raison d'etre  REVIEWS’ PAGE




Almost in danger of his music being overtaken by his legendary tenacity and survival instinct, it's a real pleasure to report that Raison d'Etre not only restores the name of Dave Swarbrick to a new release, but does it in some style. Find enclosed what you might expect as well as a huge proportion of what you most certainly wouldn't, no doubt both his sense of humour and cavalier instinct are intact. From the off you're gloriously wrong-footed as he struts out in fine style a reggae version of Spanish Ladies as if he's fronting E2, but actually hand in glove with a rocksteady crew, the Jason Wilson Band who're closer to Misty In Roots than Martin Carthy. Dub fiddle anybody? A whirlwind of a creation, it's buoyed on a honking brass counterpoint which lifts the full glory of the tune. Dodge and weave right to the other end of the CD and there's a piece of pure crystal and grace, We Brought The Summer With Us, which has high classical elegance and a lofty beauty. Recorded over a mind-boggling eight years, the album's been a long time in creation, but given history that was inevitable, as the promo blurb says, "I don't think it can be repeated". The musicians present are worth the asking price and they allow Swarb to shine each in their own way, by coming to his work from different angles. His playing with the late Beryl Marriott for instance is almost telepathic, likewise the exemplary jig set featuring Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick, they are chunky and dependable whilst his fiddle flits and swoops like a swallow in full flight. Simon Mayor's mandolin strings match note for note the violin on an inventive take of two tunes from Playford, whilst the funk of Kevin Dempsey's acoustic guitar is omnipresent though never intrusive and you have to listen hard to isolate his soulful strumming.

Consisting of chiefly Anglo/ Irish tunes, Swarb's notes are precise, down to listing 18 editions of The English Dancing Master, but then the detail is obviously important to him as he engineered and produced too. Nice to see credits to family, friends and medical team, though the real kick here is the name of his label, the catalogue number and his wife Jill's label design - yer man in night shirt 'n' slippers! Long may he be a shirty one, that's just fine in my book. Time marches on but his restless spirit and adventure remain. Raison d'Etre is better than anyone could have hoped.

Available via Proper.

Simon Jones



Eight years in the making, four EFFDSS 'Gold Badge' award winners involved, previously unrecorded English music from the end of the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth as well as a couple of self-penned tunes, together with a reworking of the opening track from Dave Swarbrick's first ever album, are the basic ingredients of Dave Swarbrick's latest masterpiece.

If it wasn't for his stunning ability then this could quite easily have been a disaster. Many have delved into early historical periods, to find unpublished tunes, surrounded themselves with master musicians only to find the project less than satisfying. But he pulls it off in true Swarbrick style.

The CD opens with a set of tunes he used to play many years ago in the Beryl Marriott Ceilidh Band - the same Beryl Marriott who features on a couple of tracks here. This time Spanish Ladies has been reworked and Dave is joined by Canadian Jason Wilson and his band. The effect is still one of a Scottish dance night though

As you would expect, the tunes researched from the works of Playford, Bunting, Wright and Walsh need careful listening and demand your attention. Featuring Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick, the set starting with A Jigg Called Long Time from the Daniel Wright Collection is certainly one of the most ambitious. This gives way to the startling piano introduction provided by the aforementioned Beryl Marriott to the final track, We Brought the Summer With Us, which features Dave Swarbrick' s playing at its best. A truly stunning end to a brilliant CD.

But it is one of Dave's own tunes that is the truly outstanding track on Raison d'Etre. On Andy's Waltz, Dave plays the baritone violin and comes up with one of the richest sounds you will ever hear. When the powers-that-be start compiling those nominations for those awards then this track should be there for Best Original Tune it's that good. In fact the CD is that good too.

We are blessed in the folk world with many good fiddle players. Some go on to become very good; some even become great. Only a few go on to be a master of their instrument. Dave Swarbrick shows on Raison d'Etre just why he is one of that select few. Highly recommended.

