I reported the death of Dave Swarbrick, one of my favourite musicians, at Salut! Live on the day he passed away. Here are some additional thoughts, plus clarification of the geography and other factual details with the help of Swarb's widow, Jill ...
Around the end of March or beginning of April, I decided it was time I sent greetings to the Midlands hospital where Dave Swarbrick, a great folk and folk-rock musician and also a genuinely good man, was being treated for serious problems associated with his chronic emphysema.
I checked the main newsagents in the small French resort where I live for half the year in search of a card depicting the violin, or fiddle as Swarb always called his instrument.
All I could find with violin/fiddle was a birthday card so I settled instead for a card with an arty Provencal design instead. Only after posting did I spot that Swarb's 75th birthday was imminent (April 5); the card I'd found and rejected would have been perfect.
Inconsequential as this may have been, I kept silently reproaching myself for the missed opportunity. I thought all too fleetingly of going back to see if the birthday card was still there. But soon, and quite unexpectedly to me, this unnecessary gesture would have been too late anyway.
Dave Swarbrick died on June 3*.
The official site of Fairport Convention, the wonderful folk-rock band Swarb served with distinction, reported: "We have just had the sad news from Alex Swarbrick that his father, Dave Swarbrick, has passed away. Swarb, as you know, had been seriously ill for some time and, although he had showed recent signs of improvement, died in hospital this morning."
I knew Swarb more for his music than personally. His music was exceptional; it is difficult to think of a more accomplished or innovative violinist/fiddler in his chosen genre. It took me time to appreciate his vocal qualities, perhaps a reflection of just how outstanding the late Sandy Denny was in the role of Fairport lead singer, but I came to recognise his as a perfect folk-rock voice.
More than that, he seemed a terrific human being. We met properly only once, when I visited his home in 2004 on my way to the Cambridge Folk Festival. Swarb was confined by serious ill health to his bedroom and an adjacent room he had converted into a studio. He was waiting for the double lung transplant, indeed clearance as being fit to undergo such surgery. Happily, the decision was in his favour and the operation was carried out in 2005, undoubtedly adding to his life the 11 years he not only survived but used to the full, returning to live and studio performance.
Of course, to readers of The Daily Telegraph, Swarb's death in June was old news. Back in 1998, the paper had published an obituary, wrongly believing he had died. I had an innocent hand in the matter, having been asked three days earlier to write an obituary because he was seriously ill. As I have explained on other occasions, I happened to be overseas covering the Kosovo conflict, but I did suggest to the Telegraph obituaries department (to whom the movements of reporters were incidental to daily life) that another writer on folk, Colin Irwin, would produce what might be needed in the event of Swarb's death.
The Other Colin wrote a superb piece. But someone at the office gained the mistaken impression he had died and the obituary was duly published. A few days later, a journalistic confrere, the photographer Roger Allen, was among a new group of press people to arrive in Skopje. He flung that day's Telegraph at me and, unaware of my role in what had appeared the day before, said: "Turn to the Obits page for the most amazing apology I've ever seen."
The obit was exceptionally but justifiably kind. Swarb was philosophical. He chatted happily about it when we met. And we kept in touch electronically; I once asked what piece of work he would like me to include in a Song of the Day series at Salut! Live. His response can be seen here. A song called Now Be Thankful, which sums up what many of us think we should feel about his life and work.
RIP Swarb. Bon courage, Jill, who has just sent me a beautiful message - "a privilege to be married to the old sod ... such colour and energy, love and that fiddle!" - Alex and the rest of the family. I am happy to record the Jill also thought the legitimate Telegraph obituary was even better than the premature one.
* Jill reports: he died very peacefully in the ICU at Bronglais Hospital, Aberystwyth. We moved from Coventry to mid-Wales last November 2015. Very sadly he was hospitalised with sepsis and double pneumonia in the New Year...after a fantastic performance in full pomp and swagger at a sell out charity gig in Machynlleth to help Syrian Refugees. Admitted in January to Aberystwyth Hospital, transferred to Birmingham, where he was basically "saved" by months of tireless endeavour by the Transplant Team there and top respiratory physicians, he survived all that!!! Came home on May 10 and we all thought, "well, he's done it again!!! Bionic!". We saw the beautiful springtime for three and a half weeks together, it was bliss. But in his last few days he [seriously] deteriorated. I think we both knew "this was it". He eventually died from pneumonia which may never have actually cleared up, kidney failure and heart problems. Summary: his body was just knackered ...
** Buy this box set from the Salut! Amazon link at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Swarb-Forty-Years-Finest-Fiddler/dp/B00008YGW1?ie=UTF8&redirect=true&tag=salusund-21. I told Jill all proceeds by way of commission would be diverted to any charity she chose to nominate. Her reply: "Anything to the Heart and Lung Transplantation team at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham would have pleased Dave very much" ...