From the desk of Gregg Miner:
Dave Evans, fingerstyle guitar cult hero to many, passed away peacefully in his sleep at 3 AM on April 4th. He was 80 years old, and had lived an undeniably rich and colorful life, full of friends and love.
Rather than an obituary, this is a celebration. Mostly, it’s my personal story about how Dave’s music, then the man himself, came into my life. I think Dave would approve…
Like many of you, I’ve had lots of guitar heroes over the years: Leo Kottke, Django Reinhardt, Allan Holdsworth, too many to count…
But ever since picking up a copy of his Sad Pig Dance LP, Dave Evans was my guy.
I learned that entire album (Kicking Mule Records kindly included a booklet with half the tunes in tab!) and it informed my own style more than anything else before or since. My own “home tuning” would replicate Dave’s famous low C tuning (CGDGAD; he utilized many others).
Back in the day, trying to learn and play a Kottke tune was exhausting. But, while intricate and challenging, Dave’s style just seemed natural. His pieces were fun little finger-puzzles for the hands and a constant treat for the ear. He was so lyrical, so imaginative and original, so quirky! I think that was when I also permanently stopped playing consecutive notes on one string; like Dave, I would find every possible Campanella fingering for everything I wrote and played from that time forward. Quite simply, no one tickled my fancy like Dave, with that technique and his harmonic and melodic surprises at every turn. While often lumped in with the late ‘60s English fingerstyle acoustic guitar scene, he stood firmly apart. No one wrote tunes like him (and lovely poetic songs, too!). And Dave came totally out of the blue; he didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 23!
My “Dave Evans period” started when I was 20 and went full blast for a few years. I would eventually move on to other music and other instruments, but I would still pick up a guitar and play some of those tunes a decade or two later.
Cut to 2007. My friend Frank Doucette – another huge Dave Evans fan – had been attending Stephen Bennett’s Harp Guitar Gatherings (the “HGG”) as I had – for four years at that point. Players and builders are both a part of it, one of the latter being our special friend and inimitable Brussels luthier Benoit Meulle-Stef. In July, my wife Jaci and I took our first vacation to Belgium and visited Ben at his home/playroom/store/workshop (that’s from the top down in his amazing 3-story+various-mezzanines-building). Back home in the States, fall was quickly approaching. We’d soon be heading to Virginia for HGG5…
…when Ben told us that Dave Evans might be coming with him to the Gathering. What? Why? How?! (is what) Frank and I blurted via email, after which Ben casually dropped the bombshell, “Oh, Dave is doing guitar repairs at my shop…”! It took us a while to pick our jaws up off the floor as we processed that, Ben providing his usual underwhelming detail (i.e.: none).
The Gathering was only weeks away, but for some misguided reason I decided that I simply must “surprise” Dave with a harp guitar arrangement of his classic “Sad Pig Dance” tune. I re-learned it (thank god for muscle memory!) and moved things around a bit to add sub-basses…and…
…it’s October 26th, 2007 and Dave Evans is standing in front of me. Bespectacled and soft-spoken with a Welsh accent (hints of Bristol and notes of Belgium), his voice reminiscent of a warm fuzzy bee (the resonant baritone variety) buzzing in one’s ears and enveloping your heart. He knew my (Harpguitars.net) reputation but likely had no idea of the major fan I was. But it was Friday Open Mic Night and he was about to find out!
Well, I gave a long, emotional, nerdy introduction and made it through his tune on pure adrenaline. Frank said he muttered something overly charitable like “That’s the way it should have been played”…and I got the first of Dave’s patented hugs.
Gregg, Dave & Frank at the 5th Harp Guitar Gathering
Yes, he was kind and loving to all and thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. I’m sure others have memories and stories of their own (please add them in the Comments field). Frank said he was treated to a pile of tab and an unreleased live CD that Dave had brought for him (Frank had sent him a rabid fan email). I also remember the inebriated Sunday night wrap party at SB’s home and Frank goading me into trying to remember Dave’s tune “Stagefright.” As Dave seemed amused, I struggled through that, laughing when the weird middle part came up and shouting “Dave – what the hell were you thinking?!”
(That’s Mike Doolin and Nancy Conescu opposite entertaining Don Alder. The late Dennis Mitchell is at upper right. Bob Hartman’s enjoying the cacophony in the back while his wife Carol waits patiently for something she can dance to.)
At the end of that event, we could only hope we might see Dave again. (We would, read on!)
Dave’s Recordings and Bits of Biography
It was only after Frank and I started hanging out together in Los Angeles that he caught me up on all the rare out-of-print Dave Evans albums. I got everything I could (rare copies or burns) and fell in love all over again.
His first – 1971’s The Words In Between – was recorded with two mics straight to a reel-to-reel Revox at the Bristol home studio of Ian A. Anderson (folk music producer, not the Jethro Tull leader). Dave would have been 30 and – I did the math – had only been playing guitar for eight years! Yet Dave “arrived” fully-fledged.
