Let me tell you a tale....
I have had three distinct musical incarnations. The first of these from the early 1970's to around 1980, proved a strong foundation for future adventures.
I was a rock fan who developed an interest in traditional folk music. Living in the far west, I met up with the folk song collector, Peter Kennedy who was based in Devon. His work and his recorded archives were an inspiration and a veritable treasure trove of ideas and material which I still refer to today.
I wrote a number of pastiche traditional folk songs and sang at folk clubs and festivals. Some of these songs – particularly The Magpie and I Can Hew – have become part of many other singers reppertoirs.
This ran its course. I ran out of steam! Whilst I was deeply interested in folk music and had been enthralled by the likes of Alan Stivell, The Chieftains, The Young Tradition, Steeleye Span et all, I was more likely to be listening to Led Zepelin or Rory Galagher.
A Young Davey
In 1987, I was living in a village in North Wiltshire. A chance encounter in the local pub with Robin Harrison, a guitarist with a penchant for prog rock, ignited something special. Red Jasper grew out of this and my songwriting took an interesting turn. I was using my knowledge of traditional music and incorporating it into a distinctive rock style. Red Jasper was a rock band with folky influences rather than a folk rock band. We gigged; we built a following and we made albums. In 1993, we were signed by the Dutch label, SI Music and produced a couple of albums which significantly raised our profile and status. A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Winter's Tale were concept works based on themes embedded in Shakespeare's plays.
My songwriting – sometimes in collaboration with Robin Harrison – became far more ambitious. I was still drawing on my folk music roots but was now harking back to a basic classical music education as well and stretching my performing and vocal skills.
Red jasper in action
In 1994, Red Jasper headlined the European Symphonic rock festival at The Noorderlight in Tilburg (Holland). We were riding high and having a blast. Sadly, things were doomed to go wrong. SI Music went bust shortly afterwards and I just didn't have the enthusiasm to restart.
I drifted away. Red Jasper continued without me – David Clifford emerged from behind his drum kit to take on the vocal duties and front the band.
I went off to live on another planet. After dabbling with some 'normal' work, I took up something I had a passion for. Working as a fly-fishing guide took me to fabulous, remote places such as the pristine wilderness of Northern Manitoba. It also allowed me to be creative (I wrote articles and a book) and to perform – I was regularly booked to give casting demonstrations at gamefairs.
In the Studio
I moved back to the far west and was looking forward to a semi-retired life on the coast of North Cornwall. Fate had other ideas! My wife Jeannie and myself were dragged to an open mic night in a neighbouring village by a friend – he wasn't aware that I had once been a musician. It was much better than I had feared! Kris Lannen, a great singer and songwriter (he is part of Brother Sea) made it an enjoyable event. He was doing it to keep the local pub running through the lean winter months and had brought together a bunch of interesting musicians. Later that week, Jeannie asked me if I would like a mandolin for my birthday. My old instrument had been sold years ago to replace a worn-out Landrover.
Things moved on. I hadn't played a note for 22 years so had to work to get some playing skill back. I pitched up at the same open mic venue and played a few songs. I was a bit shoddy but kind people gave me encouragement!
A friend and fellow fly-fishing guide, Derek Aunger (once of Procul Harum) heard that I was playing some songs and invited me to record them at his Salty Dog studio. I'm sure he assumed they were going to be rubbish. However, on hearing them, he was suitably impressed and suggested that I should record an EP with him, with a view to trying to get some record label interest. Before we had completed the EP, I got a 'phone call from Peter Purnell, the boss of Angel Air Records. They had re-released some old Red Jasper cd's and he had heard that I was playing again. A great conversation ended with me agreeing to record a new solo album.
Davey Onstage in Paris 2020
'Kernowcopia' was released in 2017 and July saw me playing a proper comeback gig at The Fleece in Bristol. I was joined by Martin Solomon on violin and Celtic harp (he had played on Kernowcopia) and Keven Taylor and Bradders Bluesinger. Old friends from Red Jasper – David Clifford – drums, Robin Harrison – lead guitar and Jon Thornton – bass came on stage for the second half of the gig and a good time weas had by all. There were people in the audience who had seen me play there 25 years earlier!
I was fortunate that I still had a musical profile. Other musicians had recorded some of my old songs. In particular, The Unthanks featured my song, 'The Magpie' on their album, 'Mount the Air'. It was used on The Dectectorists on BBC2 television, was broadcast from The Proms in 2018 and was even covered by David Gilmour in 2020!
