A recent Observer photograph showed Bob Davenport listening to a uilleann-piper, and in many ways this characterises him very well. For Bob has a love of the music. Singing for him isn't the status booster of so many young singers. Behind his powerful, ear-shattering voice lies a sensitivity to atmosphere, and it is to his credit that he can't turn it on to order. I have been with him when he has left the five-string atmosphere of an upstairs room for the four-ale bar below, where The Lily of Laguna was more meaningful than Child No. whatever-it-was upstairs.
His native Newcastle still tugs at him. His family has songs. George Ridley, composer of The Blaydon Races was a great uncle, and he talks of the parties and Saturday night hops at home with enthusiasm. He has a lovely story of the wake where the corpse was stood upright in the corner, his bowler hat on his head and a pipe stuck in his mouth, while the drink flowed and the music echoed round him.
In London Bob met up with the Irish. Margaret Barry encouraged him to sing, and many an evening he would sit listening to the fiddlers and flute-players, and only when he had warmed up with the music would he sing. Tint Finnegan used to bring the house down at the Bedford. Joe Heaney and Seamus Ennis were his drinking pals and it was here that he met The Rakes. The dance music is important to Bob. The way he slurs some notes was taken from a fiddler, and he enjoys singing in waltz or hornpipe-time with a full band accompaniment. He could scarcely contain his excitement when he brought a ceilidh band into the Singers Club recently to share the evening.
Bob has a variety of songs — Northumbrian, Newcastle, Irish and some with the Davenport stamp on them.
HOT ASPHALT is a song about Irish navvies in Glasgow — and a peeler. The tune is the hornpipe, Napoleon Crossing the Alps.
THE BOG DOWN IN THE VALLEY is well-known in Southern England as The Green Grass Grew All Round and it is a song I can remember hearing at every family party since I was a child. Bob has it from Seamus Ennis and has tacked on a few verses from elsewhere. This one has a nice old polka tune.
TRAMPS AND HAWKERS a Scots come-all-ye dating from last century, is best known as Jimmy MacBeath's song, and here Bob gives it a Geordie treatment. The tune is one of the standard Irish-Scots ballad airs and was recently given a new lease of life with Bridie Gallagher's hit record The Homes of Donegal.
WOR GEORDIE'S WIFE is one of his own with a local tune and words after Robert Burns.