After his schooling (location unknown; Dave was born in Bangor, in northwest Wales), he famously spent five years as “Third Mate in the Merchant Navy, crawling over the Indian Ocean in a sluggish tub of a cargo ship.” There was evidently not a guitar in sight, or Dave would surely have tried playing it.
According to his track notes on Sad Pig Dance, he stayed with a friend overlooking the Atlantic for a week “who taught me how to play.” That was “Morocco John” (the friend, and the tune). He also ran the local folk club while at Loughborough Art College beginning in 1963. Here, he would later share a flat with singer-guitarist Steve Tilston (it was Steve who would encourage to Dave to write songs and years later ask him to play second guitar on his Ian Anderson-produced album – which led directly to Dave’s first album). Dave would turn 23 in December of that year, so presumably the combination of friend John, then Steve and his folk club experience fast-tracked his incredibly fleet, intricate abilities on fingerstyle guitar.
While he would now play guitar in earnest, it was always mainly in his off hours. His time between the Art College days with Steve and his later Bristol recordings with Steve seem to shape up like this:
After college, he seems to have continued his wanderlust, at some point living on a house boat. For three years or so (roughly 1968-1971) he lived in Honiton in Devon County, where he was employed as a designer at Honiton Pottery (he would later return to pottery). Meanwhile, all this time he was into wine-making (he would later famously return to beer-making in Brussels). Immediately after he finished his album for Ian Anderson in Bristol, he went back to Honiton, intending to continue his old job as if nothing unusual had happened. When he was promptly fired instead, he headed straight back to Bristol. He soon got a job with the City Highway Department by day and a folk-singing gig at night. Dave said he could finish his civic duties early and manage to get an extra few hours of guitar practice in. His neighborhood near City Road would provide many new eccentric characters to provide grist for his colorful songs. Thus, he would become a part of the burgeoning British folk scene with other famous fingerstylists.
In his second year in Bristol – 1972 – Dave bought his own reel-to-reel and recorded his second album himself. Again released on Anderson’s Village Thing independent label, this was Elephantasia. Neither Frank or I have a copy – it has never been reissued and is impossible to find. The reason appears to be that Dave’s tape deck had 2 speeds – so he gleefully experimented with some multitrack pieces with double-speed guitar. Others were said to have been an Evans form of “Prog Rock” (fascinating!) and were deemed too “dated” to re-release. Happily, the 30th Anniversary CD release of The Words In Between included 5 of the 10 songs from Elephantasia (including one high-speed guitar experiment). That entire 15-song album can be heard on YouTube, and if you prefer to pay for your music, you can download Words at Bandcamp.
Dave’s whereabouts for the next eight or so years are not known. We presume he stayed in Bristol, but went often in London to record for his next several projects.
Sad Pig Dance came next in 1974, produced by the great Stefan Grossman and released on his Kicking Mule Records label. It was his only entirely-instrumental album, and the only one to remain commonly available.
In 1975, Grossman put together Contemporary Guitar Workshop, a kind of a “state of the art” of fingerstyle guitar at the time. Dave contributed five brand new tunes, which can be heard there and also on the later CD release of Sad Pig Dance.
Dave’s final solo album, Take a Bite Out of Life, came out in 1976 (again on Kicking Mule) and found him back in poetic song-writing mood.
Those strictly into instrumental-only fingerstyle guitar still owe it to themselves to put on headphones and listen to all of Dave’s records. Because here’s a secret well known to all his fans: Every single song has the same wonderful guitar arrangements played (live!) effortlessly underneath as he sings. It’s as if we’re listening to two musicians. One is Dave the singer, who emotes his lyrics with a strong melody. The other is Dave the virtuoso guitarist, who simultaneously plays a very different, fully-complimentary fingerstyle part. Fully half of these could literally stand on their own as separate instrumentals. Of course, sophisticated fingerstyle accompaniment wasn’t unique to Dave – many of the late ‘60s players were discovering and fomenting this style. But Dave’s parts always seemed to go that extra mile. Even the simplest of Dave’s “accompaniments” contain more hooks, twists and melodies than 90% of fingerstyle guitar instrumentals composed (I use that word euphemistically) today.
Celtic fingerstyle guitar fans (of which I am a huge one) got a final treat when the first-ever “Irish music” guitar compilation came out in 1979. Irish Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes & Airs brought Dave back for four classic traditional tunes and one original. Dave’s arrangements are full of pull-offs, hammer-ons and cross-string harp effects, particularly effective as three of his arrangements are of O’Carolan harp tunes. According to Ian Anderson, Dave was among the very “first to experiment with O’Carolan’s Irish tunes on guitar, influencing players as diverse as France’s Pierre Bensusan and America’s Duck Baker in the process.” After recording his pieces in London and before the album was released, Dave had moved – permanently, it turned out – to Belgium.
In 1991, several of Dave’s Sad Pig Dance tracks appeared on the Shanachie CD compilation The Art of Fingerstyle Guitar. But by this time, Dave had long ago disappeared from the music business. Or had he?
