A meeting with Kevin Dempsey – the fantastic musician from Coventry
Just a couple of days before Fairport´s Cropredy Convention started, in August, I had the pleasure to a meet-up and talk with Kevin Dempsey.
Kevin is a guitarist, singer and songwriter who has played with different groups at Cropredy several times.
Kevin was born in Coventry, UK, and still lives there, even if his music has taken him all around the world with four years of living and playing, in America and tours in Europe, India and Australia.
The music was already in Kevin´s life from the beginning. His father was a drummer, so naturally, drums was also the first instrument for Kevin to pick up. He was seven years old when he started to have drum lessons.
– I became a drummer and had my first band when I was 13, and we had a gig in public. It was a pop music band. One year later I started to play sould and stayed with two soul band for two years.
-I had a friend who was into folk music which I wasn´t, but my friend persuaded me to go to a folk concert – this concert changed my life! I started to play the acoustic guitar instead of the drums and at the age of 18, I was in my first folk band, Dando Shaft. I learnt the guitar by listening to a record, putting it on and off and trying to do the same!
In the seventies, Kevin joined a 26 piece band. The band wanted to go to America to try out the musical atmosphere. Kevin wasn´t too keen of going to America, but enjoyed being in the band – ”so, great, let´s go!”
But Kevin stayed for almost five years in America and really enjoyed it.
-I lived for nine months in Houston, Texas and then moved to California where we stayed almost four years which was absolutely fantastic! I played in the band and also with a latin american band, The Lost Bohemians. The members came from south America and then me, from Coventry! It was fantastic! It was not a concert band, it was a band for dancing , latin American dances!
– With the big band, we also had a prison tour. It was quite frightening at first, but once we started they seemed to love it, so it was amazing. Another time we played a private concert for Quincy Jones.
Kevin says that he had not been so much into jazz music earlier, but it was good for him to get to know jazz and get new influences.
After four years in America, it was time to go back to UK again.
1984 the folk band Whippersnapper was founded, consisting of Dave Swarbrick (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Chris Leslie (fiddle, mandolin, vocals, Kevin Dempsey (guitar, vocals) and Martin Jenkins (mandocell,flute, vocals). The first album, Promises, was released in 1985. Tsubo, was the second album.
After five years, Dave Swarbrick left the band and Whippersnapper continued as a trio until 1993. Martin Jenkins left the group this year and the band split up even if there was a tour again 1994.
Kevin Dempsey and and Chris Leslie released the album, Always with you, as a duo.
Chris Leslie joined Fairport Convention in 1996. Kevin Dempsey continued to play with Dave Swarbrick but Whippersnapper toured again as a full four member band in 2008 and 2009.
Kevin Dempsey has played and toured all over the world. Alone or in different constellations. For almost 20 years he has been working with Joe Broughton, a fiddler from Birmingham who is a great artist and has a school for young fiddlers called Joe Broughton`s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, consisting of around 65 young musicians! Joe Broughton is also a member of the Urban Folk Quartet.
Every Summer Kevin and Joe have a music camp for a week in France. Everybody can join. They live there together, rehearse and by the end of the week there is a concert. Kevin teaches the guitar and Joe the violin. Recently their common album Off by heart.
He started to work with American Rosie Carson and their first album was released in 2009. They have made three albums together.
Kevin Dempsey also belongs to the Fairport Convention family. He has played at the festival Fairport´s Cropredy Convention, in different sets with separate members, warm-ups before the festival etc. He sometimes play in Austria and at the folk festival taking place in Shetland.
Now we can only hope and pray for his first gig in Gothenburg, Sweden! I´m working on it!
Meet James Wood- the British musician living in France
James Wood was born and raised in Sheffield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His dad worked for the Social Security and his mum was a teacher. His grandfather, on his dad´s side was a grinder in the steel industry and his mum´s family had origins in Scotland where the family spent most of their holidays. James has one brother, Richard, who is a private detective and his sister, Jane, is a priest.
