Happy Birthday to Dave Pegg – born November 2, 1947!
Dave Pegg is an English multi-instrumentalist and record producer, arguably most visible as a bass guitarist. He is the longest-serving member of the pre-eminent electric folk band Fairport Convention and has been bassist with a number of important folk and rock groups including The Ian Campbell Folk Group and Jethro Tull. He has appeared on some of the most significant albums of his era, as well as undertaking solo projects. His style of playing bass has been particularly influential in electric folk music.
David Pegg was born on 2 November 1947, at Acocks Green, Birmingham, England. He began to learn guitar when 14 or 15, inspired by The Shadows, and played in a school band at Yardley Grammar School.
After leaving school he worked as an insurance clerk for about a year while playing in a part-time bands the Crawdaddys and The Roy Everett Blues Band, who supported several performers from the flourishing Birmingham beat scene of the time, including the Spencer Davis Group and The Moody Blues. In 1966 he auditioned for The Uglys, featuring Steve Gibbons and was beaten to the position by friend and guitarist Roger Hill, but was offered the job of bass guitarist and switched instruments.
The Uglys cut one single before Pegg and Hill left to form a blues trio, The Exception, with singer Alan Eastwood. At this period he played with Robert Plant and in his next band, The Way of Life, the drummer was John Bonham, later both went to form Led Zeppelin. In 1967 he joined the Ian Campbell Folk Group, where he switched to stand-up bass, learnt to play the mandolin and acquired his affection for folk music. It was also where he came to the attention of local folk guitarist Ralph McTell and former Campbell Group and future Fairport Convention member Dave Swarbrick.
By early 1969 he had moved back to electric bass with The Beast, with Cozy Powell and Dave Clempson, before the latter left for Colosseum. One week after seeing Fairport for the first time on his twenty-first birthday he was called by Swarbrick to audition for the band after the departure of Ashley Hutchings, who was soon to found Steeleye Span.
Fairport Convention 1969–79
Pegg joined Fairport Convention towards the end of 1969 and immediately formed a strong playing partnership with drummer Dave Mattacks and good relationships with the other members. Although Hutchings had been a solid and melodic bass player, it is generally acknowledged that Pegg played with greater virtuosity, complexity and energy. Ashley Hutchings credits Pegg with being the musician who began the technique of playing jigs and reels on the bass, rather than just a supportive bass line, which was subsequently adopted by most electric folk and even folk punk bassists. All this was immediately obvious on the 1970 tour of Britain and America (including support for Jethro Tull), recordings from which surfaced on the Live at the L.A. Troubadour album (1977). His first album with the group, Full House (1970), is considered by some commentators to be their most accomplished in musical terms, and this clearly owed something to the new bassist.
On joining the band Pegg had moved his family from Birmingham and into the former pub, the Angel in Hadham, Hertfordshire along with other group members and their families This became the theme for the title track of the next album Angel Delight (1971), for which Pegg received his first writing credit. On the next album Babbacombe Lee, a folk-rock opera masterminded by Swarbrick, he played a much greater role, contributing to seven of the fifteen tracks. The next album Rosie contained three of his contributions, including the song Peggy’s Pub a statement of a lifelong ambition.
In 1971 when Simon Nicol and Dave Mattacks left the band, Pegg and Swarbrick were the only remaining members and, as a bewildering succession of personnel came (or returned) and left again over the next five years, their partnership was critical in keeping the band running.[Some of these performers, like Sandy Denny and her husband Trevor Lucas, were acknowledged songwriters and as a result, although he still made contributions and took part in collaborations, Pegg’s song-writing took a back seat to his instrumental and organisational skills. After the financial disaster that followed the Rising for the Moon (1975) tour, which prompted Denny, Lucas and Jerry Donahue to quit the band, Pegg became increasingly determined for the group to take control of their finances and direction and took over a larger and larger responsibility. Pegg and Swarbrick renewed contact with Nicol in 1975 forming a low key trio, Three Desperate Mortgages, which toured student venues across Britain.
With only Pegg, Swarbrick and replacement drummer Bruce Rowland left, they persuaded Nicol to rejoin the band during the Gottle O’Geer album sessions. The remaining quartet signed up with Vertigo, and produced two albums, The Bonny Bunch of Roses (1977) and Tipplers Tales (1978). Although well crafted these albums did not sell well and Vertigo bought them out of their contract. With Swarbrick suffering acute hearing problems and with no recording contract the group decided to disband and played a final concert at Cropredy in Oxfordshire on 4 August 1979, close to where Pegg lived.
While with Fairport, Pegg had played on a wide variety and huge number of albums for other performers. Among the most significant were: Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter (1970); John Martin’s Solid Air (1973) and One World (1977), as well as work for current and ex-Fairporters, including several albums for Dave Swarbrick, on Sandy Denny’s Like an Old Fashioned Waltz (1973) and Rendezvous (1977) and Richard Thompson’s Pour Down Like Silver (1975). He appeared on three Ralph McTell albums, including Streets (1973), and Slide Aside the Screen (1976), which Pegg also produced. He could confidently look forward to more session work and production would play a much greater role in his career once Fairport had disbanded.
Woodworm and Jethro Tull 1980–85
Although Fairport had disbanded they continued to play annual reunions at Cropredy, supplemented by New Year’s gigs in minor locations and occasional larger European festivals. Because no record label was interested in putting out recordings of the Cropredy concerts, Pegg and his wife Christine established their own label, Woodworm Records. They released the final concert as the album Farewell, Farewell (1979) and subsequent recordings were issued as ‘official bootlegs’. He had already established a small recording studio in his house and with the money from the end of the record deal with Vertigo, he was able to develop this and it was eventually moved to a nearby converted chapel. The result was that Pegg had his own recording facility and record label. Artists like Steve Ashley began to record albums there from 1979. The Peggs established a mailing list of fans of the band, critical in keeping interest in Fairport alive and, particularly Christine, took over the organization of the Cropredy Festival, which grew in size every year to reach about 18,000 attendees by the mid-1980s.
In 1979 Ian Anderson invited Pegg to stand in for the ailing John Glascock on the Jethro Tull, Stormwatch tour. After Glascock’s death, Pegg was invited to join the band, still one of the biggest in the world, and it provided very welcome paid employment for Pegg for the next fifteen years. Pegg happened to join at a turning point for Jethro Tull. His first recording was intended as a solo album for Anderson, involving only Martin Barre from the band. The album, A (1980) was in stark contrast to the medieval and folk music inspired previous work, depending heavily on synthesizers for its sound. At this time all the other longstanding members left the band and the recording was put out as a Jethro Tull album. Pegg coped with this, and subsequent changes of style, seemingly with little difficulty. The next album, Broadsword and the Beast (1982) had a heavier sound and more medieval theme and Pegg joined the band on stage in pseudo-medieval costume beside a Viking ship. In 1983 Pegg recorded his first solo album, The Cocktail Cowboy Goes It Alone (1983). After the next Tull album, Under Wraps (1984), Anderson’s vocal problems forced him to retire from touring for three years and Pegg had more time to pursue other projects.