The rumors were that at some point Dave had suffered an undisclosed hand injury and stopped playing – though continued to build guitars and do repairs while returning to pottery, cooking and beer-making. But the CDR burn and notes that Frank received from Dave at HGG5 told a different story. The recording was an unreleased live album titled Dave Evans Live at the Travers from a 1992 performance! And it was wonderful. It was as guitar-virtuosic and full of lyrical poetry as anything in his ‘70s career. In it, we can hear Dave giving a quiet “hum” to himself at the close of some of his songs. It’s as if he is in the room with us – his way of showing his love for the tune, for the audience who gratefully listened, for us.
(Dave kindly gave Frank permission to share this priceless gem with others. We are working on those details.)
So, it seems Dave hadn’t quite retired from live performing. YouTuber “Bristol Ron” saw Dave back in Bristol and filmed him performing “Sad Pig Dance” (with some subtle rhythmic variations) on February 15th, 1993. (UPDATE: Bristol Ron has a whole series from this concert here.)
(UPDATE: For more information on Dave’s career and life, see the many truly wonderful comments below from friends, fans and relatives.)
As remarkable as his music but even more surprising was the fact that Dave built the guitars he played and recorded with in the early 1970s. No one did that back then. You begged, borrowed and stole, then went to the guitar store and bought a guitar. Period. (Or, like most of us, you first got used hand-me-downs from older brothers and neighborhood kids headed off to college.)
We see what is alleged to be his first home-made guitar in his Feb 28 1975 performance of “Stagefright” (above) on the British television show Old Grey Whistle Test, Dave played this striking blue-green instrument with a unique headstock. Evans fan Stefano Bertoncello said on his 2009 Twogoodears blog that this was built in 1968. An anonymous commenter on that post wrote in 2018: “I knew Dave when I was a student at Loughborough University in the late 60s. He was building guitars and composing the songs that later became his first two albums.” Dave later completely modified this guitar, stripping the finish and making a microtonal fretboard. (UPDATE: As my friend Abaji writes in the Comments, Dave eventually put the neck back to normal frets, then gave the formerly-green fantastic-sounding instrument to Abaji. Fans will be happy to know that Dave’s other instruments will be going to other friends he specified to Benoit.)
Even more striking was his “Rectangular bouts” guitar with which he recorded 1976’s Take a Bite Out of Life. He plays it also in this YouTube clip of the opening song from the album.
Being both harp guitar and Pierre Bensusan fans, Frank and I knew that Dave had continued to build instruments – as Pierre had famously commissioned an outrageous harp guitar from Dave with seventeen sub-basses!
Above, Pierre with the new harp guitar. Below, the harp guitar today.
I’m sure many of us would kill to hear Pierre on Dave’s harp guitar. Alas, the instrument has gone unused. Frank and I used to try to cajole Pierre into playing or recording something with it, but it wasn’t to be (he told Frank that the 6-string is how he makes his living and if he played harp guitar he’d want to play it all the time to create something special with it. He also wanted all the chromatic bass notes, but admitted it was too much to look down at that sea of strings!).
The Harp Guitar Gathering must have inspired Dave the luthier. When he came back two years later, he had a brand new harp guitar with him. It was somewhat similar to Pierre’s, but with a sensible seven subs (Ben’s preferred number, which surely influenced him. Dave also adopted Ben’s preferred bolt-on neck design, agreeing it simplified things greatly; this harp guitar’s two necks can be easily removed). It had a significantly domed top and back, and gave us all a hint of what Pierre’s must sound like (very different and very wonderful).
We were thrilled to see Dave as part of the Luthier panel, and boy, do I now wish we had videotaped that.
L-R: Benoit Meulle-Stef, Mike Doolin, Dave, Duane Noble, Dennis Mitchell (d. 2018), Jim Worland and Rich Mermer.
It was even cooler seeing Dave among the harp guitar players for the concert’s “Water is Wide” grand finale:
Once again, I simply had too little time with Dave over the weekend. I envy other’s experiences, especially highlights like this one:
Dave in a duet with Stacy Hobbs and Stace’s two Larsons!
Visiting Historic Williamsburg. Dave, Benoit, Joe and Linda Morgan, me, Jaci (Rohr, my wife).
Even more appropriate here; three of the six are no longer with us: Dave, Hiro Takai (1963−2018) and SB’s 3-legged dog Ben.
Fortunately, we were blessed with Dave twice more! (Hiro would make it back two more times also – for HGG10 & HGG15.)
Dave came back two years later when we had switched the location to Milford, CT (Stephen Bennett’s new home). He brought back the same harp guitar, which received the SB “Luthier Challenge” treatment (above), along with all the other builders’ latest instruments.
Above, watching Stephen play it. Look how Dave is just beaming with pride!
Dave’s last Gathering was a great one – HGG10 in Dallas!
In a then-record-setting finale, Hiro is front and center, while Dave is off at right.
Another personal memory, if I may. Back at HGG7, I played an all-too-rare new original tune (from my Dogs CD), after which Dave sidled up, locked eyes and buzzed “You should write more.” And so I did. Something quirky and adjacent-string chromatic-y announced itself one day on my fretboard and I ran with it. I called it “Dave’s Glad Rag” (in homage to his “Sad Pig Dance”) and played it for Friday’s Open Mic.
