Recollections of Paul Davies, cont.,

Other People's Recollections




This is a page devoted to recollections of flute player, dealer and repairer, Paul Davies.  If you haven't already seen the previous pages, you might prefer to start here: Recollections of Paul Davies.

And if you knew Paul, or have heard stories about him, do feel free to send them in.

Roisin Halfar writes:

Dear Terry,
Having just got back from a session, among a small group of friends here in St. Louis Missouri USA, I googled Paul Davies, wondering what had become of him, actually looking for a flute repairer of antique instruments more locally, and hoping for a referral to one.
I was so pleased to find your website, and so saddened to hear of Paul's death nine years ago!

I played in sessions with Paul and my ex-husband, Matt Seattle, back in the early 80's in Brighton, Sussex. He got us some great gigs, and ran a Brighton pub session with Matt, weekly as well. We got to be good friends. I eventually bought my Prowse 8-keyed flute from him. He actually let me take about 3 or 4 of his flutes home for a week at a time to try out before I decided on the Prowse. It came with a matching piccolo...

A Paul story; He got us this weird little gig at some charitable group's party. We were asked to play on a row-boat and meander about a stream that made it's way around the picnic site. I'm getting old - can't remember the name of the town - in the South of England, a touristy sort of place.

Anyway, I was a bit nervous as I was like 7 months pregnant and not much of a swimmer; our rower did well, we played the gig, the party loved us, especially Paul, they paid us as well, and we missed the last train back to Brighton, so we imposed on a kind lady for a ride. Paul kept us in good spirits the whole time, as the party was kind of um- stuck up. Wow, I haven't thought of that in years.

Paul allowed our 2 year old son (now 25!) to play one of his accordions on a return visit south from Northumberland. He was a larger-than-life character, but had such warmth, what a great guy. He and Turid made us so welcome...

Paul repaired a crack in the head joint of my flute so seamlessly, and pinned it so discreetly, only another Irish flute player might find it.

Damn, I'm sad, but thanks for posting the memorial.

Best Regards,
Roisin (Seatle) Halfar
St.Louis Mo.

Matthew Bampton writes:

Dear Terry,

I'm an expat Brit living in the USA, and found your site via a link on The Paul Davies tribute was a real surprise. About 25 years ago, when I was an undergraduate in Portsmouth, England, I was walking down the street near the old Mighty Fine pub, and saw a chap playing the concertina, we got chatting, and I told him I played the harmonica and accordion a bit. He told me that he'd started out on the mouth organ, and it was a great instrument. He'd shifted to the concertina because it gave him more options to play the music he liked, and promptly demonstrated his point with some very nifty playing. He was extremely encouraging, and told me to keep practicing until I could "let the all music out". I dropped by to see him almost every day for a week, and then one day he was gone. But, following up on his suggestion, I dug out my old melodeon --- at that time a terminally uncool thing for an undergraduate to have in the house, let alone actually play --- and started practicing again, trying to learn new tunes, and exploring things that I'd never had the courage to try before. Many years later, I'm still playing, and have often thought of the happy concertina busker who gave me a good-natured push in the right direction. It was a total shock to see a picture of him, left leg stuck out like that, and to finally learn his name, and a bit more about his life. Quite a guy, it seems: I'm saddened to hear of his loss.

My reaction to seeing his picture on your website, and reading about him could best be described as "gobsmacked". I've remembered him all these years, and often wondered who he was. It always seemed to me a great illustration of the random nature of life, that this nameless guy had such a memorable impact on me. I was utterly amazed to learn that he had a presence beyond my memory, if that makes sense!

M. Bampton

Barry Ruffell writes...

I used to play in an outfit called Uncle John’s Band in and around Worthing, W Sussex where, in 1982, we had a weekly pub residency in The Swan . The material was largely Irish-folk-based and I played an old wooden flute on some if it. During the break one night, I was called over to a corner by a short, fat, bearded, unkempt man who produced a small leather-bound case (which I later discovered was home-made out of a ‘Pampers’ disposable nappy box, Magnus being young at the time) containing a Wallis 8-key flute and matching piccolo. Though no expert, I could see it was several notches better than the thing I’d been trying to blow.

He was obviously on the look-out for a sale and had heard that there was a band with a flute-player in his local ale-house, he living just around the corner in Upper High Street at the time. Rather than saying what he wanted for it, he asked me what I thought it was worth. This was obviously a ploy to see If I had any idea at all about values, and no doubt to see if I would come up with a higher figure than he would otherwise have put on it. Not knowing if I was either about to show my ignorance of the flute market or be conned, I tentatively said it must be something in the order of £200. When he asked if I’d be happy to pay buy it at that price I snapped it up – though to this day I’ve no idea whether he’d have been happy to accept half that at the time. Either way I don’t regret the purchase, because, if nothing else, it put me in touch with Paul Davies whom I subsequently got to know quite well for the remainder of the time he lived in Worthing before moving up to York. (The final price was £199.99, since he insisted on returning the ‘luck penny’ demanded by tradition).

He turned out to be one of the people I am most pleased to have encountered in life, although it has to be said that not everybody regarded his company as an unalloyed delight. He could be abrupt, opinionated, and irascible on occasions, but he had knowledge, skill, experience, and a deep understanding of the music that was never flaunted, but which emerged in his conversation and his playing. If he found that someone was genuinely interested in playing the music, however inexpertly, he was generous with his support.

