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London Telegraph

Davey Graham

Like many people in his life, I met Davy Graham (later to add the ‘e’ to his name for reasons he never shared) when I went to him for guitar lessons. It was early winter of 1969. There had been a sign on the wall at the Electric Cinema in the Ladbroke Grove neighborhood that read “Davy Graham is now giving guitar lessons”, with a number. I called it because the name, not famous to me, newly-arrived American that I was, gave me a frisson and a sense of deja vu. He was living at his mother’s then, in the flat he and his sisters and brother grew up in near Portobello, and his hair was so short I thought he had just been released from prison. (I did not say that, however!) He sported what I now call the ‘Celtic Afro’ of a man whose dad was Scottish and mother from British Guyana. When it got longer, it could get unruly. I once tried cutting it for him and it looked like a lumpy pincushion.

He gave me a wizardly lesson of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” with claw hammer style picking, and I did my best. (It took some time, since I had never played before.) Then he walked me outside, lit off some fire crackers in my honor, and I went home. The next time I saw him was in The Family Dog shop on Portobello Road. He bought me the great pair of corduroy pants I’d been trying on, to my surprise, and invited me to his gig that night at Les Cousins Folk Club in Soho. I went, parking my old Morris auto in an illegal spot. He played a wonderful show, and we left together. Lo and behold, my car had been towed away! We picked it up, and left town the next day on a road trip that covered quite a bit of Southern England.

We were together from then on, and right away his imposing, beautiful, difficult mother, Amanda, handed me his bookings and said, “I’m off to Spain!” So I took on the job of getting this mercurial and newly recovering heroin addict (I did not know that either) to his many engagements. I also sang with him, at his insistance, lucky for me.

I remember being cheered by folks in Glasgow when they saw Davey on the street beside me outside Guiness Hall where he was scheduled to play. “Bravo, Holly!” they called. “You’ve brought Davey to us! Amazing! Well done!” I later learned he had been through a period of not getting to the gig. Good thing I could drive!

We recorded his last album with Decca, The Holly Kaleidoscope, in 1970 for producer Ray Horricks, and I did all my songs in one take, earning 5 pounds. In 1971, we made Godington Boundary for President Records’ producer Frank Lee. Both are still available through his website.

We lived on Lyme Street in Camden Town long before it was a lovely and desirable neighborhood. Then we left the city and moved to Suffolk for a while. After our marriage near Yoxford, while staying with Royston Wood of The Young Tradition and his American wife, my good friend Leslie, I tried to get Davey to the states, but we were turned down by immigration authorities, so I returned to England and we spent a happy year in beautiful Sandwich, where we ran a folk club in an old church, lived in Wee Cottage, a converted stable, and enjoyed a wonderful community of people. We traveled that summer to France, where Davey showed me his old haunts and where we played on the streets of San Tropez and Paris “for fun” instead of necessity.

That year, Davey recorded All That Moody featuring the sarod he had rebuilt, complete with new skin stretched in our bath tub. We also played the 9th Annual Cambridge Folk Festival that year.

Despite our eventual separation at the end of 1973, we stayed married for 24 years. However, contrary to what some of the obituaries have reported, I bore him no children. He already had Mercy, whose mom is an Australian woman named June, and Kim, whose mother I never met. He cared about them and for them as best he could throughout their whole lives, touring at the end “for his grandchildren”, as he told his manager and tour mate, Mark Pavey

I suffered great remorse after leaving Davey, but it became impossible to ‘go home’. We stayed in touch through the long decades. He would call me with a song or a poem, sometimes not even saying hello before launching into a hornpipe or a Greek Taqsim or an Indian raga. We wrote, we phoned, we shared news and jokes, of which Davey was very fond. I got him into the the Vancouver Folk Festival in 1990 (Gary Crystal jumped at the chance, saying he had thought Davey was dead). He was featured along with an English contigent including Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson, Bert Jansch and Jackie McShee of Pentangle, and John Renborne. I was on the bill, too, doing the kids’ stage, and Davey talked the organizers into booking me at the Edmonton Folk Festival later that summer. We tried, but it was not the reunion we might have hoped for. It was the last time I ever saw him in person.

At the festival in Edmonton, Martin Carthy told me that a few years ago, Davey had endured electro-shock therapy. Then I remembered that once I had called him to cure my own case of the blues. He cut me off curtly. “What would you say if they hooked you up to machinery and electrocuted you?” As always, he made me get over it pretty quickly.

His kindnesses continued during the next 18 years, and we still maintained a loving relationship. He was an immensely forgiving man, enigmatic, eccentric, strong, opinionated, remarkably talented, and disciplined. He never stopped studying. He was a philosopher king, able to see things as they shaped up. This could make him and his larger-than-life presence hard to take sometimes. I think much of the time we communicated through ‘the ether’, both relying upon the unspoken word for understanding. Well, as the Little Prince said, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”

Davey was my dear friend, sometimes impossible, sometimes so great, sometimes intimidating, and the best teacher I have had. He politicized me, made me think large, read much, explore, be more sensitive and tolerant, too. He had devoted lifelong friends who rallied to him at the end. For them, I am so grateful. I had planned to see him somehow, to get to England, to carry through on a book we had talked about 40 years earlier for which I still have his notes. By the time I learned of his terminal illness, he had taken things into his own hands and gone home to die among friends, with his girlfriend, Carol, by his side. My letter never reached him, and the phone message I left must have coincided with the hour after his death. Still, he was never one to depend upon earthly communication, so I think he knew I was there in spirit. And he had been so much on my mind in the months before he passed that the news of his illness was really not a surprise.

Now Davey is gone from us, and we who love him mourn, but I know that the things we love bring us together time and again. We used to discuss that door beyond called death, and never feared it. Davey was his own man, indeed larger than life and twice as natural. We had a life together that did us both good...no regrette rien. What a gift he was to me, problems, strange times, great music, wonderful trips, belly laughs, tears, jokes, and all. All.

Now Odetta has a great accompanist in paradise. Good bye for now, Davey, my dear. Go and do whatever’s next. Thank you for everything.

Olympia, Washington, December 23, 2008