– I first became interested in music when I heard Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell and of course, Fairport Convention. I was a great fan and still am, of Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Pink Floyd, to name a few. There was so much going on at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies! I came to the Beatles a little later.
James tells about how he ”stole” his sister’s guitar and taught himself how to play by copying from records and ”of course with a little help from my friends”. He had had a few piano lessons before, so he knew a little about chords and harmony.
He started his first band at school, playing the bass and began the working men´s club circuit with another band at the age of sixteen. James started to write songs and his goal was to sing and accompany himself on the guitar.
-My main instrument is the acoustic guitar but I also play the electric guitar, the bass and keyboards.
Physics – another passion
-I went to university in Newcastle to study Physics, which is my other passion. While there, I joined a student band called The 45s and we made some recordings on an 8 track reel to reel which we sent off to London. Surprisingly we got a deal and zoomed off to London to record a single. This was 1979. The single was a success and got much radio play, so I took the decision to leave university and move to London. Then followed three years of intense gigging, playing at all the clubs and pubs in the city and several tours around the country.
James left the band and moved to France to be with his girlfriend. He decided to give the music a rest for a while and became an English teacher and went to evening school to study Physics.
-This was in Paris and my daughter Helena was born there in 1984. We left Paris for Nantes and I got a job in an electronics firm but when the company went bust, I decided to try my hand at the music again. I joined several bands and toured in France extensively.
In 2000, James went back to university in Nantes and did a degree in Physics. His intention was to continue and do a Master’s degree, but the tragedy of his daughter Helena who died in 2004, put a stop to the studies.
In 2016, the album The Last Journey was released. This album is his first album as a solo artist. The album is dedicated to his daughter, Helena, who tragically died in a car accident in Brisbane, Australia, where she was studying at Queensland university. James says that this project come to mind, when on the plane coming back from Australia, that he wanted to dedicate an album to his daughter. But it took many years before he could write anything. The first song he wrote was The Last Journey.
-When the songs were ready, I asked Gerry Conway (drums), Dave Pegg (bass) and Chris Leslie (violin and mandolin, all from Fairport Convention), if they would like to take part in the recording and they very kindly agreed. I recorded in my own studio, Woodland, in Nantes, France. Gerry came over and recorded all the tracks in one day! So did Dave, who came down from his place in Brittany. Chris recorded in Blue Moon Studios, Oxfordshire and sent me some great violin and mandolin. Chris Short, from The Churchfitters, did some lovely violin and mandolin which we recorded at his home in St Malo. Jacqui McShee did some great backing vocals which were recorded at Fairport member, Ric Sanders´back garden rehearsal room! The picture on the cover is of my daughter, in a park close to my home in Nantes, in 2002.
James Wood says that ”each of the songs is either about Helena or my attempts to come to terms with her absence, but I hope that the album is not a downer. I tried very hard to avoid writing songs of complaint or self pity. I believe I succeeded, but you will be the judge of that! Many thanks to all who helped me finish this album, an album which has helped me to face up to my loss and to share my love for Helena!”
-I work now as a full time musician and studio engineer. I have my own little studio in Nantes. I play in the Pat O´May Band as a guitarist, keyboard player and singer. I also have a group with some friends called Rosemary and the Brainless Idols, in which I play bass and sing. We are recording an album at the moment, which is planned to be ready by October. All the songs were co-written by the five of us together and the main themes are Physics, Astrophysics and Science Fiction! Most of my studio work is recording voice overs, sound effects and music for films and animation films for museums.
The Excalibur Project – one highlight in the career
James met Alan Simon in Nantes, at the beginning of the nineties. Alan had just come back from the Seychelles where he had recorded an album of songs by a French singer called Jean-Michel Caradec. Some of the guitar parts were badly recorded and needed to be redone. He then asked James to help him record his other albums which were for kids.
