Oran Mor, Glasgow, Sun 24 Sep
Lauded by Bert Jansch and Eric Clapton, Davey Graham is the guitar hero’s guitar hero. But despite his revolutionary impact on acoustic guitar playing and British folk music in the early 1960s, Graham has remained a relatively obscure figure. So it’s cause for celebration that he has returned to public performance.
Born to a Guyanan mother and Scottish father, Graham was never one to limit his horizons. As a teenager in London he absorbed blues, jazz, folk and classic and travelled to Morocco in the early 60s, where he devised the groundbreaking DADGAD tuning.
It was thanks to British blues godfather Alexis Korner that Graham had his first real breakthrough. For the young John Renbourn (appearing as Graham’s special guest in Glasgow) and his future partner in psych-folk legends Pentangle, Bert Jansch, hearing Graham ‘changed everything’.
‘Alexis and Davey did an EP together which had ‘Angi’ on it,’ says Renbourn. ‘It’s why Bert and I sounded like we did. Davey was our idol.’
The solo instrumental ‘Angi’, released in 1962, became Graham’s signature tune and a rite of passage for aspiring guitarists. Jansch recorded a version for his debut album and in 1966 the tune crossed over to a mass audience via Simon & Garfunkel.
Two albums Graham made in 1964 stand as his most lasting achievements. Folk Routes, New Routes, a collaboration with Shirley Collins, is a revelation. Graham provides remarkably inventive accompaniments to Collins’ stark readings of English traditionals like ‘Nottamun Town’ and ‘Reynardine’, his jazzy flourishes and vaguely Middle Eastern inflections.
His own album of that year, Folk, Blues and Beyond, was more eclectic still, with Graham looking towards not only American jazz and blues, but Eastern European, North African and Indian music.
Although Graham continued to cut important albums throughout the 1960s, he emerged less frequently, his erratic habits exacerbated by drug problems.
Recent years, however, have seen his albums reissued, bringing him belated recognition and a new audience.
No-one can be sure exactly what to expect from a Graham performance. But as Jansch testifies, that’s the beauty of his approach: ‘He’s completely unpredictable and the audience will be treated to wherever his mind is at that moment . . . but I’ve never been less than blown away by his playing.’