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Folkwales Online Magazine December 2012

Gwerincymru — o Gymru o’r byd

Called to the Bar - Obituaries


Bob Richards, singer and guitarist with the mighty 60s and 70s folk trio Triban, passed away early on Tuesday, November 13. This year, he was interviewed for the BBC-Wales Celtic Heartbeat folk programme by Frank Hennessy, on the occasion of Recordiau Sain releasing a special Triban boxed set containing all their album tracks and hits. Bob and the other members of Triban, Eiri Thrasher and Caryl Owen, were discovered for their brilliant harmony singing by Joe Jones, owner of Pontardawe’s Cambrian Records, and then by pop guru Jonathan King. Bob reminisced: “Great days – recording and with the girls. They were the best of times.” In the early days, Triban were united with Cardiff folk group The Hennessys, led by guitarist and songwriter Frank, and were called The Amalgamation.


London record moguls signed Triban, on the condition that they were prepared to play anywhere in the world at short notice. However, Eiri feared that the ties of motherhood would interfere with the band’s success, and she decided to leave. She was replaced by Gill Jenkins for Triban’s final line-up. Frank made this tribute to Bob on Celtic Heartbeat: “He will be sorely missed.”

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Ian Campbell, who led The Ian Campbell Folk Group and was father to Tobin and Ali Campbell in Birmingham’s international reggae band UB40, has died at the age of 78 on November 23. Born in Aberdeen, Ian moved to Birmingham in 1946. He formed the Clarion Skiffle Group in the mid 1950s, along with his sister Lorna, who was also the singer. They were later joined by guitarist Dave Phillips and banjo player Gordon McCulloch, and by 1958 were known as the Ian Campbell Four.

By 1960, Gordon had been replaced by John Dunkerley and the group was also joined by violinist Dave Swarbrick. The group became well known on the local folk music scene and played regularly around Birmingham, often appearing at The Crown Pub on Station Street. It was there that they played on a live recording that was released as Ceilidh At The Crown in 1962. The following year, the group was signed to Transatlantic Records and released their first album, entitled This Is The Ian Campbell Folk Group. At around this time, Dave Phillips left and was replaced by Brian Clark.


The Ian Campbell Group soon established themselves as a highly proficient live act, who became well known for their instrumental abilities as well as Ian’s talent as a songwriter. Tours and television appearances followed, and in March 1965 the group even managed to get a hit single with their rendition of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin'. The group's major strength however, lay in their live performances where the line-up was often supplemented by top session musicians.


In 1966, Dave left to become a major player in the British folk scene and later joined the well known group Fairport Convention. Bass player Dave Pegg, from the Birmingham group The Uglys, joined the Ian Campbell Group in 1967 and a few years later would also leave to join Fairport Convention. Despite many further personnel changes, the Ian Campbell Folk Group continued to tour and release records throughout the 1960s and 1970s although tragically, John Dunkerley died of Hodgkinsons disease in 1977 at only 35 years old. The group disbanded in the late 1970's, but their status in folk music circles has continued to increase since then as one of the earliest significant British folk groups.

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Jackie Guthrie, wife of the American folk singer Arlo Guthrie, died on October 14. Jackie was suffering from inoperable cancer and passed away at the couple’s winter home in Sebastian, Florida. The couple had recently celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary.

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Fiddler Martin Fay, who was a founding member of The Chieftains, died in November. The 76-year-old, who was from Cabra in Dublin, had been ill for some time. In 1962 he was one of the founding members of the group. In 2001, Martin decided to stop touring with the group, only making appearances on occasions. He retired full-time the following year.


The Chieftains' website said that Martin was inspired to take up music after seeing a film on Paganini, with the soundtrack (played by Yehudi Menuhin) deeply affecting him. His early passion was for classical music, but he later became hooked on Irish music and became a member of Ceoltóirí Cualann before the The Chieftains were founded.

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Folk musician and artist Barry Skinner, who was born in Coventry but moved to Beddgelert in 1986, died in October. His inspiration for the past 20 years had been the evocative landscape of Snowdonia, along with many other parts of the British Isles, particularly Cornwall, the west coast of Ireland and Northumberland.


Recently he had been captivated by the coastal wonders of Pembrokeshire and had produced many works which had earned him an enthusiastic following in that county. In addition to his painting, Barry had a reputation as a skilled and creative wood-turner. He also designed and created bespoke miniature dolls’ houses, each individually made to the client's requirements.


Barry's extraordinary talents extended to the performing arts - in particular the British folk scene, where he was active from the late 1950s, singing professionally from 1964 until the end of his life. After a spell in retailing and interior design, he left it all behind in 1964. For the next 16 years he toured Britain, Europe and America, playing guitar and singing his own and traditional songs, recording several albums and appearing on television and radio. He was one of the founding members of the first Coventry Folk Club in 1962 and was still involved in performing and writing music. From 1979 until 1986, he worked for the Coventry Education Waterways Scheme, running narrow boats for school groups. During this time he wrote a large number of songs about the canals.


