John Fahey

Chris Calcroft and I went to watch John Fahey play the guitar in Manchester. Fahey was then a slim ordinary looking sort of man, slightly balding and a real contrast to the hippie fashions of the day. He dressed in ordinary clothes.

He played before a small audience; Fahey is an acquired taste although some acquire it more easily than others. He played a steel stringed guitar, with finger picks. He pluck so clean and so hard that after every piece he spent an age retuning his guitar, even when it needed no tuning. He also put his guitar in exotic tunings, being able to play resounding open chords with an impeccable timing.

As he played he smoked. Before he tune he lit up a cigarette, had a few puffs on it and then stick it in the strings at the head of his instrument, so as he played he dropped ash.

Fahey is probably one of the most underestimated artists of his day. His music deserves to be played more than it is, but as music it is hard to play and sometimes hard to follow. He did not show off virtuoso but played like a man who was working in an office, perfectly delivering his tunes.

But that was the sixties and Fahey never became famous; he died in penury, never really being able to make more from his music than to keep him barely alive. But I cannot hear his rendition of Auld Lang Sang, or Silent Night or the Yellow Princess without stopping to listen to each perfectly struck note and chord, and not many musicians can in these days of constant music do that.

Sail Away Ladies

Music soothes the savage breast.  Among the horrors and mundaneness of our lives one composition can bring comfort or hope that things will not always be like this. The hope may be fond, the thinking wishful, but as you listen you enjoy the comfort of the music and the fact that you do or might have hope where there is none.

I remember the days when I listened to sail away ladies, played by John Fahey.

Composers have to name their music because there is so much of it around and because naming a composition without words gives the composer an ability to add another dimension to the words. Fahey did not write the original “Sail Away Ladies”. It is a traditional song but he rewrote it, taking its best melodies and adding to them until he created something new.

Fahey took music and added to it to make it new and different. I like to add words to music which is missing them, to make a song out of a tune, something to sing in your head as you listen to the music or, even better, something to sing in your head when you cannot hear the music, walking through a rainy town.

The days have sailed away, ladies

The days have sailed far away

Sail away you black eyed dancers

Sail away you blue eyed blonds

John Fahey – a memoir of him

In 1969, or was it early in 1970, John Fahey came toManchesterto play is guitar. He had been booked to appear at a small room at I think UMIST and Chris and I went along to hear one of our heroes play.

If you have listened to the music under the Words & Music tab and if you know the music of Fahey you will see how he influenced us. If you have never heard of Fahey then I should explain that he was a musician who Continue reading