Dave’s Blog

A modern Renaissance Man – painter – singer – musician on guitar, banjo and melodeon – dental mechanic – writer of plays and songs for stage, community and puppet theatre – folksong, dance, music and story collector- journalist -Director of the Society for Storytelling – training workshop leader on a vast range of subjects – performer for the British Council, mainly in Africa – published poet – biographer – folk music contributor to Groves Musical Dictionary – member of the editorial board of The Folk Music Journal – editor of a whole range of magazines on topics as diverse as folk music, puppetry, storytelling and stage fighting – scriptwriter for numerous radio and television series and single programmes – bookseller – busker- pavement artist – coffee bar manager – theatre set painter – Morris dancer – witchcraft researcher – electronic music pioneer – storyteller, a role that has taken him to China (twice), the United States and Borneo – Trustee of Mythstories (the folktale museum) – Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts…. But whether it is, writing, singing, telling stories, or whatever, the name that will be stamped through it like a stick of seaside rock will be Tradition.

Vic Smith – The Living Tradition Magazine

Dave at opening of Salem Witchcraft Museum, Massachusetts 1972


Dave Arthur was born in Little Sutton, Cheshire. His pedigree perfectly fitting him for his later career of purveyor of folk song. His maternal Grandfather was a farmer, and his paternal Grandfather carried out the crafts of thatcher, professional sheep-shearer, and butcher. Even his maternal Great-Grandfather, a horse-breaker, seems to have met a folkloric end, being killed by a stallion in the breaking yard. On being carried back into the house on a door, there was found a hoof-print of the stallion over his heart. Of such things are songs and singers made.

The move to London, when Dave was around six years of age, was to prove an important milestone in his life, for it was there that he became exposed to the growing music scene, whilst a scholarship student at St Olave’s Grammar School, Tower Bridge. He had already been judiciously prepared for this by his mother who had encouraged his early interest in music and balladry. Dave grew up listening to early 78s of folk song on a wind-up gramophone, and reading ‘Young Lochinvar’, ‘The Highwayman’, ‘The Fighting Temeraire’, ‘Hiawatha’, ’The Ballad of Dick Turpin’ etc., under the bedclothes by torchlight, and making up tunes for them. Thus, when aged about twelve, Dave started listening to trad jazz, and a couple of years later, skiffle, as well as attending the various South London skiffle sessions, at places like the Chislehurst Caves, his future path was set out.

By the time Dave had reached his mid teens the folk club scene was growing, and he was not slow to take advantage of the opportunity to listen to the likes of Ewan MacColl, Bert Lloyd, Shirley Collins, and many more, too numerous to name, but all having an influence on him.

Having determined to pursue a career as a painter, Dave made a decision which was again to prove a seminal choice in his life. Living in a garret off Chelsea’s King’s Road, with artist Mik Paris (later, historian, Dr Michael Paris) seemed to be the best way to pursue a painterly career, and it was Mik who taught Dave to play the guitar. They regularly sang at Nigel Denver’s folk night’s at the left-wing Unity Theatre, It was here that he first met Bob Davenport, who impressed him by entering from the back of the auditorium, and singing ‘The Shoals of Herring’ as he walked down the central aisle. As with Bob Davenport, art gradually took a back seat and singing took over.

Dave with Doc Watson, Deep Gap, North Carolina. 1990s

Working in a late-night west-end coffee bar in the early 60s, allowed Dave access to two of his other loves, the London bookshops (he became a voracious reader, and academic bookseller), and the theatre (in which he was later to work as playwright and performer) where he avidly devoured every new production and was even known to paint a bit of scenery on occasion. The coffee bar became the focus for musicians, who would drop in after gigs, and it was here that he met his future wife, Toni, then a nurse at University College Hospital, who would also drop in, after late night shifts. When Dave discovered that, before becoming a nurse, Toni had won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, and from an early age had had tuition at the Academy in voice and piano, it must have seemed a natural lead into playing and singing together. Toni finished her nursing course, and instead of taking up a place at London University to read psychology, they got married and moved up to Oxford to run a university bookshop, and whilst there started to sing together in the local folk clubs.

It is no accident that the small number of albums which Dave and Toni recorded together are now among the most sought after folk recording. Their rarity is due in no small part to the quality of the performances, and the fact that the performers themselves set a standard in scholarship and research which has rarely been equalled by other folk duos. Their stage performances were unusual, too, I cannot recall any other duo in the early revival who could not only sing wonderfully and play instrumental music, but could also dance, and talk with authority on the whole spectrum of folk song, dance and custom. This wide reaching approach to folk music also acted as a qualification.

