EXCLUSIVE: Camden folk singer reveals lost reel to reel tapes of unheard Pete Seeger session

Thursday, 30th January 2014


Published: 30 January, 2014

A RECORDING of folk musician Pete Seeger jamming and singing that has not been heard for 50 years has surfaced in a private collection.

Bob Davenport retrieved the reel-to-reel tapes of himself singing alongside Mr Seeger after hearing of his old friend’s death on Tuesday.

The tapes will give folk singer Mr Seeger’s many fans a chance to finally hear a seven-track session that has never before been given a public airing – a treat described last night (Wednesday) as “an impor­tant find” in musical history.

Mr Seeger had recorded the songs with Mr Davenport after inviting him to his barn studio in New York state in 1963. The pair had met at The Troubadour, a folk club in South Kensington during a visit to London by Mr Seeger the previous year.

He was mourned this week for the campaigning spirit he put into his work. 

The unheard performances include a song that Mr Seeger says on the tape he thinks should be played at atheists’ funerals. 

The recordings have now been converted to more modern formats by Mr Davenport and can be heard for the first time on the New Journal’s website.

The session was never released and the pair made it solely for fun as they jammed together. “We spent time jamming and recording and for years after I kept the session we made,” Mr Davenport said. 

He recalled how their friendship began: “He heard me sing and we spoke afterwards. Later, he asked if I’d like to come and stay with him in America, and perform at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1963 with him.”

Mr Seeger was living in an area called Beacon, along the Hudson River in New York and Mr Davenport stayed there for a month with Mr Seeger’s wife Toshi. It was during this time that the reel-to-reel tapes were recorded. Poignantly, one of the tracks has Bob and Pete chatting and Mr Seeger reveals the song, which has no musical accompaniment.

Mr Davenport, who was also friends with Bob Dylan and is a key figure in the British folk movement, said: “I really came of age when I stayed with Pete. We sung together and I did some guest appearances at his solo concerts too.” 

Mr Seeger, whose hits include Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, If I Had A Hammer and Turn! Turn! Turn! was 94 when he died this week. He played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, campaigned for nuclear disarmament, publicised environmental issues and dedicated his music to the causes he believed in.

He had been blacklisted from working during the McCarthy period in the US and when Camden fans heard of his plight they set up the Pete Seeger Committee to offer financial aid. Mr Daven­port and other folk singers organised benefit gigs under the auspices of the Pete Seeger Committee, which was based in South End Green. One concert took place in a garden at 25 Elsworthy Road, Prim­rose Hill, with tickets costing five shillings and those attending told to “bring something to sit on”.

Mr Davenport still has a letter from the committee, whose president was Paul Robeson, saying they raised more than £100. Composer Benjamin Britten, MP Tom Driberg, trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton and author Doris Lessing sponsored the event. 

Mr Seeger came to say thank-you to his English friends in 1964, playing at Cecil Sharp House in Primrose Hill and at the Regent Rooms next door to Camden Town tube station, where the Electric Ballroom now stands.

Folk music expert Malcom Taylor, who is the librarian at Cecil Sharp House in Primrose Hill, said: “Often, people who lived through the period did not realise how important at the time their work would be in the future. This is really iconic – and the Newport festivals was where Bob Dylan emerged and was before folk fragmented.”

Folk singer Eliza Carthy said the idea of Bob and Pete meeting and jamming was something anyone who loved folk would want to hear. The award-winning singer and violin player said: “It is extraordinarily exciting. To find some­thing like this is so special.

“Bob is such a folk raconteur, a really intellectually interesting person in folk music circles. I can imagine what it would have been like, out there in a barn in the woods, with Bob and Pete together.”

She added: “A lot of folk sessions of this type were never recorded. People feel very different about things today, mus­icians are very concerned with what they are doing and their legacy. The point of the folk scene back then was passing on songs, pas­sing on information from musician to musician.”

Listen to a snippet from the recordings:

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