INTERVIEW WITH MARK PAVEY
Mark, what is it like working with the original guitar god?
There are a lot of specific details which are quite illuminating really, but Davy is quite modest. I’ve been talking to Davy for three years, so there’s not many things which we haven’t discussed. Davy’s been teaching me for the last three years. There are a few breakthrough pieces which Davy isn’t particularly interested in talking about. The main thing is…when one talks about the different guitar tunings, the DADGAD and EADGAE, which were Davy’s invention, he was doing it from the point of view of retaining an impression of the standard tuning. He’s not just tuning the guitar so it sounds sympathetic strummed or picked openly. In the BBC Radio 2 documentary, Martin Simpson seemed to be under the impression that Davy tuned his guitar to DADGAD so that it made a nice sound if you filled in the odd melody note.
It was actually something to facilitate playing developed melody lines and themes that otherwise wouldn’t be practical for the guitar. He was never one to tune the guitar and then make up a song from the guitar tuning. He was working from sources that he internalised completely to a level that would be far beyond any other musician, in order to arrange the actual theme. So when he talks about cliché, I think he’s really saying that he doesn’t believe in extemporising something without having the original theme at the foremost. So if Davy is approaching a tune, the first thing he’ll do is to make sure he’s got a tune completely clear in his mind, and then arrange it in the way that a composer would do, because when he’s taking a piece of Bach, say, or one of the Spanish pieces, he’s making the same calculations that a composer would make, in a very short space of time. When he plays a piece he hardly premeditates, he’ll know the theme intimately and he’ll draw it out making his magic calculations in real time.
I said to Davy that Acoustic has a sympathy towards composers, and he said he doesn’t consider himself a composer as much as an arranger.
Yes, but if he comes up with a composition, he will arrange it to the highest possible level, which takes a lot more time. To write a song is fairly easy. Davy could sit with a guitar and he could come up with something. It’s inimicable to his instinct. So when he does compose a tune, it will be a significant movement. For example,on the new album I’ve tried to capture the songs that Davy has written over the last three years. ‘Rooty’which is the third track, is one that is a completely unique piece of jazz blues. It’s not a discursion on some other thing, it’s a proper composition. If you compose a piece of music, you might forget to arrange it properly, or you might be incapable of arranging it because you need that separation.
There’s something about every single cut of Davy’s. They’re all completely distinct. Imagine a visual artist. When they get older they have a resistance to fixed form. Now recording and playing music is all about creating fixed forms for people to understand and enjoy, but in concentrating on that, the actual creative spark is in peril. It’s why Davy is remaining so vital. It’s because he’s unwilling to give himself a label or actually complete something. By completing something, the tune loses something. Because Davy’s had an aversion to creating a definitive version, over the passage of time you’ll go back and listen to those recordings and they become definitive, but he didn’t create them that way.
How does he feel about Broken Biscuits?
The healthy thing for any guitar player to do, listening to Broken Biscuits, would be to internalise the pieces and the themes, and play them. Around the ’60s and 70s, Jackson C Frank wrote ‘Blues Run The Game’, Davy wrote ‘Angi’, Paul Simon wrote ‘Homeward Bound’… Those were pieces that any guitar player could learn, present themselves, smile, be polite with the audience, play as well as they could, and they would give something to the audience. That was the great quality of that material.
If you take the material on Broken Biscuits and learn to play it yourself, it would be a wonderful thing for any guitar player because it would require great patience and a combination of instinct, intuition and technical knowledge.
If you could play the piece that he composed when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, called ‘Africa’, with the 3rds going up from E, it would be a passport to paid engagement. There has been a great movement in acoustic music for people to impose themselves on an audience and not engage themselves visually, stare down at the guitar and sing about their feelings. It’s been allowed to persist like that.
Davy would always play something he’s worked on ahead of time and has a flourish and panache. It’s for others to take that body of music and apply the techniques and arrangements to their own songs or other songs. That’s what the Broken Biscuits idea is all about. You could make a cake out of Broken Biscuits! This album was a vehicle for Davy coming back to the stage, not without ambition, but a willingness to play.
This album is a stepping stone to more recording and more performances and it’s really something he’s happy with but making Broken Biscuits has allowed us to get a recording system at home. We’ve got a new Martin guitar which is very different and is the perfect instrument for him, and Davy has realised with his new younger audience that there is a lot he can give.
There is a lot of give and take. It depends on the audience. There will be some people who’ve seen the poster and come in expecting to see the man who invented Jimmy Page. Three quarters of the audience will be Davy’s ideal listener and will have internalised all the concepts that Davy has given them over the years and will be there for what happens on that evening. When we first started doing these concerts again, we drove up to the Edinburgh Folk Club from London for a ridiculously small fee, barely enough to cover petrol; and the audience loved it but the commitee didn't. Its a weird scene in some folk clubs, its rare to see someone with a suntan! Folk music only interests us if it embraces folk music from mixed cultures. English folk music doesn't do that. Thats why Folk Roots, New Routes is still the most forward looking experiment that happened to it, and that was nearly 50 years ago!
Our concerts are work in progress. We need to generate what we can in order to spread our wings. To make music at present has become a little difficult, because the big companies have no interest, competency or integrity, so we’re organically developing. It was recorded when Davy was feeling good and not under pressure.
He’s manifesting his feelings. He’s got full support from me. Part of the concert is our journey together. You have to be serious about the guitar without being gloomy about it. Davy’s listened incredibly widely, and due to being partially-sighted, the impetus has been to internalise things accurately rather than going from score. He’s unique in that. He’ll commit it all to memory. He’s worked so hard for all of us in order to further his understanding of music without trying to refine it out of existence.
He's my absolute hero and a great and dear friend to me.