Dave was tickled, I got my hug, and all was right in the world. (Thank you Chuck Thompson for capturing this!)
To everyone’s delight, Dave brought along a brand new harp guitar! Similar to his previous, but a charming parlor size, with a longer harp frame for its seven subs. It was another jewel and sounded wonderful.
Dave sharing his instrument with us in his hotel room.
At the end of the Gathering, singer/harp-guitarist Nancy Conescu purchased Dave’s instrument (for which I have continued to kick myself!). Frank remembers her saying that she and Mike (Doolin, her husband) wanted to collect instruments by builders they admired and she really liked Dave’s given its size and range for accompanying her voice. Sadly, this was to be the very last instrument built by Dave.
I would spend the next several years leading up 2018 arranging, writing and recording tunes for my epic Norwegian Wood CD using my collection of early-1900s Knutsen harp-instruments. I got “Dave’s Glad Rag” down (on a modern Dyer harp guitar copy, actually), then decided to do a new arrangement of his “Sad Pig Dance” for a giant 8-bass Knutsen harp guitar.
It happened to be his 75th birthday, so I sent him the finished master, a tad more confident than that fateful day back in 2007! His email reply, copied below, is the best gift I could have hoped for:
Hindsight. We never seem to learn just how short and precious life is. I so regret that I didn’t make the attempt to visit Dave for a week here and there in order to interview him, discuss his guitar ethos, not to mention getting his life story. But I expect it wouldn’t have proven fruitful (though the company, food and beer would have been divine!); Dave was just too self-deprecating and humble, and may not have been comfortable sharing all that. Indeed, the folklore has endured: “Vagabond” Dave was something of an enigma then and now – and will likely forever remain a hugely under-researched talent. Perhaps some of his many friends and guitar colleagues will add to his story.
And, so – from Sad Pig Dance…to Glad Dave’s Rag…
Interesting how those tunes perfectly summed this up for me and gave me this Blog title. While I’m enormously sad, I am forever glad that Dave Evans…was. And that I was able to share in his extraordinary world.
Until next time…
Images and photographs come from various Internet record sites, YouTube, Pierre Bensusan and various Gathering participants: Chuck Thompson CHGP, Hiro Takai, Frank Doucette, Mike Doolin, Linda Schaffner, & Linda Morgan.
Thanks to Frank and Ben for memories and research.
Appendix: Quotes on Dave’s Music
Ian A. Anderson, 1971:
- “Dave is one of that rare breed of people who have a natural ability to produce superb results at whatever they turn their hands to…”
Ian Anderson, 2001:
- “The press…fell on The Words In Between with considerable joy…”
- “…he’d produced an instant classic.”
- “…it still sounds fresh and original, a true lost gem of British ‘contemporary folk…”
- “Head and shoulders above many other now-cult artefacts from the time…”
Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop:
- “…his sound is utterly unique, as is his feeling for harmony.”
- “…others remind the listener of the impressionistic composers, particularly the maverick, Eric Satie.”
- “…Dave never sounds like he’s forcing stylistic marriages. Like any true artist, he has digested his influences and come out singing his own song.”
Steve Gunn, 2018:
- “Every aspect of his sound was of his own design.”
- “Evans has rightfully earned cult status amongst anyone with an ear for the fingerpicking style of guitar.”
- “Lou Reed (in the audience at the session where Dave’s “Stagefright” footage was shot) was said to have been completely mesmerized by Evans’ phenomenal – yet seemingly effortless – touch.”
- “…the rarity of his talent lies in his gift for melody, which is relayed both instrumentally, and via his sweet Welsh lilt.”
- “The Words in Between feels clear and effortless. Dave’s consoling voice comes through in his words, and his exquisite guitar playing guides us along on this lovely journey.”
Tom Cole, October 2, 2018:
- “It’s not just his seemingly effortless playing. There’s a gift for melody and an astounding delicate beauty that goes beyond his fleet fingerwork.”
- “He’s also an accomplished lyricist and a good singer…”
- “What sets Evans apart…is his buoyant touch and his relaxed, unforced, conversational approach to words and music. His best lyrics tell poignant stories about characters he knew…that Evans captures through vivid scenes, people and emotions with an easy poetry.”
All About Jazz:
- “Dave Evans, however, was one who coupled his love for open tunings with his knack for writing good songs and came up with a terrific album…”
- “(Sad Pig Dance) is quite an album to rest his legacy upon, a near perfect recording full of strong melodies and nimble playing.”
- “Evans’ pieces are frequently lyrical and whimsical…”
- “Sad Pig Dance is a marvel of an album, the kind that is so good it transcends its genre and just becomes good music.”
Stefano Bertoncello (Twogoodears blog), 2009:
- “…he wrote, arranged and played among the most pleasant, beautiful, challenging, poetic – to play and to listen to – guitar tunes, ever.”