Dave Beeby



There's much to celebrate on this rare solo album by one of the great British folk institutions, not least that he’s still around to make it Always far more than the rampaging fiddler of Fairport legend, he treats us here to his full range of enduring skills, through hearty baroque to classical, Irish and ceilidh music. (4stars)




A culmination of eight years' work

During the last decade, Dave Swarbrick has been lauded in virtually every possible way a folk musician can be for his solo work and his historical collaborations with Fairport Convention and Martin Carthy. His fans will rejoice to engage with this, an album that the man has been assembling over the last 10 years. If you're expecting a crowd-pleasing, Fairport-styled jig'n'reel-athon, however, you'll be disappointed.

Instead, you get much more, as Swarb offers a historical overview of his career influences and the best of the music he's drawn from. The opening medley revisits light and summery dance tunes from his first album, before continuing with a rich variety of moods and time signatures on hornpipe, Morris and country lilts. Of his own material, there's the contemplative Andy's Waltz, where he uses a baritone violin, and the gentle Sweet Alban, written for his partner Jill. He saves one of the best to last: We Brought The Summer With Us, arranged by and played with his long-time friend, pianist Beryl Marriot, leaving us with a beautiful, plaintive melody. Swarb's sleeve notes give a full history of the tunes, making the whole album a rich embrace and a re-affirmation of our shared culture.



Who among us has not heard, on warm moonlit nights, the parrot on our shoulder stroking its feathery chin and spouting cod-psychology? Many, no doubt, will go into psychobabble mode about raison d'etre. Having lived to read his Daily Telegraph obituary, having survived life-threatening illness and transplant surgery, Dave Swarbrick has packed plenty into this, one of the finest of the year's crop. He had everything to play for when making raison d'etre between 2002 and 2010.

This collection of original and originally adapted pieces shudders with passion and joie de vivre. Recorded with the likes of Maartin Allcock, Martin Carthy, Kevin Dempsey, John Kirkpatrick, Beryl Marriott, Jude Rees and others assisting, it fair fizzes with flavoursome ideas. There is nothing roustabout, nothing jig-a-jigging or knockabout about it. Much of its repertoire has serious 'folk literature' leanings such as Henry Playford, as well as names at the mention of which many will reach to don the dunce's cap. Names like Edward Bunting, John Ravenscroft, John Walsh and Daniel Wright.

This is definitely not a knock-out-a-contractual-obligation album; listen to his masterclasses in bowing on 'Sweet Alban' and A Jigg Called Long Time/Running Footman's Jig/The Brown Joak' and laugh and weep. Someday soon, some bright spark is going to tag folk as New Retro. When that day comes, Swarbrick's raison d'etre will be at the forefront of the Oxford English Dictionary’s first occurrences of the term. raison d'etre is a very, very special example of New Retro.

Ken Hunt



Known best for his work with Fairport Convention and Martin Carthy, the inimitable Mr. Swarbrick now steps into the limelight with a fine collection of recordings he has assembled at various points over the past eight years. Having undergone a double lung transplant in 2004, and seen his obituary prematurely published in a British newspaper, it would be a fair assumption to say he is glad to be alive. That is certainly the impression gained from listening to this collection. He breezes his way through jigs, reels, hornpipes, waltzes and goodness knows what else with verve and aplomb. 

If there is a jauntier fiddler on the planet than him, I would love to hear them play. He can also tackle slower, more sedate material with great depth and feeling. Any fiddler worth his or her salt will want to listen to this and, if they have any sense, steal a bit from this almost-lamented master.

Tim Readman



HAVING been started before he received his lung transplant, Raison d'Etre took eight years to complete and sees Swarb in a reflective mood. In some ways, it is a reprise of his career - the opening track of his first album is revisited. In other ways, it's a thank you to friends and supporters, a tribute to fellow musicians and, last but not least, a demonstration of his continuing passion for traditional music. Six of the tracks are his arrangements of previously unrecorded tunes, published between 1680 and 1745.

It goes without saying that it's an exemplary collection. Standout tracks include The Fair Haired Child, with Beryl Marriott on piano, and Sweet Alban, written for his partner Jill. Throughout, his playing is superb and the accompanists outstanding as he features "14 of the best players" he knows.

Iain Campbell



On April 20th 1999, The Daily Telegraph carried an obituary for Dave Swarbrick. Happily, you can't believe everything you read in the Telegraph and Dave is still very much with us.  Maybe the incident has its echoes in the naming of this latest album, eight years in the making and produced and engineered by Dave himself.