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John Bond of the north-western folk duo Penny Black lost his fight against lung cancer and passed away in October. He was helped through his fight at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, and had donated Ł2,500 from a charity concert to the Blue Skies Hospital Fund. John, 67, was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2010 and received chemotherapy at a local Macmillan unit. He was so touched with the care he received that he and his musician partner, Pete Skinner, organised a concert, including The Alan Bell Band, Scolds Bridle, Chris and Siobhan Nelson, Dom Collins, Ryan Cregan and many others. The donation was used to provide special chairs for cancer patients.

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American Irish/bluegrass/old country musician, singer and Kennebunk River Productions owner Allan ‘Mac’ McHale, died of a heart attack on November 11. Born and raised in Bangor, Maine, he was influenced at an early age by the live country music of Gene Hooper, Hal Lone Pine and Smiling Bill Waters. He start playing banjo at 18. From 1965 to 1968 he had a Hootenanny Show that toured Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. From 1969 to 1971, he played mandolin and sang tenor with the Nonesuch River Singers, performing throughout New England.


In 1972 he joined the White Mountain Bluegrass Band in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, playing mandolin and handling bookings and business affairs. He started the Northeast Winds band in 1978 which became New England's most popular traditional Irish music group. They recorded five albums, two videos and recorded many TV specials. Allan formed The Old Time Radio Gang in 1987, and right up to his death, they kept a busy schedule playing traditional country music in grange halls, school halls and town halls.

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Chicago-born black singer-songwriter and guitarist Terry Callier has died in October from throat cancer. He was 67. Early reports of his death filtered through music websites, including Stereogum, which said: “Like England’s Nick Drake, the Chicago-based Callier was largely overlooked for much of his artistic prime.”


Terry had vanished from the mainstream music world since 2009, when his final album, Hidden Conversations, was written and produced with Massive Attack. His   music was being recognised by younger artists. Possessed with a sweetly disarming baritone voice, his hard-to-classify music never quite found their audience in the 1960s and 1970s, at least not on the level attained by funky friends like Curtis Mayfield. His thoughtful, earnest music didn't fit neatly into any narrow marketing niche.


But in the late 1990s, he finally got his due when he was rediscovered in Britain by acid-jazz aficionados and brought to London to perform. He ended up tapping a well of inspired new material, starting with his 1998 release TimePeace, and collaborating with Paul Weller and Beth Orton, among others.


His career began in the early 1960s, when Terry started cutting discs with Chess Records while still in high school, before attending the University of Illinois. His childhood friends included Mayfield, Jerry Butler and Major Lance of the Impressions. He spent several years knocking around Chicago coffeehouses, under the sway of John Coltrane and Bob Dylan. Critics and audiences wondered whether he was a folkie, a jazz cat or a classic Chicago blues belter - but his closest musical family may be other multi-talent blues-based artists like Richie Havens.


In 1996, Terry told the Chicago Sun-Times: “People respond to me because I’m a throwback to an older tradition that believed you should do more than sing a song for an audience, that you should make people feel something. You can make accessible music and still sing about love and peace and truth and life and death. In the end, those are the only things that matter.”


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Tributes have been paid to Scottish singer-songwriter Michael Marra, who died in the city’s Ninewells Hospital in Dundee in October, aged 60. He had been suffering from lung cancer and had been recovering from a chest infection, and his widow, Peggy, said that his death was not anticipated and was quite sudden. Born in Dundee in 1952, he rose to fame in the 1980s as a solo performer and became one of Scotland's most prolific songwriters. He was also well known for his theatre work, writing the music for several plays and his own operetta.


Michael was brought up in the Lochee area of Dundee, the son of a printer and a schoolteacher. After being expelled from school at the age of 14, he took on a variety of jobs, including message boy in the printing trade, apprentice electrician, apprentice baker and builder's labourer. He formed his first band, Hen's Teeth, in 1971, but it was as a solo artist that he became well known. His first solo album, The Midas Touch, brought him wider fame in 1980. He worked extensively in theatre, writing the music for the play The Fairly Mak Ye Work. More recently, he composed songs for The Mill Lavvies, which premiered in Dundee last month. He also composed his own operetta, If The Moon Can Be Believed.


Michael was a regular performer at Glasgow's Celtic Connection's festival. Its director, Donald Shaw of Capercaillie, said he was a unique talent who would be sorely missed: "He was just one of the great humanist people - very soft spoken and great to be around. His songs have so much heart and he had so much insight into the Scottish psyche. He just went along, did his thing, turned up, sang his songs. I feel sad, but I also feel elated because in 20 years people are going to say, why didn't people give him his credit when he was alive? People will realise what a legend he was musically."


Donald also credited Michael with helping to rejuvenate folk music in Scotland: "He was a big part of that and he was so generous in spirit to young people and music. The last time I saw him, we had a great conversation about him spending a week in the jail in Dundee, teaching inmates the guitar and singing sings and trying to give them a sense of belonging. He's played a big part of the renaissance of music in this country.” Michael is survived by his children Alice and Matthew, who are also musicians and are members of the Dundee band The Hazey Janes. Watch Michael’s video:

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Ravi Shankar, the sitar virtuoso who became a hippie musical icon of the 1960s after teaching George Harrison of the Beatles and who introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over a 10-decade career, died on Tuesday, 11 December in San Diego, near his Southern California home, at the age of 92. The musician's foundation issued a statement saying that he had suffered upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery.


