We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Graham Davies – yet another stalwart member of that thriving 1970s Bolton music scene.
At The Barrier was deeply saddened this morning to learn that Graham Davies, singer, songwriter, poet, campaigner and stalwart member of Bolton’s vibrant 1970s music scene has passed away.
I first met Graham when we were both eleven-year-old new boys at Bolton County Grammar School in September 1967. We hit it off straight away and began a friendship that blossomed as we both tried to establish ourselves in music, and which endured, albeit often sporadically, for the rest of Graham’s life. Our mutual musical involvement began when, having purchased a bass guitar, I was searching for likely candidates to populate the band I felt obliged to form (learning to play the bass was, actually, a secondary consideration…). A boozy sing-song in the downstairs bar of Bolton’s Swan Hotel was all the evidence I needed to believe that Graham was the vocalist that Keith Sloane (the guitarist-elect, and my partner in crime) and I were looking for.
We called our band Boll Weevil, after the southern-USA crop pest (I know, it was a shit name) and, with the addition of drummer Arthur Dacy, second guitarist Phil Kershaw and a crash course in bass guitar tuition, we were up and running. Sort of.
Boll Weevil never played any gigs, but we certainly rehearsed a lot and, it was during the course of those rehearsals, that Graham turned up with a cheap acoustic guitar and a couple of self-penned songs that opened an alternative direction to the covers of All Right Now and the like that had, until then, been Boll Weevil’s stock in trade – and, by the way, Graham could put on a nifty Paul Rodgers and an entirely convincing Robert Plant act! Songs like Sympathy (Graham’s debut composition), I’m Sorry, Mr. Big Man (a swipe at the Bolton County Grammar headmaster, Dr. Roberts) and Nice Boys were very different to the material being regurgitated elsewhere on the scene and offered an opportunity that wasn’t to be missed.
Boll Weevil didn’t survive the shift in direction, and Graham and I departed the band’s ranks to set up our next venture, our acoustic/bass duo, Mandella. We quickly built up a lengthy repertoire, using Graham’s songs – which were pouring from him by this stage: The Last Four Minutes of Your Life, Comin’ on Strong, Please World all appeared over a one-week period – plus a couple of Keith’s songs that we’d rescued from the ruins of Boll Weevil, and we registered for our debut gig – the annual free concert in Bolton’s Moss Bank Park, scheduled to take place on Saturday 22nd July, 1974. But, before the gig, we were fortunate to be able to add the services of guitarist/ vocalist Steven Wood, aka Dylan to our lineup – a change that brought real substance to our sound. My diary entry for the day of that first gig records my thoughts that “…we played a poor set but we seemed to go down OK.”
Then things started to happen. A few odd gigs around town crystalised into a residency at The Trotters, a now-demolished pub on Bolton’s Bradshawgate, which was then one of the centres of the town’s music scene – everything seemed rosy, and Graham’s songs were getting the exposure they deserved. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t. Attendances at the Trotters gigs started to fall away as people were reluctant to give up their Sunday evenings to hear a bunch of earnest teenagers go through the same programme of angst every week, so Dylan and I started to work a few comedy songs into the set, to lighten things up.
Graham was, and remained, an artist of serious disposition and was uncomfortable with the lighter material and, after one final gig at Chorley Old Road Methodist Church Hall on Friday 25th October, Mandella went their separate ways. Graham formed a short-lived duo with Bolton singer/songwriter Alec Martin and Dylan and I played as a duo in the local folk clubs. Graham later went on to form Nervous Magic with Jeff Stone and Steve Starkey before starting a long and varied career as a solo performer.
He never compromised his values and never failed to speak up for those he felt were oppressed or unfairly treated. My own contact with Graham faded as the years passed and we both moved away from Bolton. In his later years, Graham spent much of his time in Poland, but would still return to Bolton occasionally to perform at Rock Against Racism events or Alec Martin’s Busker’s Ball. Indeed, Alec’s recollection of his final face-to-face meeting with Graham was a Busker’s Ball event at which Graham played though his pains to deliver a blistering version of Nazi Boys.
We can ill afford to loose people of such integrity as Graham Davies – Singer, Songwriter, Poet and Campaigner. A truly unique individual. My life would have been so different if I hadn’t spent those valuable years alongside Graham. Rest in Peace, my friend. We’ll miss you. Rest in Peace.