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Camden New Journal - OBITUARY
Published: 18 December 2008
Davey Graham
Davey Graham
The strings fall silent as a guitar legend passes on

WHEN a great man dies, the whole world suffers. But when that man is a personal friend, personal sorrow is added to the worldwide pain.
Davey Graham, who died from lung cancer on Monday afternoon at his home in Camden Town, was a giant of the guitar whose influence extended beyond the narrow confines of the folk scene. He was also my friend and mentor, who taught me more about music than anyone can ever know.
David Michael ­Gordon Graham was born in Leicester on November 26, 1940. Though he began to take an interest in the guitar at the age of 12, he did not actually own an instrument until he was 16. An early mentor was the guitarist (and taxi driver) Steve Benbow. In 1959 Davey was off on his travels, which broadened his musical horizons as he played on the streets of Paris, as well as in Greece and North Africa.
He also appeared that year in Ken Russell’s Monitor documentary for BBC, Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze, playing a typically off-the-wall version of Cry Me a River (a clip of which can be seen at
Nearly half a century after the Ken Russell film, he was the subject of a 2005 BBC Radio documentary, Whatever Happened to Davey Graham?
They might well ask. It was symptomatic of Davey’s significance on the music scene that he had become a legend, rarely seen these days and seldom heard.
“I am fortunate in being famous rather than well-known,” he told me once, I suppose meaning that he could shop in his local ­Sainsbury’s in Camden Town without being mobbed. Yet his nearly half a century-old composition Anji (variously spelled Angi or Angie) recorded by Bill Leader, was so significant that it was used as the theme music for the BBC 4 survey, Folk Britannia.
Over the years, ­constant drug abuse and ill-health began to take its toll. He suffered from chronic arthritis in his fingers, and years of smoking were playing hell with his breathing.
A very private man, when he was admitted to hospital shortly before his death he instructed his long-time friend Carol Ballard (who was working on my Acoustic Music magazine when she first met him nearly 30 years ago) not to tell anyone how ill he was.
He was a weird, astonishing, amazing man in his life just as much as his music. He said to me once: “When I heard the Beatles’ When I’m 64, I went to the swimming bath and swam 64 lengths to see what it felt like.”
His friend and neighbour, the artist Jeff Sawtell, recalled to me: “Despite his ability to annoy, irritate and ­alienate people in equal measure, he could be as kind and considerate. I especially remember him singing lullabies for my daughter at the foot of our stairs and turning up to sing in front of my last big installation.”
He continued to ­perform intermittently, though at one recent gig he had to give up after a few tunes, and Wizz Jones came up from the audience and filled in for the sick man.
His most recent recordings were Playing in Traffic, in 1993, and Broken Biscuits, with singer-songwriter Mark Pavey, released last year.

• This is an abridged version of the obituary on the Folk News ­website
• Karl Dallas is a singer-songwriter, poet and musician who lived in Holborn for many years

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