- “…at every guitar gathering or Open Mic wherever you play one of these… well, folks… people get trapped in awe… it’s a mix of old melodies, weird, unseen technique and tunings and a touch of mystery…”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. – G
Found myself humming “The Words In Between”, and remembered I still had the album, so I’ve been playing it since! Saw Dave at a gig, with Jaqui McShee, and David Renbourn, in a village hall, just outside Bude, about 1975/6 and always remember him singing “Black Eyed Suzie”, Happy days!
Oh my. This morning as I watched the rain trickling down the window pane here in Plymouth I had the strongest urge to listen to Raining Cats And Dogs by Dave Evans. I believe he composed the instrumental as a memory to when, as a little boy, he watched the same. Of course he captured the flowing movement and diversions so perfectly. He was, and always will be, so unique. As much as I love guitar playing no one has ever come close to the descriptive qualities that he could make visual through his cascading style.
I was lucky enough to know him and we first met when I supported him at the Crypt Folk Club under St. Martin’s Church at Trafalgar Square in London. We both hit it off and after the gig we hit the London late night bars. He was so warm, friendly and came with a myriad of great stories and humour.
I am not ashamed to say that he was the only reason I picked up the guitar. I first heard him playing Elephantasia and couldn’t believe that someone could make a guitar sound like a stampede of Elephants.. Even baby ones calling out from the herd. Incredible. Unique.
When he heard me play a big Dave Evans smile swallowed his face and he said, to quote, “There is a bit of Evans in those songs Pat”, seeing my embarrassment he put me at ease saying, “I am honoured.. I ‘borrowed’ stuff of the guy who inspired me namely Steve Tilston”.
The last time I spoke he contacted me to give me first refusal on his angular box acoustic as featured on the cover of Take A Bite Out Of Life… I regret so much not taking him up on that.. It was a generous give away price too.
As I have got older I started to wonder how I would feel when such icons of my musical being would pass. Now I know. Sad but so Glad to have known the man and music that is Dave Evans.
Wonderful writeup. I wish I had known Dave Evans. Thank you for introducing me to his music. I’m listening to Sad Pig Dance as I write. What an amazing musician and luthier.
His tuning and his take on Irish traditional music changed my life and led to over 200 of my arrangements and compositions in his wonderful CGDGAD tuning. Thank you God and Dave Evans for my musical life.
Thanks for a lovely write up. I wish I had met Dave Evans and I am a little surprised I did not, or maybe I did in the distant past. A very special artist and gentleman.
I first saw Dave perform on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in the 70s. I also remember him on the lunchtime tv programme ‘Pebble Mill at One’; he played ‘Keep me from the cold’ if my memory is correct. I’m very sad to read of his passing. His music has been with me since my teenage years and will be for the rest of my life. I never saw him play live but wish so much that I had. RIP Dave and thank you so much for all the pleasure you have given.
Thanks to the wonder of the web I fell in through the open door of the harp guitar world. I came here looking for Dave Evans and found him. I had heard Dave had died and was very saddened. He was a long time friend of mine, from about the time he turned up in Bristol 50 years ago. We kept in touch over the years, I would call into his guitar workshop in Brussels, perhaps stay over. he seemed very settled in his way of life. Not for him the life on the road, though he was toughened by years at sea, and told me some hairy tales. The life of the solo travelling musician, the long journeys, then hanging about, jumping up when your name is called and be the life and soul of the party. No thanks. Dim diolch (as they say where Dave was born).
Dave had sent me photos of his visits to the harp gtr conventions, which showed him smiling, looking happy..Great! but unfortunately they all were lost when my hard disk gave up the ghost during the lockdown. So it is good to see some here.
Many years back I suggested I play one of his tunes. Give his music a voice on the live stage every night. Maybe “Braziliana”. He laughed, “You’ll have to take another guitar Johnny boy” The tuning was CGDGBflatD. Another of his tunes was CGDGAD or something and he used DADGAD as well because everybody else was! I said that’s like moving the keys around on a piano. Hmmmmm. His usual reply.
Some of Dave’s contemporaries enjoyed the spotlight, enjoyed the entourage and sycophancy but it wasn’t something that Dave sought. He enjoyed praise of course, and when I offered it he would hum and hah and wonder whether I was right or not. This was because he was a skilled craftsman, of high value. He made the guitars, he made the music, and ceramics and beer.
Dave Evans made it to 80. An artist fulfilled by his craft.
Lovely to hear from you Mr. James!
Spent many an hour or two listening to both you an Dave around the folk clubs in Plymouth, the dog at your feet.
Still play a bit of guitar; his “Rosie,” and your “Don’t even know your name.”
Gregg, thank you for this truly wonderful celebration of a good man. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Dave Evans (as well as his cousin, Mary, some of their friends and a neighbour) at a concert during the Orkney Folk Festival (and then a number of gatherings thereafter). I count myself particularly lucky to have met Dave and to call him my friend. I didn’t know him as a musician at that time; I had only heard stories of his life as a guitarist. That is, until sometime after the festival when he sent me copies of “Sad Pig Dance” and “The Words In Between” with a short letter that expressed his hope I had something to play them on. Fortunately I did. His music is wonderful! I only heard stories of his life as a musician and these CDs really hit home to me just how talented he was, and how moving his compositions are.