Dave with Tennessee banjo virtuoso, Will Keys. 1990s

During the late 60s/70s Dave was invited by Dr Russell Wortley, the editor of the Folk Music Journal, to join the editorial board. He was, at that time, the youngest board member by many years, and the only representative of the young singers.
For nearly a quarter of a century Dave was editor of English Dance and Song. His early output of that magazine was a complete change from what had gone before. Those volumes were the first to use artistic standards of design and although they look very ‘seventies’ now, at the time they were screaming modern publications, reflecting Dave’s forward looking views on the business of folk music and dance. During this period he was not idle as a performer either, and wrote, performed, and produced and huge range of work for the radio, television and theatre. Dave is a natural and effective storyteller, and these commissions were a welcome challenge which further developed this aspect of his skills.

From the 60s to the 21st century, Dave Arthur’s service to the folk scene is quite literally as broad as it is long. Dancer, musician, storyteller, singer, journalist, researcher and apologist for the movement, Dave Arthur, renaissance man, has played no little part in the renaissance of England’s extensive folk culture. That he continues to do so is testament to his energy and dedication, but it is also the measure of his love for the songs, stories and music to which he had dedicated his extraordinary life. I commend him to you for the Society’s highest award, the Gold Badge.

Paul Davenport

John Harrison, Toni & Dave Arthur, Virginia. 1972


Born, Cheshire. Educated, St Olaves Grammar School, London.
Trained originally as an academic bookseller in London and Oxford.
Left bookselling to become freelance writer, researcher, broadcaster, theatre performer, folklorist and musician.
1960s – 70s albums for Topic Records, Leader Records, Decca, Transatlantic Records.

1960s – 70s Editorial Board Member of Folk Music Journal

1978-2000 Editor of English Dance and Song magazine.

1970s-80s With his ex-wife, Toni, David toured the world (Africa, Russia, America, Europe, Central America, Canada) with own theatrical folklore productions involving song, dance, mask, traditional drama, storytelling, and instrumental music

1980s albums for BBC, Thames TV, ILEA, Just William Records.

1980s Toured West and East Africa several times performing and lecturing on the Performing Arts for the British Council.

1980-95 scriptwriter and presenter for Thames Television, BSkyB TV, BBC TV and Radio on subjects as diverse as folktales, war-correspondents, and African travel.
Also children’s and schools programmes (PlayawayPlayschoolSeeing and DoingWatchMiddle English)

1983-88 Theatre writing (with David Wood and Toni Arthur) produced at the Nottingham Playhouse, the Young Vic, Greenwich Theatre (Robin Hood, 1983 -), the Manchester Library Theatre, Trinity Theatre Tunbridge Wells (Jack the Lad, 1984 -), Theatre Royal Plymouth (The Pied Piper , 1988), as well as countless performances of the children’s play Marion and the Witches Curse (1985).

1987 Diploma Course in Arts Marketing at City University

1988 Marketing Manager, Secombe Centre, Sutton (1988-9).

1988 –1991 writer in residence at Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre
(stage adaptations of Just So Stories, the Ramayana, the Mabinogion and Pinnochio)

1989-95 Co-wrote BSkyB TV’s daily children’s puppet program, The DJ Kat Show.

1990 An oral biography A Sussex Life – Memories of Gilbert Sargent, Countryman, published by Barrie and Jenkins ( paperback reprint 1997).

1992 Appointed Writing Consultant for British Unima (Union International de la Marionette)

1996 Member of Board of Directors of Upstream Theatre Company

1996 album of Anglo-American music Chickens are a Crowing (Fellside Records)

1998-2001 Editor, Storylines

1998 –2001 Reminiscence worker for Artability

1998-2001 Co-Director The Society For Storytelling

1999 With Tim Arthur, musical play Bold Nelson’s Praise (Trinity Theatre, T. Wells)

2000 Editor, Animations

2002 Musical Director for Sheppey Community play The Floating Republic

2002 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts

2002 –2003 Three storytelling tours of Hong Kong

2003 album of Anglo-American songs and ballads Return Journey (Wildgoose Records)

2003 Awarded Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance and Song Society

Articles, and music and theatre reviews have appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, academic journals, and books, including The Times, The Independent, Surrey Life, Melody Maker, Words International, The Folk Music Journal, English Dance and Song, The Stage, Encyclopaedia Britannica, New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Member of the Society of Archer Antiquaries, British Actors Equity, Musicians Union, Society of Sussex Authors

Interests include popular culture and the traditional arts, theatre, opera, ballet, painting, Ancient history and legend, folktales, the literature and politics of the 1930s and 40s, archery, puppetry, and the history of the banjo.

Skills include driving, horse riding, swimming, Long-Bow archery, ice-skating, fencing.
traditional dances, puppetry.

Instruments played: banjo, guitar, melodeon, dulcimer, musical saw, whistles, also percussion (bones, spoons, tambourine, bodhran).

Advisor/performer of traditional and historical music for TV, radio, theatre, and film.