This is obviously a very personal project for Dave.  Eight of the eleven tracks feature music drawn from tune collections published in the 18th century. There's also a very different, brassy treatment of one of his early sets. And Dave includes two of his own fine compositions, 'Sweet Alban' being dedicated to his partner Jill Swarbrick-Banks.  Dave has also put a lot of thought into selecting the musicians - notably Beryl Marriott, a huge influence in his early days, mandolin wizard Simon Mayor, Martin Carthy (naturally) and long-time collaborator Kevin Dempsey.

Dave has selected music that should be brought to the attention of modern-day musicians. The Fair Haired Child from Bunting's Ancient Music of Ireland (1796), featuring Beryl Marriott, is exquisite.  But it's the tracks of English music from the same century that I find most interesting. The fiddle was the folk instrument for that period and some of the music written down then must appear daunting to fiddlers today. One category of tunes - 3/2 hornpipes - has only come down to us in print, having dropped out of the traditional repertoire. It needs someone of the musical stature of Dave Swarbrick to play these tunes and inspire the session fiddlers to rank English music on a par with Scottish and Irish. The technical ability Swarbrick displays is breathtaking.

The final paragraph of the Telegraph obituary is worth quoting: Swarbrick would have been happy to die in harness. "No one is going to take me off the road," he once said. "That's what I like doing - going out and playing. I hope to do it until the day I die." I think everyone would agree with that.

Bob Taberner



Reason for being, indeed!... for barely one spin of even the introductory bars of the first track will give you all the reason to be alive. That trademark feelgood joyous swing bursts out of the speakers like nothing else you'll ever hear, and puts the magisterial presence, the essence and vigour of the iconic Swarb right there in front of you: the sheer embodiment of the fiddle. Bringing us, in effect, full circle from the opening salvo of Swarb's very first LP excursion (the magnificent Rags, Reels & Airs), with Spanish Ladies receiving a bit of a chirpy makeover in a spanking (or should I say skanking!) new recording by Swarb with the six-piece Jason Wilson Band in happy - and tactfully contemporary -consort. That’s but the first part of a four-part tune medley that really cooks, which shows the multiple-award-winner and proud EFDSS Gold Badge Of Merit holder at yet another career performing-peak, still playing from his very soul: enviably effortless (ha!), totally in command and still utterly unmistakable. And it just gets better through the ten tracks that form the remainder of this new record, of which Swarb himself honestly admits: "It has taken all of eight years for me to complete ... and I don't think it can be repeated". Sessions for the disc took place between 2002 and 2010, mostly at Swarb's home studio in Coventry (the exception being the aforementioned Jason Wilson Band track, recorded only last year on their home ground, Canada). On all but three of the tracks we're treated to the miraculous, fine-tuned artistry of Swarb's Whippersnapper comrade-in-string, the ace (and nowadays abnormally busy!) guitarist Kevin Dempsey, who's capable of playing in any style imaginable and makes light work (and cool invention!) of the potential textural and rhythmic intricacies of the dance music that almost exclusively forms the basis of the disc's repertoire. Who says that virtually a whole disc of dance tunes can be boring? No way - for Swarb's own supremely vital, unreservedly animated playing possesses the power to rouse even the most staid listener and charm the most hardened resister of purely instrumental albums. And his continuing research into previously unrecorded early English dance music (dating from 1680 to 1745) has paid dividends in the canny arrangement and presentation of some wonderful discoveries. To balance the foot-tapping, body-shaking items on the menu there are moments of comparative repose, including two majestic airs sourced from a 1796 book of Irish tunes (which memorably feature the incomparable piano playing of Beryl Marriott, with whom Swarb has been making music for over half a century), and two of Swarb's own lovely compositions: the delicate aural hug of Sweet Alban (written in affectionate tribute to his wife Jill) and Andy's Waltz (in memory of Andy Smith). On the latter we hear Swarb playing the baritone violin, a less-often-heard instrument which also imparts its distinctively earthy timbre to two up-tempo selections later on the disc. One of these, the "Jiggs And Joaks" set that comprises track 10, is an indisputable disc highlight that made me shed copious tears of joy, featuring as it does the irrepressible ebullience of the combined talents of Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick and Isambarde's Jude Rees, all in the finest fettle imaginable. In fact I don't think I've heard Jude play better: even by her own high standards she really rises to the occasion here (on oboe and recorder, with shawm and curtal also in rude tow of course!). The invigorating set of triple-hornpipes (track 8) is pretty much irresistible, as is the (track 3) pair of tunes where Swarb manages (just!) to give maestro Simon Mayor a run for his mando-money, while each time round I can't avoid replaying those frisky little Swarb'n'Kev adventures like the Buttock Beef set (where Swarb doubletracks fiddle and mandolin - another echo of the "traditional folk engineering technique” used on parts of Rags, Reels And Airs!...), or the gorgeous Ravenscrofts Fancy which brings in Michael Burnham on what amounts to far more than second-fiddle. Raison D'Etre is an outstanding collection which would be a masterful achievement in anyone's book, but it's even more to be celebrated for its significance in the continuing thriving career of Lifetime Achiever Swarb, fiddle player by appointment to the universe.

