That Lucky Old Sun

TODAY (2nd October, 2014) is the 10th anniversary that my musical hero – and the world’s best fiddle player – Dave Swarbrick underwent a double lung transplant which ultimately saved his life.

From his early days with the Ian Campbell Folk Group to his recent forays with his good friend and English folk musician Martin Carthy, Dave – or Swarb to his fans – occupies a true legend status.

Although short in stature, he has always been larger than life with his high octane virtuoso fiddle playing, wit and banter and infectious personal charm.

But, during his 50s and early 60s Dave suffered steadily worsening health due to emphysema. There was huge embarrassment for the Daily Telegraph in 1999 when it published a premature obituary for Swarb, after he was admitted to hospital with a chest infection.

At the time he famously commented: “It’s not the first time I’ve died in Coventry.”

Almost immediately his long-time friend and drinking buddy Dave Pegg (Fairport Convention) and Dave’s wife Christine launched the SwarbAid appeal. This included a fund-raising concert at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in July 1999, and a limited-edition EP recorded live, to raise cash for Dave whilst his poor health was preventing him from working. It is a personal delight that I still have a copy of that EP.

After a relapse a few years later, they launched SwarbAid II with a similar concert in 2004 – and yes I have that T Shirt too! Dave received his double lung transplant on 2nd October that year.

During the past 10 years he has resumed his career with fervour, as a solo performer and tours every Autumn with Martin Carthy. In 2007 he joined his old cohorts from Fairport Convention on their 40th anniversary as a band at Cropredy to play their legendary album Liege and Lief in its entirity on stage. It is one of the musical highlights of my life to have been there and witness Swarb play as amazingly as ever.

Then this summer – following a flurry of emails – I was lucky enough to visit Dave’s home where his wife Jill gave me one of his old fiddles (for a donation in return – okay I bought it!).

So this morning as I thought about Dave, his humour, his music and his health something suddenly dawned on me. It was something which had almost passed me by.

You see, 27 years ago today I was lying in a bed in St Lawrence’s Hospital in Chepstow, South Wales recovering from cancer surgery.

The operation one week earlier was quite radical. To remove a malignant tumour, the size of an orange, the surgeons took away my right shoulder muscle and replaced it by re-routing one of my pectorals. Additionally they cut a dinner plate sized flap of flesh from the middle of my back to give my shoulder a good covering of flesh before seven weeks of radiotherapy.

Other than the cancer spreading to my right lung seven months later (which required more surgery) the first operation was a complete success. I lost a little mobility and strength and my off spin bowling action was definitely illegal, but it is a small price to pay for my life and the lives of three children.

The only downside is sometimes the muscles on the left of my back try to over compensate if I overdo it – and bang the back goes. I guess over more than a quarter of a century that has happened about ten times.

And it happened yesterday afternoon while working on demolishing and rebuilding an old Victorian wall in my garden. The result is that since about 6pm last night I have been hobbling around like an old cripple.

Subsequently I have spent most of today lying on our bed, watching the sun stream through the window, thinking bugger I am sore, but how fucking lucky I am to be here at all.

I guess Dave must feel the same!