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Ravi Shankar a "national treasure." Labelled "the godfather of world music" by George Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music. He also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the George’s 1971 Concert For Bangladesh. To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.


His last musical performance was with his other daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar Wright, on November 4 in Long Beach, California, to celebrate his 10th decade of creating music. The multiple Grammy winner learned that he had again been nominated for the award the night before his surgery.


As early as the 1950s, Shankar began collaborating with and teaching some of the greats of Western music, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. He played well-received shows in concert halls in Europe and the United States, but faced a constant struggle to bridge the musical gap between the West and the East. His close relationship with George, the Beatles lead guitarist, shot Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s. George had grown fascinated with the sitar, and he played the instrument, with a Western tuning, on the song Norwegian Wood. However, he soon sought out Shankar, already a musical icon in India, to teach him to play it properly.


The pair spent weeks together, starting the lessons at George's Surrey home, then moving to a houseboat in Kashmir and later to California. Gaining confidence with the complex instrument, George recorded the Indian-inspired song Within You Without You on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, helping spark the raga-rock phase of 60s music and drawing increasing attention to Shankar and his work. Shankar's popularity exploded, and he soon found himself playing on bills with some of the top rock musicians of the era. He played a four-hour set at the Monterey Pop Festival and the opening day of Woodstock.


Though the audience for his music had hugely expanded, Shankar, a serious, disciplined traditionalist who had played Carnegie Hall, chafed against the drug use and rebelliousness of the hippie culture. "I was shocked to see people dressing so flamboyantly. They were all stoned. To me, it was a new world," he told Rolling Stone of the Monterey festival.


While he enjoyed Otis Redding and the Mamas and the Papas at the festival, he was horrified when Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire. "That was too much for me,” he said. “In our culture, we have such respect for musical instruments; they are like part of God."

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Robbie McMahon, “the king of Spancilhill”, whose singing of the Irish immigrant ballad Spancilhill helped to popularise the song over 60 years ago, has died in hospital at the age of 86. Robbie, who lived in Spancilhill, County Clare, first won the All-Ireland championship at traditional singing at the age of 13. Clare County Council awarded him a civic reception in recognition of his contribution to the traditional arts.  He organised a series of First Friday sessions at Duggan’s Bar, Spancilhill.

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Ivor Allsop, Yorkshire longsword guru, EFDSS gold badge holder, Whitby Folk Week teacher and squire of the Morris Ring, passed away on November 2. He will be remembered for the support and encouragement he gave to all teams both young and old on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Martin Harris, Hartley morrisman, lost his battle with cancer on October 23. A well-known singer and dancer on the Kent folk scene for over 40 years, Martin presented a folk show on BBC Kent before going to the USA, where he performed in California. Returning to live in Kent a few years ago, Martin still went back to the USA every year to appear as Scrooge in Dickens Christmas Carol.

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Cape Breton musician John Ferguson, of the Canadian folk bands McGinty and Miller’s Jug, passed away at the beginning of October. He mastered several instruments including fiddle and guitar, but his talent really shone when he played old fiddle and bagpipe tunes on his bouzouki. He was also a great singer and a fine solo performer. He was to play in a Celtic Colours concert with his friend Buddy MacDonald, and the Makem And Spain brothers, but the show went ahead as a tribute to him.

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Ian Hardie, former musician with the Edinburgh-based Jock Tamson's Bairns and a writer of many fine fiddle tunes, died in October at the early age of 59.

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Gerry O’Hanlon, from Mullaghbawn, south Armagh, who died on October 8 after a long illness, was a major figure in the world of Irish traditional music, a dedicated social worker, a respected trade unionist and a deeply principled socialist. A fine singer, who appreciated the musical richness of his home area, he helped found the annual Sliabh Gullion Festival of Traditional Singing in Mullaghbawn, bringing singers from all over Ireland together. He also helped establish both the Stray Leaf Folk Club and the Tí Chulainn cultural centre there. For years he was a board member of the Dublin-based Irish Traditional Music Archive, serving for a time as treasurer.


In politics, he was a socialist, strongly opposed to sectarianism. When republicanism split in 1970, he joined the more left-wing Official IRA. In 1974 he stood for the Westminster seat of South Down. His best-known opponent was Enoch Powell, the former Conservative minister, against whom he polled over 2,300 votes.


In 1976 the Provisional IRA in south Armagh massacred 11 Protestant mill workers. Gerry publicly condemned the murders, a courageous step in one of the Provisional IRA’s strongest areas. In the 1990s, he resigned from the Workers Party, but kept his socialist faith. Over recent years, he had raised funds to buy medical supplies for the Cuban health system.

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Contact: Mick Tems, Editor - Folkwales Magazine, 88 Manor Chase, Y Beddau, Pontypridd, CYMRU / WALES CF38 2JE Phone: 01443 206689

E-mail: micktems@folkwales.org.uk Website: www.folkwales.org.uk