Dave Kidman



I know it's stating the obvious, but the first thing to say about 'raison d'etre' is how good it is to have another Dave Swarbrick solo album to add to the discography! That can be taken a couple of ways. Firstly, it reminded me just how much I've enjoyed all the previous ones, stretching back in time many years now, and the opportunities they've afforded Swarb to extend musically in directions his musical life might not otherwise provide. And of course, the credits thanking the transplant team at the QE Hospital, Birmingham are a reminder of just how far he has come between his last solo CD "English Fiddler" (Naxos 2003) and now.

On the matter of musical direction, this CD is an interesting one. In common with most of his previous solo work, it is still all instrumental but the players, tunes and arrangements all have unexpected elements that make it a fairly unique combination. For example, there is not really any folk rock as such, and a large percentage of the tracks comprise rarely heard English tunes from the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

However, the surprises are apparent from the very start. Swarb previously recorded the medley of Spanish Ladies / Geese On The Bog / Leather Away The Wattle-oh / Freedom For Ireland on his first solo album "Rags Reels & Airs" in 1967 but has revived it here in an entirely new arrangement with his current musical compatriots, Canadian reggae outfit the Jason Wilson Band.

Of course, the combination of differing musical styles is nothing terribly unusual these days, but it's still fairly unexpected in the context of a Dave Swarbrick CD. Not at all unexpected though is the way it works so well - brass arrangements meet folk fiddle, and they happily meet each other halfway and work as a team! The tunes themselves are still enjoyable as such, and Swarb's playing still weaves happily in and around the melodies as well as it ever did. Though the track is unrepresentative of the album as a whole, it definitely arouses attention and inspires the listener to become involved.

The rest of the CD features many of the players he has worked with over the decades such as Beryl Marriott and Martin Carthy, though not always in the context one might expect - for example, Carthy and John Kirkpatrick's ensemble playing on a medley of early eighteenth century tunes. Marriott -Swarb's long time mentor and colleague who has faced her own health issues in recent times - plays typically beautiful piano on two tracks, The Fair Headed Child and We Brought The Summer With Us. These also feature Maartin Allcock on very smooth bass and Kevin Dempsey on acoustic guitar, so are practically a reformed Swarb's Lazarus, with special guest!

Dempsey, also a member of Whippersnapper with Swarb many years ago, in fact features on the majority of pieces; his seemingly effortless playing enhancing each of them appropriately.

Overall, I'm not sure if there can be many direct comparisons to many of previous Dave Swarbrick solo efforts. It's clearly still Swarb's distinctive playing of course, but not in the electric folk style of eg "Smiddyburn", and even the more acoustic elements of "raison d'etre" have a different focus to albums such as "Swarbrick" from the mid-70s.

It's probably the recurring theme of the previously mentioned eighteenth century tunes that does it. One word that kept coming to mind while listening to them was "stately", though the arrangement of Carpenters Morris / Frank and Easie / Easter Thursday / Mrs Savage's Whim shows that stateliness and briskness aren't mutually exclusive terms.  The addition of Jude Rees on oboe is a definite bonus; its texture adding greatly to the medley.