Thank you for this tribute. His positive influence and musical legacy will live on a long time I think.
Sir Gregory – you are never one to half-ass anything, and certainly not this awesome tribute to Dave. Admittedly – as a budding guitarist I was a John Renbourn fan more so than Dave, not really having heard too much of his music. But I certainly knew of his legendary status through the whole Kicking Mule era and wonderful ragtime guitarists it produced. What a thrill it was meeting him at the Gatherings – and was fortunate enough to offer him a ride back to Roanoke VA from Williamsburg (HGG 5 in 2007), hang out for a few days, then usher him up to Charlottesville for him to meet up with folk artist Molly Andrews (there was story there, involving Duck Baker, beyond the scope of my comment). He certainly liked his Scotch Whiskey (was quick to share and sent us a bottle for Xmas) and rolled his own smokes…. We laughed, played, shared stories and made some fond memories – what a great dude! Then the years go by and people get out of touch, such is life. Hard to be a sad pig about it when he lived to be 80 and passed peacefully in his sleep; the silent exit, nice coda Dave. Thank you Gregg –
So although I have no personal connection to Dave I was keen to leave a message here. I discovered Dave’s music at the beginning of lockdown here last year. A latecomer to the man’s work. I can’t remember exactly how I came across him, either YouTube recommending me to listen to Stagefright or through that video’s linking in an article on his then-recently reissued debut album, but I was totally knocked out from those dazzling first moments.
Sometimes in life we need people and art to keep us going. Lockdown was a trouble for all of us this time last year, and I felt that, having found all I could on the web, it was imperative that I sought out his physical work as a means to keep me going. From first listening through The Words in Between I knew that I needed to pick up the record itself initially, then subsequently finding a sealed version of Take a Bite Out of Life (I would hope he could forgive me for uploading a rip of this in full to YouTube, it was too beautiful to be kept hidden – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdRtX5ja6oU), following that the Irish Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes & Airs compilation as well as Sad Pig Dance (Elephantasia is still a bit of a challenge to find it seems)….
Not only those particular works, I should say, but his music was an entry point into multiple strands of folk and guitar music, and he also led me back into artists which I perhaps hadn’t listened to before as dedicatedly – from artists such as Pierre Bensusan, Dan ar Braz, Steve Tilston, Ian A Anderson and Duck Baker, his associations to the Village Thing and Kicking Mule, his connections in Bristol (only down the road!) all opening doors to new worlds of music that I now couldn’t envisage life without, and his inventive and unique form of playing inspiring me to seriously reconsider how I treated guitar playing! (Somewhere I read that he only started learning at 23, not much younger than where I am now, so still time!)
I suppose that I feel particularly sad about the news of his death because I only came across this website indeed about a week ago, and seeing a link to his email I was keen to send him a message to say how much his music and evidently-colourful mentality to life helped to sustain me throughout this last year – and I’m sure in the years to come as well. I suppose that it’s too late to say it to him in person, but heaven knows his impact will be long-lasting and far-reaching, and the colours that he painted will spread far and beyond.
Thank you for your lovely tribute article to Dave Evans. I first met him in 1973 at the famous Pipers Folk Club ,Penzance Cornwall. I had just moved here from a very troubled Belfast city. I’m still here. Of course for a young man that meeting was inspiring. Not just the music but the whole life that I saw in him. I saw him again in Cornwall later on. In 1979 he came again and this time stayed with me and my wife for a few days after his gig. This time he brought with him a guitar made for him by John Le Voi in Lincolnshire. John was known and still is for making Selmer style guitars used by Django Rhinehart. Dave said he just had to have the cedar that John had gotten hold of. Body size, shape, neck width, low frets were all Dave’s ideas new to John Le Voi. Somehow it had that sound. It sounded like Dave even when I played it. Needless to say I had to have one. I had John make the same guitar for me but this time with a more shallow neck and at the time a cut away like the Selmer that John was so good at. I also had the headstock very much in that style. The result was stunning. A twelve fret with cutaway, very unusual at the time. When I saw Dave again about 1982 we compared his with mine and do you know we couldn’t tell them apart. Dave just wished he had the cutaway like mine. I’ve been playing it for forty years. The wide neck and couple of little splits made me retire it though and I now have a new custom instrument by Rory Dowling of Taran guitars. You can find a lot of my tunes on YouTube, Adrian O’Reilly all played live here at home in one take. Most on Nylon string Flamenco style guitars by Francisco Navarro, so easy to play with hand problems. Dave Evans, what can I say? Privileged to have met him and will never forget. His music has been with me through it all and so it will be. Thank you Gregg, I am so glad to know what happened in his life in the years since those days when he lit up my world. Best Regards, good fortune in all that you do, Adrian. Pic:me with my John Le Voi guitar, thanks to Dave. https://www.harpguitars.net/luthiers/evans/o'reilly.jpeg
Dear Gregg, thank you for this wonderful extraordinary overview of much of my dear cousin David Evans’ life! David was 2 years old the day my late parents (my Mother was his aunt ) were married and his birthday was never forgotten! He attended Framlingham College in Suffolk, spending his holidays at our late Grandmother’s home in Birch, Essex. From the high seas he wrote many a letter to me at boarding school, magical descriptions of Adelaide or Bombay, of curries and the beautiful women of Japan… i have EVERY letter ! At Loughborough he lived on a barge with swans pecking at the windows i recall… he had a beautiful golden labrador dog and created stunning pottery pieces of which his cousins are lucky enough to possess…. He came to stay for Christmas with his Aunt Jeannie & family + guitar and wrote several of his songs at Packwood Grange in the West Midlands… staying up late with the attentive aunts and cousins and a dram or two ! He stayed with me in London and for many years didn’t miss the incredibly Orkney International Folk Festivals here in Stromness. At his request he will be buried in Stromness kirkyard by the sea in the islands that were home to his grandfathers and greatgrandfathers. He leaves a huge hole in our lives for sure.
