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Friday, August 14, 2009

Dave Evans... acoustic guitar player extraordinaire









One of my true acoustic guitar heroes has been - for decades now and much more than John Renbourn or Leo Kottke, on same Bert Jansch and John Fahey and Robbie Basho's pars - the great, now (musically) "semi-retired" Dave Evans.

As not too much has been recently written about him - on paper and web, as well - let me try to fill the gap, as he wrote, arranged and played among the most pleasant, beautiful, challenging, poetic - to play and to listen to - guitar tunes, ever.

As a plus, he represented, to me, the Renaissance/African bridge with modern times, as he built his first self, hand made acoustic green-topped guitar in 1968 and recorded the seminal first two much sought-after records ("The Words in Between" and "Elephantasia", items which you'll not easily see at your local second-hand disc shop) - Ian A. Anderson's produced, published on his The Village Thing label, and two of the (almost) three records he made for Ed Denson/Stefan Grossman's Kicking Mule Records.

Like a kora player from Mali, he first built his instruments, that green guitar, then the sharp edged one, shown on "Take a bit out of life" disc cover and he played his own composed tunes flawlessly on them... if you look at the rare YouTube footage (see here below...) from the early '70s, titled "Stagefright", you'll appreciate the relaxed fluency, the elegant, yet minimalist fingering and right hand technique, something which, beside the musical, instrumental dexterity per se, is only achieved through an intimate knowledge of the instrument he built himself.

With its 12 frets out of the body, large fingerboard, very personal sonic footprint, it's like a voice: unique.

All his tunes, from Sad Pig Dance to The Whistling Milkman used quite weird, seldom seen tuning, being variation/mixes of C and G tunings, with merits of both: by chance, his CGDGAD became one of my (humbly) fave, like Michael Hedges' and, most of all, Alex de Grassi's.

But the highest peaks of Dave Evans's art were reached with the five Irish tunes he arranged and played on the last recordings he made: Irish Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes and Airs on Kicking Mule label.

He shared this very disc with Davey Graham, Duck Baker and Dan Ar Bras, BUT Dave's tunes shine of a sooo bright light to shadow other, no lesser tunes.

His playing is so easy to the ears that when I had the chance, some years after this disc was issued - thanks to Janet Smith from Berkeley, California for sending to me all the TABs... also if we corresponded for years, she will never know what a turbo gift she made to me;-)) - while learning and playing these tunes, I fully appreciated the class, the beauty of these melodies and arrangements: The Galtee Hunt, Sheebeg and Sheemore, The Donegal Pilgrim, Mawgan Magan and Hewlett are in my playing playlist since early '90s... and every time I play I smile like an idiot, so satisfied to look at my fingers dancing up and down the fretboard!

It's possibly a less-flashy, yet purer, acoustic guitar playing than, say, the Don Ross', Michael Hedges' hinted or Tommy Emmanuel's approaches, with tapping and the likes... BUT when, at every guitar gathering or Open Mike 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 mistery (i.e. - "Dave Evans? Who's him? Do you mean AC/DC's singer?!?! Uhhh... he's also playing nice acoustic guitar..." or "Do you mean The Edge, U2 guitarist?!?! Great!"

... the names confusion didn't help, indeed!

After building an harp guitar for Pierre Bensusan, who still honours Dave on his nice site for this masterpiece, mr. Evans, now David Evans, settled in Belgium many years ago, where he managed another of his passions: pottery.

While sharing with mates a traditional brewery, he still persues pottery, with occasional guitar fixing on demand and, I hope'n'trust, some guitar playing.

A very Renaissance-like man, with beauty and good life as a goal... he will always remain an hero and a lighthouse for me.

Thanks a lot, Dave... hope to meet you in the near future, David;-)

Dave Evans' "Stagefright" on YouTube

La Touffe Brewery and Pottery

Dave Evans in Pierre Bensusan's site, about his harp guitar



11 comments:

gcolivicchi said...

I share your feeling for Dave's music and for his, quite extraordinary, persona. I learned about him not much longer than a year ago and from that moment on I've kept listening to his music almost every day! Being myself a painter, and a self taught guitar player, I truly admire Dave for being so capable at everything he does. He's a never ending source of inspiration for me and a true role model.

I really enjoyed reading your article!
Have a nice day! Giacomo.

BTW - I agree with you, I don't think I've ever heard a guitar sounding sweeter than on his Sheebeg Sheemore.

Unknown said...

