherent. Some ofthe few gigs of his I still attended bombed disastrously: potentially unending sub-Lord Buckley/Stanley Unwin monologues had audiences who'd come to experience his finger-picking genius embarrassed, bored, and dwindling.

A couple of times, homeward bound in the small hours, I found Davy, guitar in hand, forlornly slinging little clumps of gravel and calling up to the windows of upstairs neighbours (including mine) for comradeship and dope, as if living out the quest of Ginsberg's alleged "best minds... destroyed by madness / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix".

Subsequent encounters in later years suggested that such downbeat phases became punctuated and redeemed by more settled domestic and musical circumstances, sporadic comeback appearances and, most fruitfully perhaps, by one-to-one guitar-teaching stints. The great mercy is that his unique and mesmerising early recordings will long survive his sadly unromantic agonies.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all