What a musically gifted friend Dave was. Whenever Kitty and I visited Brussels, Ben and Dave would take us around town and give us the royal treatment. Dave knew the best cafes around town, and turned us on to some amazing waffles! We will miss him. Thanks for the memories.
We will miss Dave! He was an integral part of our tribe. I also remember being influenced by his recordings when I was in college.
I first saw Dave play the well known’Stagefright’ performance as a budding 14 year old acoustic player.My mum was also watching and,for once,she didn’t pour scorn on what I was into(in those days it was more often about the clothes/makeup).Her only comment was ‘well,he can certainly play….’ I was enthralled but couldn’t quite afford records just yet.A few years later,though,I found ‘Take a bite out of life’ in the local record(drug) store and promtly snapped it up.I certainly wans’t dissapointed ! Soon after I found Sad pig dance and with the help of the enclosed tab books was soon learning my favorites.By the end of the 70s I had left home and also caught Dave live for the first time; a brief spot at the city of London university folk fest.He was appearing alongside people like Martin Carthy,Dick Gaughan and Nic Jones.He was warmly recieved,played a great little set and I was lucky enough to catch him many more times ,mostly in Kent,near and in Dartford(home of Mick’n’ Keef).At farningham(in the countryside)I also played’Steppenwolf’ for him to see how wrong I’d got it.He was fascinated by the way I had tackled the second section(all campanells instead of pull-offs)Watched a guitar workshop with him at the Norwich folk fest back in the early 80s;one revelation I came away with was his admission (after a long discussion on hybrid picking)that if he had to learn to play all over again he wouldn’t have been a traditional fingerpicker;it would have all ben hybrid-which blew me away;can you imagine’cats and dofs’ played hybid? It seems he tended to see himself as a good picker who happened to be mostly a songwriter ! I also saw him play (possibly )his very )ast gig in the crypt of a huge old church in Trafalgar square(St Martin’s in the fields)sometime in the early 80s.The acoustics were as good as you might imagine and he played quite a few new numbers which led me to believe he was going to release yet another new recording.Wrong,but some of these have surfaced on YouTube; ‘Squaring the triangle’ and ‘All roads lead to Rome’ being two.One of the best ones hasn’t come to light and that was one called’deep sea sailor’.It had a monotone bass and flamenco like backstrokes,in his own G minor tuning(C bass) and a descending bassline with vicious bends to boot. It ended with an enourmous G minor9th chord which still rings in my head-that was the last I heard of him until YouTubes’ Bristol Ron uploaded a gig in Bristol,bringing back many happy memories; I had to split to catch the last train(the church was a few blocks from Charing Cross station). I’ve been jonesing for any more Dave for decades now; any nformation re. how to get hold of the ’92 recording would be most welcome(I’m on FB if anyone has any info. Max(longtime Dave fan)
How sad is this eh? I only just found out about the passing bell for Dave. It seems only right that something positive should come from this sadness and that is to read your words. I would love to get hold of versions of those songs that I too remember at being lost classics… love your playing of Leaving Brittany, got any tab? Anyway, we both were privileged to have met the man and heard his music. Great days. Here’s to you, your muse and the music you love. Pat Orchard
In the late 70’s and early 80’s when I was just discovering the world of fingerstyle guitar, I happened upon the Kicking Mule record label catalog. With my meager finances at the time, I immediately bought 13 LP’s and as many accompanying tabs as were available. In that group was Sad Pig Dance, which really hit home with me. At that point I knew that I was helplessly hooked on Dave’s compositions and would have to work on them until I could play them. I regret not having the opportunity to meet Dave in person to let him know how much his writing motivated me to become a fingerstyle addict. I never tire of playing his tunes. His contributions will live on with me and others.
I have all Dave’s albums on vinyl but no record player! I’ll get Elephantasia put on cd and send you a copy.
I have fond memories of sharing a joint with Dave at a student flat York Uni after a gig he did for the Uni folk club at Black Swan. He refused to play The Words in Between that I requested- presumably he was already bored by it. Amazing to discover how late he took up guitar and how many talents he had.
Thank you for great article and photos.