Perhaps the highlight of such pieces is A Jigg Called Long Time / Running Footman's Jig / The Brown Joak with Carthy, Kirkpatrick and Rees (who also adds recorder, shawm and curtal in this case). It is a joyful track that to my mind compares favourably, in a more acoustic fashion, to the Richard Thompson / Philip Pickett CD 'The Bones Of All Men' - and that is definitely meant as a compliment.

A couple of Swarb's original compositions are also included. Andy's Waltz is a slow lament in dedication to his late friend Andy Smith, and is a lovely melodic tune, played on baritone violin. (As a side note: the reference to Swarb's erstwhile musical partner Alistair Hulett in the cover notes, along with this lament, are further illustrations of the passing of time that seem to inevitably form part of the backdrop of life, if one's own career lasts long enough to allow it).

The other original is Sweet Alban, written obviously with great affection for his wife Jill Swarbrick Banks. Of course, this is a happier tune although it took me a few listens to quite understand the structure of it, and follow the melody and key changes as it went along. No matter, it rewards you when you get there! Kevin Dempsey adds some quite jazzy guitar work to this one.

Another unusual aspect is the inclusion of another fiddler, Michael Burnham, on Ravenscroft 's Fancy - another in the "stately eighteenth century tune" category. Despite both playing similar parts, it's easy to tell which violin belongs to whom and it must be said they complement each other well. The term "second fiddle" would be utterly inappropriate in this case!

Dave is also quite exhaustive in his cover notes in terms of describing the origins of the tunes and where one can go for further information. I always appreciate artists going to some effort to explain such things as it shows they care about what they're playing, and about expanding that knowledge further. Also, even a quick glance at the well-designed cover shows the thought that has gone into that too. As I said at the start, it would be good enough to just have a new Dave Swarbrick album. The fact that it is captivating and works on many different levels can't really be called a bonus as it is pretty much to be expected. Let's just say it's a keeper and one he can rightly feel proud of. Insert obligatory "music is definitely his raison d'etre" comment here.

Michael Hunter

See also http://www.folkicons.co.uk/swarbmenu.htm



Dave Swarbrick - affectionately known as Swarb - is a fiddler who needs little or no introduction after a career in excess of fifty years in folk music. Over that period, Swarb has carved out an instantly-recognisable style that, to my ears, is still evolving. A few months ago I saw him in concert at Cecil Sharp House and was struck by the way that his playing had developed to encompass the newer additions to his repertoire, with an agile facility in the higher positions that I hadn't noted before.

Swarb's latest solo CD Raison d'etre has had a fairly long gestation period, with recording starting in 2002 (the year that he was awarded his EFDSS Gold Badge) and finishing earlier this year. Not that Swarb is the only Gold Badge holder to feature on the CD as the recording also features contributions from Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick and the late Beryl Marriott, which brings the total to four, possibly the highest Gold Badge count ever on a record.

Raison d'etre opens with a reworking of the 'Spanish Ladies Medley' (the opening track from Swarb's first solo album Rags, Reels and Airs) which sees Swarb teaming up with the Jason Wilson Band from Canada, whose line-up includes piano, organ, guitar, drums, bass, two saxophones and a trombone. This rockist volley is followed by a beautiful arrangement of 'The Fair Haired Child', taken from Bunting's 1796 collection, The Ancient Music of Ireland, and which gives centre stage to Beryl Marriott's arranging talents and peerless piano playing. Beryl also features on the album's final track, another gorgeous melody from Bunting 'We Brought the Summer With Us'. Between these points there are two Swarb originals and a further six sets of English tunes in duo, trio and band settings.

Raison d'etre brings to the listener a selection of great tunes played in Swarb's inimitable style and is the work of a fine fiddler who simply refuses to lie down and rest on his not inconsiderable laurels. www.folkicons.co.uk/swarbmenu.htm

Robbie Thomas




If Dave Swarbrick had died in 1999 as reported in the Daily Telegraph on April 20th of that year we would not onlv have lost, in the words of Ashley Hutchings "the most influential fiddle player bar none", but would also have been deprived of another decade of unique music making by a man who has now brought out his first CD on his own label. In some ways it could be seen as a retrospective, but it is full of wit, originality and above all musicianship as exemplified by Swarb over 50 years.