Things moved on. I got booked to play some decent gigs and put together a band which blazed brightly but which was short lived. The Porbeagles had great chemistry but the members – Martin Solomon – Celtic Harp and violin, Cliff Eastabrook – bass and David Clifford on drums had too many other musical and story telling commitments, for us to be able to play enough gigs to be a viable band.
A couple of other collaborations ensued – I enjoy playing with people. I was booked to play at a number of great festivals in 2019 and I was having a great time.
Davey and Colin Loveless at the Rollright Stones.
Live at the Wharf, Tavistock
A follow up solo album 'Toadstool Soup' was recorded at Beehive Sounds studio near Liskeard in Cornwall. I was joined again by Martin Solomon and Carlton Crouch added some interesting sounds with his Border bagpipes. Colette DeGiovanni contributed some gorgeous vocal textures and fellow Druid Colin Loveless added some pagan power with his frame drum and bodhran.
It looked like I was becoming a born-again-megastar. Andy Borders was recruited to play bass and the diary was filling up. On the 1st of March 2020, I played the launch gig for 'Toadstool Soup' at The Wharf in Tavistock and the next day, Colin Loveless drove me across the country to board Pendragon's tour bus. The following evening, I opened for them in Paris.. After a run of great, sold-out gigs it started to unravell! The corona chaos kicked in. The European tour had to be abandoned and the busy summer of gigs and festivals evaporated.
I made an effort to concentrate on what I could achieve rather than get depressed about what I couldn't do. I decided to pull forward the writing and recording of my embryonic, pretentious meisterwerk. Ideas for 'The Rite of Spring' had been brewing for some time. The plan was to take the listener through a Druidic Beltane ritual, culminating in a joyous, life-affirming celebration. The Luthier, Andy Tobin had built me a stunning electric octave mandolin. I had a Marshall stack, complete with a JCM800 valve head. The plan was to use this to define the structure, melodies and harmonic movements of the piece and then layer other sounds to produce a satisfying whole.
I had moved to The Cotswolds at the beginning of the year (because of family reasons) and recruited Daniel Billing to work with me on producing the initial demos for the piece. This proved a fortunate event as Dan's bass playing is a perfect fit for my music. T he lead instrument was to be a violin. I sent early, sparse demos of the the music to Gillie Hotston (I had played with her when she deputised for Martin Solomon with The Porbeagles). Gillie's response was immediate and to the point - “Count me in!”
I ventured to Beehive Sounds Studio near Liskeard in Cornwall and recorded the bones of the piece – electric octave mandolin and some percussion. Rick Connolly had made a great job of recording and producing my previous album, 'Toadstool Soup' and I was sure he would understand the new project. Travel restrictions resulting from the corona chaos meant that recording the other parts was problematic! Gillie's electric violin was recorded in my garage and her lounge in Southampon. Dan's bass was recorded in his sitting room. Soheila Clifford's backing vocals were recorded in Dan's Kitchen. Tree Stewart's keyboards were recorded by Alan Carter at The Emerald Dawn's Dragon Studio in St Ives. Colette DeGiovanni assembled her duetting and backing vocals with her own equipment in her bedroom in Bodmin. The Celtic harp was recorded by Martin Solomon at his house in Bristol. This certainly wasn't how I would have envisaged recording a coherent album but there was little choice! Rick Connolly deserves high praise for his painstaking efforts to assemble all the ingredients and produce a great result.
Some people who have listened to The Rite of Spring have asked,
“How are you going to follow that?”
Dan Billing - bass (photo-Studiostead photography)
Dave Clifford - drums
Currently, I am rehearsing with the 'core' band – Daniel Billing – bass, Gillie Hotson – electric violin and David Clifford – drums.
I will also continue to work with the redoubtale Colin Loveless. His frame drum and bodhran will work in situations where DC's Premier Resonator drum kit would be overpowering. I am looking to experiment with my electric octave mandolin and will also look to add different textures with my arch top, acoustic octave mandolin, my mandolin and tin whistles. I hope that Collie will be able to add her vocal magic on some bigger shows but her solo career will have to take priority.
There are exciting prospects ahead. Festival bookings through the summer should bring my music to more people. The Rite of Spring is being realeased as a vinyl album in Europe and the UK in July. There are some great gigs booked around Beltane next year to perform The Rite of Spring as a full scale show complete with projection and dance. A Dutch promoter is booking a European tour for early next year. I'm really looking forward to some fabulous times!
Playing with such great musicians will shape how the next albums will emerge (some material is written and I'm expecting Gillie, Dan and David to contibute their creativity).
Gillie Hotston - electric violin (photo-Studiostead photography)