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Davy Graham

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Title: Davy Graham  
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Davy Graham

Davey Graham
Background information
Also known as Davy Graham
Born (1940-11-26)26 November 1940
Hinckley, Leicestershire, England
Died 15 December 2008(2008-12-15) (aged 68)
Genres Folk baroque
Occupations Musician, Songwriter
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1959–2008 (49 years)
Labels Topic Records
Decca Records
Outright Records
Les Cousins Records

David Michael Gordon "Davey" Graham (originally spelled Davy Graham) (26 November 1940 – 15 December 2008) was a British guitarist and one of the most influential figures in the 1960s British folk revival. He inspired many famous practitioners of the fingerstyle acoustic guitar such as Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, John Martyn, Paul Simon and Jimmy Page. Graham is probably best known for his acoustic instrumental, "Anji" and for pioneering the DADGAD tuning, later widely adopted by acoustic guitarists.[2]

It was not in Graham's nature to pursue fame and fortune and he retired to relative obscurity for many years, when he engaged in charity work and teaching before beginning to tour again in the years before his death. His obsessive enthusiasm for music never left him, however, and he would gladly give a free private concert to young musicians and old friends.


Early life

Graham was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England,[3] to a Guyanese mother and a Scottish father. Although he never had any music theory lessons, he learnt to play the piano and harmonica as a child and then took up the classical guitar at the age of 12.[4] As a teenager he was strongly influenced by the folk guitar player Steve Benbow, who had travelled widely with the army and played a guitar style influenced by Moroccan music.[5]


At the age of 19, Graham wrote what is probably his most famous composition, the acoustic guitar solo "Angi" (sometimes spelled "Anji": see below). Colin Harper credits Graham with single-handedly inventing the concept of the folk guitar instrument.[3] "Angi", named after his then girlfriend, appeared on his debut EP 3/4 AD in April 1962. The tune spread through a generation of aspiring guitarists, changing its spelling as it went. Before the record was released, Bert Jansch had learnt it from a 1961 tape borrowed from Len Partridge. Jansch included it on his 1965 debut album as "Angie". The spelling Anji became the more widely used after it appeared in this way on Simon & Garfunkel's 1966 album Sounds of Silence and it was as "Anji" that Chicken Shack recorded it for their 1969 100 Ton Chicken album.

Anji soon became a rite of passage for many acoustic finger-style guitarists.

Some other musicians of note who have covered Anji include: John Renbourn, Gordon Giltrap, Clive Carroll and the anarchist group Chumbawamba, who used the guitar piece as a basis for their anti-war song "Jacob's Ladder (Not in My Name)".

Folk fame

Davy Graham came to the attention of guitarists through his appearance in a 1959 broadcast of the BBC TV arts series Monitor, produced by Ken Russell and entitled Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze, in which he played an acoustic instrumental version of "Cry Me a River".[4] During the 1960s, Graham released a string of albums of music from all around the world in all kinds of genres. 1964's Folk, Blues and Beyond and the following year's collaboration with the folk singer Shirley Collins, Folk Roots, New Routes, are frequently cited[by whom?] among his most influential album releases. "Large as Life and Twice as Natural" includes his cover of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now" alongside unprecedented explorations of Eastern Modes and scales played in Faustian takes on a Gibson J45 steel string guitar.

His continuous touring of the world as a beat mystic traveller, picking up and then recording different styles of music for the guitar, has resulted in many musicians crediting him with founding world music.[6] However, though Graham recorded in a variety of genres and loved to play the oud, he was no purist, absorbing all his influences into his own ever-expanding conception of the possibilities of guitar music. Quizzed, for instance, on his introduction of a chord progression into an Arabic maqam, his amiable retort was to the effect that, if he felt like it and it sounded alright, why shouldn't he?


Graham married the American singer Holly Gwinn in the late 1960s and recorded the albums The Holly Kaleidosope and Godington Boundary with her in 1970, shortly before Gwinn had to return to the USA and he was unable to follow her due to his visa problem due to a marijuana conviction.[7] He later described himself as having been "a casualty of too much self-indulgence",[4] becoming a heroin addict in imitation of his jazz heroes.[8] During this period, he taught acoustic guitar and also undertook charity work, particularly for various mental health charities. For several years he was on the executive council of Mind[4] and he was involved for some time with the mystic Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh).