To begin at the beginning, there are two tracks featuring Beryl Marriott, in whose ceilidh band he started his professional career. Both The Fair Haired Child and We Brought the Summer With Us come from Bunting's Ancient Irish Music 1796 and the arrangements are a delight. Spanish Ladies/Geese on the Bog/Leather Away the Wattle-oh/Freedom for Ireland feature The Jason Wilson Band and some driving fiddle from DS. On A Jig Culled Long Time/Running Footman's Jig/The Brown Joak he is accompanied by Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick and Jude Rees. On his own compositions Sweet Alban and Andy's Waltz he is backed by the excellent guitar of Kevin Dempsey.

The 11 tracks on this CD were recorded at Swarb's home and in Canada between 2002 and 2010. They are dedicated in part to the NHS and the transplant team at the QF Hospital in Birmingham who thankfully restored Dave's health and to the many people who arranged benefit concerts when he fell ill. If a better and more enjoyable CD comes my way this year I will be very surprised. This one contains mellow magic.



Swarb has been working on this CD for 8 years and he says 'I don't think it can be repeated'. This collection features his arrangements of previously unrecorded tunes from 1680 - 1745 from Playford, Daniel Wright, Buntings etc, as well as two of his own compositions. He has called on the services of many of the big names of the folk world to accompany him such as Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Kevin Dempsey and Maartin Allcock. Two tracks also feature the piano playing of the great Beryl Marriott and I am saddened to have heard of her recent death on 30th July, as I write this.

If you have kept away from older tunes because you think they are somewhat staid, this is the album to make you think again. Swarb brings life, rhythm, pace and his own distinctive style to all the tracks here: his bow flies on Granny's Delight; his baritone violin sings a sad and mournful song on Andy's Waltz; Buttock Beef has a melody as bizarre as its name merits. Each track is worthy of mention in its own right, the arrangements are original and sensitive; the backing instrumentalists all attract your attention without detracting from their role of accompanist. This CD is a 'must' in the collection of anybody who likes folk tunes new or old!

Steve Cavill



Dave Swarbrick is one of the very few folk performers who have virtually become a legend in their own lifetime. This album, some eight years from conception to completion, captures him at his best, a joyous feast of musicality.

The opening Spanish Ladies medley brings back memories of his early vinyl LP Rags, Reels and Airs with Martin Canhy and the late Diz Disley and, though on this CD it has been rearranged with the Jason Wilson Band, there's no mistaking the Swarbrick touch on the fiddle. Martin Carthy makes a guest appearance along with John Kirkpatrick on the early 18th Century set which includes The Brown Joak. (Morris dancers might well find the notes on the origin of the well-known Black Joke tunes enlightening!)

Dave Swarbrick recalls with great affection playing with the Beryl Marriott Ceilidh Band and the lovely pieces taken from Bunting's Ancient Music of Ireland are a perfect blend of fiddle and piano from these virtuoso musicians.

On many tracks Dave is joined by guitarist Kevin Dempsey. Their duet, Sweet Alban, composed for Jill Swarbrick-Banks is, in my opinion, perhaps the most captivating tune on the whole album.

Much of the material is drawn from the 18th century collections of Playford, Ravenscroft, Wright, and others. The unusual length tunes, the triple time hornpipes and intricate melodies give the opportunity for Dave to produce some amazing and inspirational fiddle music which would challenge many a competent performer on the instrument.

Anyone expecting to hear some influence from the folk-rock period with Fairport Convention will be disappointed. I guarantee, however, that no-one will be disappointed by the superb album that Dave has put together, supported by many-friends who are also top class musicians and performers in their own right. An outstanding album in every way. 

Colin Andrews



I really can't remember when I enjoyed an album so much. It would be impossible not to enjoy any album by Dave Swarbrick, but this brand new collection is an absolute delight.

Although he's surrounded himself with a team of hugely talented friends, it's the ever-present Swarbrick talent which demands your attention.

On the opening track he's joined by Canada's Jason Wilson Band giving their all on piano, organ, drums, trombone, tenor and alto sax and bass guitar which, on paper, sounds a bit over the top, but it works a treat, as do the tracks where he's joined by just one or, perhaps, two other musicians.

