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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Accessory Fitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Accessory Fitter required. Bristol

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£14000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is very proud of t...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales

£75000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Head of Sales position is offered on...

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen