Everything Davy ever wrote, sang or played, he did with total conviction, honesty and enthusiasm. He wouldn't have known how to start faking even if he'd wanted to. The way Davy was feeling was the way Davy sang and this gave his singing passion and truth.
To have stood on a stage with him and seen his face split into that huge grin and his eyes sparkle with the sheer joy of being where he loved being doing what he loved doing is something I cherish.
I sat in the studio control room as producer while he delivered a stunning unaccompanied performance of the song for his father, "The Ballad of Jimmie Steel". When he'd finished, there was a prolonged silence as he waited for me to say something and I was so overcome that I couldn't - his voice came through the speakers, tinged with that hint of self-doubt which hits everyone in a recording studio at times, "Well, I think that's the best I can do just now", and I thought, "Davy, there's not a living soul could do it any better", but all I could manage to say was, "Come and have a listen". As he came back into the control room, I had recovered enough to say, "Thanks, Davy - it was a privilege to be here listening to that".
I sang and played with Davy often in a variety of combinations but what I enjoyed more than anything was acting as accompanist when he sang. I accompanied him on many occasions live and on record and it was always a truly rewarding experience. He had the focus and concentration to simply sing in the way he felt, trusting that the accompanist would be listening to what he was doing and going with it. My two favourite tracks we ever recorded together were "Rose of Summerlee" and "Scotland Yet".
He had a passionate love of Scotland and all the strands of our culture, a deep pride in being working class, and an implacable hatred of injustice, all of which informed his singing and songwriting. In all the years I knew him I cannot remember a single occasion when Davy wasn't ready to launch into song at any moment, regardless of the circumstances. He sang the way most people breathe.
Being a great singer is much, much more than simply having a good voice and technique. Those are the basic toolkit. In the past decade, Davy had matured from being a very good singer with a great voice into a truly great singer with a great voice. His going at such an early age is a terrible loss to the world of Scottish music.
He did leave us with a bunch of recordings, from his earlier days with Drinker's Drouth, his two solo albums, and those with Ceolbeg, Clan Alba and the Battlefield Band.
But to those who knew him, the loss is not just of a great Scottish artist but the tragic loss of a dearly loved friend.
Contributions and copyright
©Dick Gaughan February 2001. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, material or electronic, without the written permission of the author.
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Followup emails received about Davy
The following email was sent by Steve Troyanovich
I never had the opportunity to personally meet Davy, but his music moved me greatly. I was first introduced to his work via Clan Alba and his own remarkable (but I think still very underrated) album: CHASING SHADOWS.
As an American who grew up and was greatly influenced by the poetry and songs of Robert Burns, I became very interested in artists like Davy and you who have given the world wonderfully magical arrangements and interpretations of his work.
In thinking now of Davy, I have been listening to his songs which remind me that he "watched the rainbow with us and cherished every tree."
"With frozen words in my mouth" comes the realization that a truly caring voice has left us.
Thanks, Davy! Enjoy the rainbow ...
And this one was sent by Barbara Gordon
A few years ago my husband was in a band that played up at Rogues Hall in Vancouver, B.C. (we live in Seattle, WA). They were opening for Ceolbeg, and the place was packed on a very hot and steamy summer's night. At one point Davey was wondering what song to sing and I called out "Seeds to the Wind", and to my delight he performed it! Later that night he was standing about the cd table and we went up to say hello to him.
After introductions and such he started telling us about having recently played the Edmonton Folk Festival.
"There I was in the hotel room in Edmonton, after the festival. Someone had asked me to sing, and I did. Who should be sitting next to me but Joni Mitchell, Joni Mitchell for god's sake, singing harmony with me! I nearly shit meself!"
With a huge ear to ear grin he burst out laughing and we did too, loving how comfortable he helped us feel sharing in his happiness.