The wonderful Beryl Marriott's deft piano playing graces a couple of memorable tracks and I particularly liked Granny's Delight/The Man Tiger, two Playford tunes on which he's joined on mandolin and mandocello by Simon Mayer, but I shouldn't start singling out individual items. That wouldn't be fair. The standard throughout the entire album is absolute perfection.





Eight years in the making, this latest offering from Dave Swarbrick is a first-rate, wonderful assortment of tunes, superbly played in his characteristically, seemingly effortless, style. Revisiting his groundbreaking Rags, Reels & Airs album of over forty years ago, Swarb reprises the opening Spanish Ladies medley, this time in the company of the six piece Canadian Jason Wilson Band whose funky ska arrangement really sizzles. With the exception of two other tracks, Swarb is ably supported by some tasty and imaginative guitar playing from Kevin Dempsey. Kevin's absence on A Jigg Called Long Time/Running Footman Jig/The Brown Joak is more than compensated for by Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick and Jude Rees, while on Granny's Delight/The Man Tiger, two Playford tunes, Simon Mayor's speedy virtuoso mandolin playing makes for an exceptionally fine duet. Most tunes result from Swarb's ongoing research into obscure, early English dance music and includes two haunting 18th centaury Irish airs. The Fair Haired Child and the concluding track We Brought the Summer With Us both featuring the unmistakable piano playing of Beryl Marriott. The CD also features two original compositions by Dave, the pensive Andy's Waltz and the captivating Sweet Alban. Impeccable sound quality and superb musicianship throughout makes this thoroughly engaging and enjoyable CD.

Brian Cope



"It has taken all of 8 years for me to complete this CD and I don't think it can be repeated" says Folk music's foremost fiddle player, alluding to the slower pace of life that has necessarily arrived with the double lung transplant of 6 years ago. From the opening 'Spanish Ladies' medley, accompanied by the excellent Jason Wilson Band, a sprightly feel sets the mood for a melodically compelling and varied album. This set of tunes opened 1967's 1st album with Martin Carthy and Diz Disley and even now retains the perky swagger of 40+ years back.

Swarb doesn't do vocal pieces in his live sets these days, but he still keeps his audience on its toes and you'll get some very detailed and absorbing introductions embracing composers and collections of possibly unfamiliar dance tunes. That approach is mirrored here. Quite apart from the more well-known John Playford, whose 'Granny's Delight/The Man Tiger" played here with a firefly dart and deftness, are hardly everyday in any case, the collections of Edward Bunting and Daniel Wright are drawn upon. Dave has researched English music from 1680-1745 to produce a cohesive album that isn't just an exercise in academia, (though I'd love to see his library!) it's full of heart and soul and not a little dignity.

He's chosen his associates well - among whom are ("glorious") Beryl Marriott on piano from his earliest Ceilidh band days, Carthy of course, and plenty of Fairport alumni. It must be said that 'Raison d'etre' is a wonderfully affecting record - scaling the emotional heights of 'Smiddybum' in this writer's opinion.

Clive Pownceby




A seminal figure in the UK folk scene, fiddler Dave Swarbrick presents his first solo album in eight years. Raison D'etre is compiled from eight years recordings with various guests including Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick and pianist Beryl Marriott. Some fifty years of playing has gone into this recording as well as considerable effort in collating and compiling material some of which come from sources as diverse as Edward Bunting, the English composer John Ravenscroft and Playford's Dancing Master. His missionary zeal for his source material is also attractive as is their representation in the Cd booklet.For a man who has endured as much as he has recently Dave Swarbrick's playing is lively and intuitive full of taste and energy. He plays dance music with the customary bite and infuses his airs with a gentle sensitivity. It is on complex pieces such as Carpenter's Morris where Swarbrick investigates every nook and cranny of an involved set of complicated tunes with a detective's accuracy and assurance. Thomas and Sally is a pastoral more Percy Grainger-esque than folk styled yet Swarbrick's playing is sweet and lyrical completely attuned to the piece while he revisits Spanish Ladies a set from his first solo recording in 1967 with the Jason Wilson Band providing a Jazzy reggae-ified backing track. Choc full of melodic twists and turns yet revelling in the music's interior dynamics, Raison d'etre is a masterful return to form for an English folk legend. Its invigorating mix of revelry and thoughtfulness suggests a musician completely at one with his work.