Just one thing : Dave was born on December 3rd ( not 1st).
Some memories about Dave come back to my mind…
1976 or 1977 I was a teenager playing guitar since 2 or 3 years. In France, during these years, guitar was all about Marcel Dadi / Chet Atkins music. This music wasn’t my cup of tea at all, I was searching after other feelings and vibrations…With a friend we decided to make a trip to London. You remember this period without internet? Il was so difficult to discover new music. In a narrow street of London, I discovered Ali Baba’ cavern as a vinyl records shop with a lot of Kicking Mule albums. I could afford 3 of them… one was Sad Pig Dance… Getting back home, I listened and listened again and again Dave’s lp. As much as his music became something natural for me.
Second souvenir is at Pierre Bensusan’shome during late 90is. Dave’s incredible hg was there and I had the luck to play this beast for a short moment. This instrument would need planty of time to be fully discovered. I had the feeling to have in hand the result of a genious and totaly passionate mind/soul. For a short time I made the dream to borrow it from Pierre but I never asked him. I had much to do with my own one! Maybe in a future life, I’ll do it !
Reading Gregg’s blog, I feel as though I met a new friend. I don’t know Dave Evans at all but I feel as though I do now having read his story. This inspiring musician lived several lives plus–all in one lifetime. You were fortunate to have been able to absorb and benefit from his many talents.
Easter points to a time of renewal and regeneration. I’ll take a listen and maybe I can learn something new through his music as well. Thanks, Sheri
Sad&Glad! Really the best way to describe my feelings when I think of the situation. What I want to tell is my special relationship with Dave’s first guitar.
Ben introduced me to Dave in his workshop more or less 20 years ago and since, I’ve been going to Brussels for the making of my guitars by my friend Ben and spending days with him and Dave.
Two years ago, I’m there and I ask Ben to call Dave asking him if he could lend me a guitar for a recording. I was asking for one of his guitar not THE guitar. His first guitar that has the INCREDIBLE sound…
The next day, Dave comes and tells me that is not the guitar you want… You need this one… And he gives me the one I fell in love with ten years ago, the number one ! He tells me: Abaji, I cannot play this guitar anymore, it is yours now. You are the one who will play it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What????? Yes it is yours now, it is my present to you… Ben is looking at me with his wide opened eyes and I have tears in mine and Dave is smiling the way he smiles.
Since that day, everyday I open the green case of THE guitar and say hello to Dave Evans. Love, Peace & Music always.
Dear fellow readers,
Having stalked this rich, authoritative and unique domain for 10 years, today marks the day I make my first comment, if my memory serves. It has delivered and benefitted my life in countless ways on several hundred occasions by now, (credit must also be given here to all contributions not solely authored by GM), and continues to be a treasure trove, a refuge from, and antidote to today’s “this article is a 3 minute read” mark on on the internet history timeline.
Watching all facets develop of Gregg’s writing during this I have been consuming it, including the aspect I love and which I think defines his style: the personal connections and reflections peppered in, and complimenting the facts. When I catch a blog post or discover a new (to me) article in the bowels of the main site of a fine early 00s vintage for example, I of course read every single word. Because like all the audience here, I know that when Gregg Miner picks up his metaphorical pen, from it will flow something of note and distinction.
This entry was no exception, reaching all the way to the end of all the quotes you assembled. As thorough and appreciated piece of writing from you, as ever, and in this case it came across exceptionally clearly and I thought it was a touchingly personal tribute but in the form of an obituary, encompassing all aspects Dave was known for in his life and to be commended that you rounded up all the information and images etc as well, (yet again proving your credentials as an equally proficient and dedicated historian of the modern era not just more distant times).
I can see how he was a real standout, thank you for contextualising how he came up and the scene. Sadly only ever meeting him in the workshop towards the end of his life and never hearing him play a note, the way he looked at what I was doing on the harp guitars now makes total sense knowing of his talent and artistically fully formed style as a player. I met him on the day he had just picked up his Belgian ID card, finally becoming a citizen after all those years, in preparation for the impending Brexit that was to come. Contender for THE most accomplished player-builder of the modern era?
(Not forgetting singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, potter etc etc)
Dave’s Sad Pig Dance album is one of my main influence. I can say that Dave’s music is a part of my music. Deep inside I share something very strong with his music. A very close feeling. Something you can’t express with words. It touches to time and space. A common path in this period. Dave’s gone but his music is really, absolutely a part of me. I will always think to him when I’ll be playing. Petit frère.
Just read your post about Dave Evans. Very sad. I was a big fan as well and spent many hours attempting to play his music.
I knew Dave for over 30 years. He repaired my guitars when I lived in Brussels. Then when I stopped in at Benoit’s place, we always had a drink and a chat. Met up once in the US, too, when I played at the harp guitar gathering. He was a great guitarist, singer-songwriter, luthier, potter, cook, all around human being, and the coffee was always on at his place! Low key and unassuming, I was always surprised by the mega talent within. I won’t say rest in peace, because your probably shaking things up in some parallel reality! I’ll join you one of these days. Jim