-In 1996, he told me about his project Excalibur. He wanted to do an album with lots of famous people – it was an amazing idea! I thought he was mad! We did the demos together and I wrote a co-wrote some of the tracks. He started getting people interested and even managed to get Rodger Hodgson! He met up with Dan Ar Braz, who had become very famous in France and Dan suggested contacting Fairport Convention, who he had played with in the seventies. So in 1997, Alan and I drove to Oxfordshire, to meet Dave Pegg, who welcomed us as Dave does, with open arms. The album was a success and went Gold. The first gig was in Rennes in 1999. It was recorded live and ws released as an album and DVD. Other gigs followed including Bercy in Paris, in front of 10 000 people. Then we did an album called Gaia, followed closely by Excalibur 2 and Excalibur 3 and Anne de Bretagne, which was performed in the courtyard of Nantes castle and recorded live. This was released as a DVD, too. We did extensive tours in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, playing at arenas in front of 5 000 people a night. The last gig we did was Anne de Bretagne in Nantes. Alan Simon has now moved on to other things.
James says that these gigs were probably the greatest happenings of his career, because of the sheer numbers of people, but it was also fantastic to meet so many people like the Fairports, Jacqui McShee, Maddy Prior, Martin Barre, Rodger Hodgson, John Helliwell, Les Holroyd, Billy Preston, Anggun and many more.
James has also performed at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, a couple of times.
-I´ve been attending Cropredy every year since 2000, except of course, 2004. Being on stage there is wonderful!
-Another great thing was being able to finish my album which I´d been working on for so long. Because it was very personal, it was difficult to write. Most of the album was recorded in my studio.
Inger´s personal reflections of the album The Last Journey:
This is a very personal and beautiful solo album from James Wood. It is dedicated to his daughter Helena, who died tragically in a car accident in Brisbane, Australia, in 2004. On the way back from Australia, the idea of dedicating an album to her, come to mind. Though it took many years before James Wood was capable to start recording it. It was ready in 2016.
James Wood has written all the 12 beautiful songs on the album. There is a constant thread through the album where I can feel the struggle of survival – but never give up! – the love which remains forever, the the pain but also always hope, the fear and the forever missing of a family member and the continuing longing …..
The album has also a a very beautiful melodic thread. The lyrics are sensitive, soft and lovely. Sometimes I feel a bit melancholic, listening to this lovely music and brilliant musicians and friends of James Wood. But there is also comfort and hope on this album which makes it to a very nice album that you can listen to more than once! The more I listen to it, the more I like and appreciate The Last Journey!
Anna Ryder grew up in the countryside in Surrey, England, in a very big dilapidated Victorian house with her large family of seven children and her mum and dad. She´s number four and all the children are very close in age.
-We had three pianos – people gave them to us as our house was big! I played the piano from a very early age. I remember reaching up to press the notes down and being too short to see the piano keyboard but I could hear the beautiful and interesting sound.
-I started playing by ear and soon had chords and tunes of my own. My Godfather gave me The Golden Treasury of Poetry for children when I was seven and I used the words in it to make up songs and then started making my owns songs.
Anna remembers that the family used to have a lot of people round to their house for get-togethers. She says that ”my dad and mum knew a lot of different people including some people who liked playing music! My mum created a ceilidh band in the 70s and she used to go to folk clubs.
We would have parties which included all of us playing music so I learnt to improvise and listen at an early age before I started having any kind of music lessons. Lots of people would turn up, some with guitars and whistles and a drum-kit, and we´d play music well into the night and as children, we weren´t told to go to bed but just fell asleep where we were. I would play the piano the whole day. The next time it would continue and we´d do a ceilidh on the lawn and play music for that, too. Then we´d go off and climb trees! Climbing tree was one of my favourite things and I still climb a tree if I can!”
Anna continues the memory lane and tells me that they used to play quite a bit of folk music, including some Ralph Mc Tell songs and Joan Baez. Later she was given Ralph Mc Tell albums as birthday and Christmas presents.