I am unable to properly speak the import of Dave Evans guitar work to my life. I agree with the tone and feeling of your words. Every single piece on the original Sad Pig Dance LP, along with the better of his other composed tunes captured from other albums and included on the sad Pig Dance CD, are brilliant and without parallel. His Irish arrangements are also fabulous. However, his own compositions and playful but deep performance of them, must surely be considered the pinnacle of his work by far. They put him indeed in the vaunted realm of Fahey and Basho, and a little later Jansch, Van Duser (Stride Guitar) and BenSusan, who sound little like him or each other but share the spark of innovation and personal vision, the creative pressure of their particular types of genius, like the unique expressions of great modern painters. Of them all, I can listen to Dave Evans' smallish output more frequently than the others, and still discover new depths of technique, ideas and emotions. In my personal universe it's safe to say Sad Pig Dance is the greatest single purely fingerstyle guitar album by anyone.

twogoodears said...

Feel the very same like you, BUT, being an acoustic guitar player and having learned to play a bunch of his best tunes, all his Irish tunes, Chaplinesque, Sad Pig Dance, my most beloved, happy/sad and soooo beautiful, Morocco John and the instrumentals from TAKE A BIT OUT F life... no second to SAD Pig Dance... Well playing his tunes you FULLY understand the art, skill, poetry and soul beauty of this amazingly underrated musician's musician!
Thanks for sharing yr. feeling.
S.

Superdonut said...

Indeed!!

Evans' music stands on its own beauty and merit, period.

But also, more and more, I see Dave Evans' work as 'the missing link' between the 'Jansch, Graham, etc. set,' 'Pierre' on to Michael Hedges. When I listen to Stagefright, I can just hear Hedges coming ~20 years later and diving (with the delight of great discovery) into Evans' specific tones and techniques and expanding/ expounding on them to his own compositional goals.

What a rich inheritance for us all.

I know Sad Pig Dance comes with several (11?) tabs with the CD [which is deserves PURCHASING : )], but can anyone point to or share all these tabs?

While I'm asking for miracles, I might as well add how GREAT it would be to have them in GuitarPro6 format (or tef, or ptb--which one can import into GPro6, which sounds SO GREAT with those guitar samples. Gone are the days of midi-midi oink-oink quack-quack sounds... working, transcribing, composing in GPro6 (no, I'm not with the company, nor on commission) is such a SONIC JOY in and of itself.

I would be grateful if anybody could help!!

Many thanks, and Happy New Year!!

Superdonut
a.k.a. FretMan@Frontier.com

L.P. Simonsen said...

I actually saw Dave Evans live in the 70's, one of the best concerts I've been to. I can still recall the mood of the evening. What a musician, nae what an a r t i s t!

L.P. Simonsen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom Clowney said...

Just to mention beyond the sheer beauty and fluency of his compositions and technical dexterity is an absolutely beautiful voice. One of a kind

Thanks Dave your music has brought me much happiness. I love introducing your music to people and seeing their eyes light up.

twogoodears said...

I fully agree, Tom... an hidden treasure, indeed, also because it happened friends - when I named Dave - were waiting for some heavy metal electric guitar:-)))

Rose and Crown Management said...

Had the pleasure of meeting Dave in the flesh a few months ago and have asked him if he would consider another public performance, to which he smiled and said "Possibly". Would people travel to see him? The gig will be small and intimate in the West Country. Would welcome response as this is quite an exciting prospect....

twogoodears said...

Would REALLY like to experience Dave's wizardry... pretty sure he kept his playing up to par and fresh as in the '70s... hope and trust MANY others will be able to enjoy the upcoming event! Best wishes.

Spottheleopard said...

I experienced a bit of deja vue last night as I was watching (in the early hours of the morning - in Switzerland where I now live) old film of guitar greats playing at the BBC.

While a student at Glasgow University back in 1975(?) I was walking home from the Student Union with my flatmate to our (less than wonderful) apartment in Maryhill when we were stopped by - I would say a Commer van - the driver of which was looking for an address (on Wilton St I believe) where he and his passenger (who turned out to be Dave Evans) were looking for an address where they had been offered overnight accommodation after playing a gig at Strathclyde University. We invited them back to our place for a cup of tea (as you do) and talked at some length until the early hours (Dave's roadie - the driver - managed somehow to conjure up some cans of beer to complement the tea!) before we bid them farewell on their search for their overnight resting place.

That was 40 years ago and I still recall the evening very clearly. I recall Dave being at some pains to clarify that he wasn't the Dave Edmunds of "Sabre Dance" fame - clearly something that he had to do regularly!

That was long before the internet had been invented and pretty much the only opportunity one would have to listen to music, unless it happened to feature on "the Old Grey Whistle Test", was to find the album and ask to hear it at the local record store. Famously Virgin Records used to trap customers by offering used aircraft seats for this very purpose. I recall finding and listening to - I guess "Sad Pig Dance" - but didn't have the funds to make the investment (money was tight back then!).

So it was with some no small amount of pleasure that I heard Dave play again. It recalled a damp night of rather longer ago than I like to think of....

It would be a great pleasure to me to hear him play again. He came across back then as a really nice gentle guy, I think this is evident in his playing.

Memories..........