by Ralph McTell
"Few would believe it
If we told all we have seen"
(from Clear Water by Ralph McTell)
|DAVE PEGG (“Peggy”) and I first met when he was 19 and I was 22. It was at Digbeth Town Hall and he was in the resident band called the Ian Campbell Folk Group. I was a young soloist and although I remember playing there, I think Dave and I were too shy to get to know each other that evening.
I have always had a fascination for the bass both electric and upright and in 1971 I was lucky enough to hook up with Danny Thompson on double bass whilst still being aware of its electric cousin. The name I most frequently heard associated with that instrument among our contemporaries was that of Dave Pegg.
The first album I recorded with ‘peggy-on-the-bass’ was Streets for Reprise records and our bond of friendship was firmly established and water-tight from then on. So much so that his wife Christine became a little perplexed at the intensity and strength of our friendship and occasional risk-taking. Like me, Dave was married. His teenage sweetheart Christine and he had two children and were trying to raise them on the pittance produced by playing ‘folk music’.
Nanna (my wife) and I also had two children and as young families we had a lot in common in so far as we were both raised by working class parents who had a certain dignity which in spite of low income, separation, bereavement or even poverty had a morality that was handed down to us along with respect for them and others. I don’t know but I am willing to bet Dave went to Sunday School and whether or not we believe in anything today those ethics are still there in both of us which serves to be part of the cement in our outlook on life, it also added a great deal of excitement as we relished temporarily and permanently breaking a few rules later on. I still call ‘Peggy’ Dave. I suppose mainly to underline our special relationship and probably I am the only one left to call him by his given name. The reason being that everyone Dave knows regards him as their best friend: this is both his gift and occasional burden. He manages to make everyone feel special and partly through necessity, partly through geniality the word networking could have been invented for him. He really does seem interested in even the vaguest peripherals to do with all aspects of music sound and presentation.
At the time of writing this I have still to read most of this book but knowing him like I do, it will probably emphasise the positive and play down the negative. It will concentrate on optimism rather than the darker days and experiences, also it will definitely be incredibly modest about his ability as a musician.
There have always been fiddles and the like in folk music especially in these islands but bass playing along with the addition of drums and electricity is what produced the new sound which we take for granted today. The fact that Dave can play complex fiddle melodies on this monster fret board is testimony to his dexterity alone but it is his harmonic interpretations, counterpoint, tone, rhythm and swing that provide the base fabric for all that is layered on top. He is also an excellent guitarist and mandolin player.
His tremendous bass playing was born out of Dave’s deep love of rock and roll and respect for all good music. He is also very discerning, not so much in terms of genre but of the spirit and soul of music in general. I have grown to love our British and Irish traditional music and I love to hear old favourites but equally I am quite content to marvel at what Dave hears and plays in these familiar tunes.
As younger men our families spent several holidays together in my place in Cornwall where we drank copiously played until very late and took inordinate quantities of snuff (not the white stuff) which was enjoyed in excess by several of the old regulars at the local pub. We also have a treasured bit of footage of our kids all playing music in the garden and once we managed to get all ten of us from the beach in our old Citroen.
One year Dave had passed the audition to work in the band known as Jethro Tull. He devoted his whole holiday while the rest of us were playing on the beach etc laying on a narrow double bed in our back room with his earphones on and the bass lying across his body as he painstakingly learned all the tortuous time signatures and stops on the complex tunes that he would soon be playing out on the road. It’s one of the tales herein, so I’ll leave it to Dave to flesh out the details. True to form, he became Ian Anderson’s friend too and spent fifteen years working with them which gave more security to his family than all the previous time in music.
Dave’s first love has always been and continues to be FC. It has been a hard road to hoe but there has been a rich quality to the life of the band that few could equal and most would envy.
I love to play with Mr. Pegg and luckily for me I have albums to prove it and getting on stage at Cropredy is always a buzz for me.
Folk music seems to have a soft image but nothing could be further from the reality that this band has lived through. To my mind it makes most rock’n’rollers look like a bunch of weak posie chancers. As I have hinted there have been demons, angels, deaths and entrances, passion and pain that these once very young innovators had to navigate through. All lives are like that but in music it tends to be heavier or more underlined and perhaps it is because the songs are traditional and have no ego attached to them that individual egos occasionally wrestle for attention or because the new songs are not primarily written for commercial gain, they carry such a heart-rending honesty rooted in narrative that they actually mean something and are so powerful.
Through FC we glimpse a true, inspiring, dangerous and eventful journey where whirling stars, and fleeting sparks, illuminate their and our journey through music, darkness and humour, rooted to reality by the bass playing and humanity of my mate Dave.