When Anna grew up, Joni Mitchell and Bessie Smith, featured highly, as well as Ralph Mc Tell – ”little did I know I was to get to know him a little in later life! ”
Her mum used to take them to local homes for old people where they played and sang for them. She says: ”This is where I first learnt about performing”.
-I listened to Fats Waller records my dad had, and tried to learning how to play and sing the songs such as Ain´t Misbehavin´, Crazy ´Bout My Baby and Honeysuckle Rose. I played the records over and over and also transposed them into all the keys. At aged eleven, I was commandeered to play the piano in the local pub. So I played!.
Anna Ryder started recording herself on cassette and later, multi-tracking by using two tape-recorders.
-You record yourself doing one track, then record on the other recorder while playing the one just recorded onto! I tried lots of tracks and found, as you do it more and more, the sound quality gets worse and worse!
-Together some of us kid, would make sound tracks to stories by using various objects and instruments as sound effects. It would invariably turn out to be a ghost story with crackling fire (made with the plastic inner of a chocolate box- only available at Christmas-time), a sudden bang (made by shutting a huge book very loudly up close to the mic), a creaking door (using one of the many creaking doors in our house) and all sorts of other exciting sounds. The stories were always rubbish!
Anna remembers one day at Primary school how the headmaster came into the classroom, holding a weird-looking brass instrument and asked who wanted to play it? Anna´s hand shot up at once.
-It turned out to be a Tenor horn, which I loved. I was about nine and us kids who played these instruments, had a little brass band which we had in the staff room, while everyone else was doing boring stuff in lesson-time. I remember there was a girl called Gabriella who was very samll and she was the tuba player. She just used to get into the tuba case and hide each time!
With the Tenor horn, Anna got into the local Silver Youth Band (this was a set of brass instruments but all a silver colour and for children aged around eight upwards to teenage. Anna says that she learnt a more about transposing into different keys as the instrument was in Eb. She learnt how to play the Tenor horn and piano at the same time, holding the horn in the right hand playing the piano with the left hand.
Anna Ryder playing the accordion at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, 2016, together with Fairport Convention.
-Of course, all this led onto taking up music and learning more about it. I discovered Stravinsky (and in particular The Rite Of Spring), Vaughan Williams, Delius, Mozart, Debussy and others.
-I took up the French horn, not just because I was too old to be in the Silver Youth band and therefore had to hand my instrument back, but because French horns are in more stuff like orchestra and chamber music. There´s more stuff written for French horn and I wanted to play it.
Anna was given a scholarship as a teenager to do a special youth course at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where she continued learning French horn with – as Anna says – a brilliant teacher called John Burden, as well as singing and playing in various bands and choirs.
-As a teenager, I went with my sister a few times up to London on the train and busked in the underground to get some much-needed dosh! She played the guitar and whistle and I played my French horn at the time. This was great fun and we got quite a bit of money doing this. In those days, it was frowned upon but now people have to pass some sort of audition to play and the busking spots are much sought-after.
When Anna was 18, she went on to study music at York univerversity, where she got involved in avant-garde music and jazz. She formed a band with her friend Chas McDevitt, who also features on many of Anna´s recordings. Alongside the more classical stuff, she often spent time improvising and playing jazz, and that was also in discovering more composers – such as Webern, Stockhausen Reich and Schoenberg. Anna did loads of performing in various way-out groups of orchestral players, trying out various modern compositions of her fellow students.
-Once I had to play a very exposed solo horn part in an atonal composition which included tapping the bell of the horn and making vocal sounds down the mouthpiece. I transposed the whole of a horn part down a minor third as it was way too high for med and the composer didn´t notice. Not only that but one of the lectures told me, it was the most beautiful horn-playing he´d ever heard. Even though I enjoyed the classical side especially the more avant-garde stuff, I found I just could not take it seriously. I couldn´t help finding it funny.