John O'Regan



I haven't heard much of Dave Swarbrick since his illness and was interested to see what he was doing with his music these days.

The CD begins with a set of well-known barn dance tunes e.g. Spanish Ladies, arranged by Jason Wilson and backed by his Canadian band lead by Swarbrick. An unusual arrangement, rather along the lines of La Bottine Souriante meets reggae with a bit of Broadway musical thrown in for good measure. All a bit over clever and smooth for my taste but Swarbrick's playing is as sharp and melodic as ever.

Many of the tracks feature unfamiliar and complex tunes from a range of historical periods, backed by well-researched and informative sleeve notes.

On some of the tracks the tune tends to get lost in among the complex arrangement and sometimes the speed seems to take over and the resulting sound can be rather messy, but then Swarbrick's unique style of bending the notes both in pitch and pace must mean that the more musicians there are backing him the harder it is for everyone to stay with him.

The CD features folk luminaries such as Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick, but apart from Swarbrick's masterful fiddling it was the guitar work of Kevin Dempsey which I found most impressive. As an accompanist myself, I take my hat off to Kevin who keeps up with Swarbrick's cracking pace on the faster tracks without losing precision and in Andy's Waltz, one of Swarbrick's own tunes, his sensitive guitar work beautifully complements the baritone violin (a new instrument to me).

Another high point for me is the next to last track, a set of three 18th Century tunes which were very jolly and had a good period feel to them.

Just as I was lamenting the lack of any whistle-able or, frankly, nick-able tunes along came the last track - an absolute delight - a fine tune, well-arranged and played.

Interesting is the word I would use for the CD overall, with fine musicianship throughout and Swarbrick having lost none of the bounce in his music. Unique.

For further details see http://www.folkicons.co.uk/swarb.htm  

Lyn Cooper



Recorded between 2002 and 2010 in Canada and the UK, and produced by Dave Swarbrick this is a fine album with some great historic tunes from the English and Celtic traditions. If it wasn't for recent history I might take seriously the hint in the accompanying notes that this might be fiddler Dave Swarbrick's swan song. His death was reported rather prematurely in a national newspaper obituary that gave all of us in the folk scene some small entertainment. A famous member of Fairport Convention and long running musical duo partner with Martin Carthy, Swarbrick can be said to be a fiddle playing phenomenon of epic stature. His trade mark style is here in evidence throughout, backed by a galaxy of folk stars. His fluid, slidy kind of violin technique is always a pleasure to hear.

This is another rather tasty card/cardboard Lp type CD cover and features D.S.'s hands on a black background. A simpler and more honest statement could not be found. The music takes its cue from this. Track 1 is probably my favourite, a tune set and folk rock work out hinting at the good old days of Fairport (comprising Spanish Ladies/Geese on the Bog/Leather Away the Wattle oh/Freedom for Ireland) There are plenty of tunes sets for the more acoustic minded, namely the rest of the CD! Swarbrick has done his research and has supplied excellent sleeve notes regarding the sources of some engaging and obscure tunes which have too long been denied the light of day and he has included some of his own fine works too. I now regard the word "joak" in a completely new light... If you like tunes you'll love this!

Dan James



Dave Swarbrick's fiddle playing on Si Tu Doi Partir on Fairport's 'Unhalfbricking' LP first got me into what became folk rock in 1969. Much has happened to both of us in the 41 years, but despite it all, his violin techniques are still musical fireworks. There can't be many out there who aren't aware of Swarb, given the longevity of his career. On this album, there are five sets and six individual pieces, all traditional arrangements bar one (a delightful composition to his partner Jill). The collection displays the broad range of Swarb's virtuosity. He is mainly accompanied by Kevin Dempsey on guitar, but many feature old Fairport collaborators, and more recent associates (Jason Wilson Band). There are quite a few early 18th century rarities on the album, to my delight, and the last two sets of these (Tracks 8 & 9) are my favourites, both featuring Jude Rees on woodwinds. Those who do not have my tastes in folk music should find other styles to suite their tastes - as long as you like violin music. While he indicates that he took 8 years to complete this album, I find no evidence in his performance of decline in his distinctive wit and verve!

Andy Stevens