He had been associated with some major characters in Irish music in his time: he particularly admired Paddy Carty – to whom, I later discovered from an LP liner note, he had supplied the Radcliff system flute used on the record. Another liner note credits him with having taught Paul Brady ‘The Blarney Pilgrim’ (although Mr Brady personally was not the subject of Paul’s more complimentary remarks). He talked about having worked and played alongside Donal Barry who was at that time a leading figure in the Irish music organisation Comhaltas (whose sister Margaret I had seen win an All-Ireland whistle prize at a flead cheoil in Listowel in 1978 with a fine rendering of ‘Colonel Frazer’s Reel’ ….. but I digress).

I often visited Paul in the upstairs workshop at his Worthing house, and was shown some of his techniques for renovating and repairing flutes and concertinas, and some of the curios that he kept for his own interest rather than for sale – flutes in glass and ivory, for example. He was a superb player in a robust and unaffected manner, not only on the flute and anglo concertina (he favoured the Jeffries for tone and power) but on the mouth organ as well, although he didn’t play a lot in local sessions. I think this was because he had very definite opinions on what made for a good session and was displeased by a disregard for the appropriate etiquette – when to play and when to exercise restraint, for example. He also had views on the correct points of style in treating tunes in accordance with the tastes of the tradition: I remember his being dismissive of triplets when a roll would have been more the thing.

It was while he was still living in Sussex that Paul’s health took a turn for the worse: I saw him when a heart attack landed him in Worthing hospital, but he carried on trading. The last time I met him was year or two after he’d moved to York, when he came down and stayed with us in Shoreham for a couple of days while in the area to attend some local auctions. Ever an eye for a bargain.

It was on this visit that he pointed me to couple of his old favourite reels, ‘The Moving Bog’ and ‘The Otter’s Holt’. I still have the Wallis flute, though I can’t get anything like the tone out of it that Paul managed, but the instrument and the tunes never fail to call him to mind. I’ve often thought that those who make a living dealing and repairing, gigging and busking do as much to keep a musical tradition going as the much-recorded players that everyone has heard of. People like Paul Davies have a significance that we would do well to value.

Barry Ruffell, W Sussex, UK.

Mike Saunders writes

I'm a Celtic musician living in the Pacific Northwest of the US, near Tacoma, Washington. Sometime around 1977 I was playing with an Irish band we called "No Comhaile" (A joke name we invented to show we didn't do the type of music then known as "Come All Ye…"). I can't recall where we actually met Paul Davis, but it must have been at a pub session in Seattle, and he entered our lives for a week or so in his capacity as "mentor" to a group of witless young lovers of the music. We were all overawed and a bit intimidated by his knowledge and larger-than-life personality, and he treated us as equals and freely shared what he thought we needed to hear. A wonderful, warm "older brother" who could wither your misconceptions with a word, and then immediately make you feel like his old pal again.

We invited him to join us for a gig at a big party, in a huge old house near the University Of Washington, full of young college students. We wandered around adding atmosphere to the revelry, and Paul seemed to enjoy himself. We all noticed an attractive young lady with lots of makeup and sultry looks wandering about, and a bit later Paul disappeared for about twenty minutes. He returned with a fresh pint and a smug, satisfied look on his face, dove into a set of reels, and he climbed up another notch in our esteem.

The flute player in our band had made us familiar with the necessity of having a good wooden flute for Irish Trad, and the fact that these old flutes were hard to find. Paul exploded that myth by explaining his method of acquisition. While travelling he would send a small ad to the major papers in the cities he was visiting, saying "Wanted, wooden flutes, will pay cash, etc…" , or words to that effect, and his phone number. When he arrived in Seattle he already had about five or six people to call, and he ended up buying several flutes before he left. He approached his trade, and life in general, with a resolve and momentum that I've seldom seen, and he will always live in my memory as one of the great "characters" I've met.

Mike Saunders
Feb. 10, 2012


Andy Hooker writes....

I knew Paul from 1977 until his death.   I worked at a London auction house until 1991, and Paul rarely missed a sale which included flutes or concertinas, which means he was a regular visitor.  He was passionate about large-hole flutes, in particular Rudall & Rose.  I remember him playing English-system concertinas rather than the Anglo-German system.

He seemed to live life in an altogether less-structured and more enjoyable style than most of us.  I once met him busking in an undergound station.  There were a few coins in the lid of a small suitcase, but, knowing me, he showed me the false lining and the far larger coin collection hidden underneath.  "It pays to look poor" he said.  He had, I think, a prosthetic leg - I understood the result of an accident in an earlier life as a builder - and therefore a pronounced limp.  But he was very strongly built and could be intimidating.  I remember him chasing a lowlife dealer up St. George's Street, who escaped easily, of course.  He used to deal in cash exclusively, as far as I know, even when large sums were involved.  Once he told me how he came to own a superb and very rare flute by Caleb Gedney.  He'd bribed the middleman.  "The thing is" he told me, "he's no class.  He only took £500 - I was prepared to give him thousands  .   .   .  "

I enjoyed his utter lack of pomposity and his readiness to befriend anybody.  Also he was trustworthy.  As a player he was blessed with one of those natural embouchures - any flute sounded good when he blew it - but he was self-deprecating, and in awe of some Irish players who could, he told me "just pull those soft high notes out of nowhere".

Andy Hooker, 29 April 2021

Conclusion, and an invitation

If you have recollections of Paul, short or long, you'd like to add to this page, do contact me.


My thanks to all who have and will contribute to this page.


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