Anna continues her story:
– Anyway, that´s the early part of me getting into music. I suppose the most important part if that I learnt about listening before learning anything about reading music. I learned about improvising and transposing and, most of all, what chords did and how they related to each other. I loved playing the piano and, even though our big house was cold most of the time, I´d play and sing for hours and hours.
Even if Anna started with playing the piano, she also plays the guitar, which she started learning at the university, she took up the accordion when her mum gave her one of her old ones – ”there was hardly ever a piano where I went and the accordion is a little like a piano”. She wanted to play the trumpet, it was smaller and more portable – ”you can´t play the French horn at the same time as a piano/accordion, but you can with a trumpet!” She also mentions that she ”dabbles” in lots of other instruments like banjo, drum-kit, bodhran, penny whistle – ”anything really! but I can´t really do bowing so fiddle and cello etc. are out.”
Anna Ryder has been a musician all her life.
-I think I always thought that I would be a musician of some sort so I didn’t really choose it. I just drifted with it.
She is a full-time musician but says that she always had various ways of being a musician. Currently she is working as a freelance musical adviser to a company who make educational instruments for children.
-I advise about the instruments – if there needs to be any changes made to them to make them better, I sometimes do practical workshops making music with kids, families or teacher. I make films of the instruments and associated stuff and I help with any other musical aspects of the company.
-I also do cartoons which I sometimes get paid for and this is mostly in for musicians. Plus I am a session musician for anyone who´d like stuff on their recordings. A few years back I was doing a lot of educational work on funded musical and arts projects which gave me little time for being a singer-songwriter but now I´m able to devote more time to the singing. I´ve always done music in one way or another!
If you like to know more about Anna Ryder, please visit her website:
Vilken fantastisk lördagskväll! Fairport Convention äntrade Nefertitis scen i Göteborg den 20 april, 2013. Bandet firade sitt 45-årsjubileum förra året. Fairport bildades 1967 och två år senare kom genombrottet med skivan ”Liege and Leaf” vilket gjorde gruppen till en viktig del av den framväxande folkrockscenen.
Av bandets medlemmar är det Simon Nicol, sång och gitarr som varit med ända sedan starten, även om Dave Pegg, bas och sång, kom med bara två år senare. Övriga medlemmar idag är Ric Sanders, violin, Chris Leslie, fiol, mandolin och sång och på trummor Gerry Conway. Giget i Göteborg på Nef var ett av tre framträdanden i Sverige (Malmö och Stockholm dagarna innan). Nef var i det närmaste utsålt och stämningen var hög. Såväl band som publik trivdes. Fairport fortsätter sin Skandinavien-turné i Danmark i veckan.
Läs gärna artikeln om Fairport Convention och Cropredy-festivalen i Göteborgs Fria Tidning, den 20 april, 2013.
Fairport Convention – an amazing concert at the club Nefertiti, in Gothenburg, Sweden
What a great Saturday night!
Fairport Convention entered the stage of Nefertiti, Gothenburg, 20th April, 2013. The band celebrated its 45th anniversary last year. Fairport started in 1967 and two years later they made a break-through with the album Liege and Leaf , which made the band an important part of the growing folk-rock scene.
In the band, it is Simon Nicol, vocals and guitar, who has been a member since the start, even if Dave Pegg, bass and vocals, became a member only two years later. Other members today are Ric Sanders, violin, Chris Leslie, mandolin, violin, vocals and on percussion Gerry Conway.
The gig Saturday at Nef was one of three concerts in Sweden (Malmö and Stockholm the days before). Nef was sold out and the spirit was on top – in the audience and in the band! Fairport continues its tour in Denmark this week.
I am a keen festival-goer and a Swedish journalist that go to Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, in Oxfordshire, every year in August! This will be a blog where you can read my interviews with the artists and have a look at my photos from this brilliant occasion!
Again, you are most welcome and feel free to comment!