In 1976 he recorded All That Moody, to all intents and purposes a private pressing which remains his most collectible vinyl record due to its "moody" nature and rarity. He recorded two further groundbreaking albums for Kicking Mule, 1978's The Complete Guitarist and 1980's Dance For Two People. He continued to play concerts, but dedicated the main thrust of his life to studying languages; he was fluent in Gaelic, French, and Greek and could hold his own in Turkish. He collected poems and folk songs and would regale his neighbours after some time he became increasingly disinhibited. His penultimate album Playing In Traffic was so titled as he was frustrated by trying to learn Bach in the noise of 11 Lyme St, Camden where a boatyard used to operate on the canal just outside his bedroom.

Rediscovery and death

He was the subject of a 2005 BBC Radio documentary, Whatever Happened to Davy Graham ?[9] and in 2006 featured in the BBC Four documentary Folk Britannia.[10]

Many people found Graham over the years and tried to encourage him to return to the stage to play live; the last of this long line of seekers was Mark Pavey, who arranged some outings with guitarists and old friends including Bert Jansch, Duck Baker and Martin Carthy. These concerts were typically eclectic, with Graham playing a mix of acoustic blues, Romanian dance tunes, Irish pipe tunes, songs from South Africa and pieces by Bach.[7] His final album, Broken Biscuits, consisted of originals and new arrangements of traditional songs from around the world.[11]

Graham was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008 and died on 15 December 2008. He is survived by his two daughters, Mercy and Kim.[7]


Although he never achieved great commercial success (and indeed perhaps did not seek it),[4] Graham's music received positive critical feedback, and has proved to be influential. He has inspired folk revival artists and fellow players such as Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy, Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Ritchie Blackmore, and Paul Simon: Folk Rock bands such as Fairport Convention and Pentangle also show his influence.

Though Graham is commonly referred to as a folk musician, the diversity of his music ranges in many different directions. Strong influence from genres such as blues, jazz and Middle Eastern music is evident throughout his work.

Martin Carthy described Graham as "an extraordinary, dedicated player, the one everyone followed and watched - I couldn't believe anyone could play like that" while Bert Jansch claimed that he was "courageous and controversial - he never followed the rules." Ray Davies maintained that the guitarist was "the greatest blues players I ever saw, apart from Big Bill Broonzy".[12]

According to George Chkiantz, "What impressed me with Davy Graham...was he played the guitar fretboard somehow as if it was a keyboard. There was a kind of freedom. You weren't conscious of him using chord shapes at all: his fingers just seemed to run around with complete freedom on the fretboard."[13]


One of Graham's lasting legacies is the DADGAD (Open Dsus4) guitar tuning which he introduced to British guitarists in 1964. Though it is not completely clear if Graham was the first to use it, he is generally credited as being the originator of the tuning.[14] Whilst travelling in Morocco he devised the tuning in order to be better able to play along with and translate the traditional oud music he was hearing to the guitar. Graham then went on to experiment playing traditional folk pieces in DADGAD tuning often incorporating Indian and middle eastern scales and melodies, a good example is his arrangement of the traditional air (believed to be Irish) "She Moved Through the Fair". The tuning allows a guitarist freedom to improvise in the treble while maintaining a solid underlying harmony and rhythm in the bass, though it restricts the number of keys in which the instrument can readily be played. While "non-standard", or 'non-classical' tunings were widely practised by guitarists before this (Open E and Open G tunings were in common use by blues and slide guitar players) DADGAD introduced a new "standard" tuning.[4] The tuning is widely used by many guitarists, though is especially favoured in the genres of folk and world music.



  • Folk Roots, New Routes (1965) with Shirley Collins

An extraordinary and classic album originally released by Decca in 1964. A landmark recording bringing together Shirley Collins' haunting vocals and Davy Graham's innovative guitar style. Folk Roots, New Routes was more than just a record when it first came out: it opened many minds and the door for Fairport Convention and Pentangle. A gem."


  • Harper, Colin (2005) Irish Folk, Trad and Blues: a Secret History
  • Harper, Colin (2006) Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival. Bloomsbury ISBN 0-7475-8725-6
  • Hodgkinson, Will (2005) Article in The Guardian; Friday 15 July 2005
  • The Times (2008) Obituary published in The Times, 22 December 2008, p. 50 [1]
  • Young, Rob (2010) "Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's visionary music"


External links

  • Davey Graham Official Website
  • discography at the Folk Blues and Beyond site
  • Interview given to

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