All who have been involved in the project of making this double CD of the concert acknowledge the generous cooperation of Danish Radio and the expertise of its technicians.
Thanks are due to the many people who were involved in this project. Their encouragement, enthusiasm and support were invaluable — I personally would like to thank the following: Gerd Parkholt, Jorgen Nielsen, Peer Andersen (of Skagen Festival), Palle Aarslev, Torben Laursen & Alan Klitgaard (of Danish Radio), Carsten Panduro (of Tonder Festival), Ian McCalman, Ian Green, Wendy Bloomer, and finally all of the musicians who gave their time and commitment so freely.
Alex Campbell was the most important and influential folksinger of the folksong revival in Europe. Admired, respected and loved by his fellow performers and by his audiences throughout Europe, he epitomised the image of the travelling minstrel. His love of people, his joy of singing and his commitment to the ideals of the folksong movement placed him foremost amongst his contemporaries. Starting as a busker in Paris in the mid-1950s, he graduated to become the inspiration for a whole generation of performers, many of whom now grace the concert platform. He was especially loved in Denmark, so much so that when throat cancer put an end to his performing career his Danish friends gave him sanctuary and support and helped him through his few remaining years. Living firstly in Skagen and finally in Tønder, Alex died in January 1987.
The story of how the tribute concert came to be starts way back in the summer of 93. I was in Ullapool on the north-west coast of Scotland playing a gig at The Ceilidh Place. After the concert I had a free day, so I stayed over to see Rab Noakes play his gig. Rab and I go back a long way — although we did not see each other that often we had been friends for many years and our careers had taken a similar course. At this time Rab was rarely performing in public as he had taken a job with the BBC as a producer. Over dinner we started talking about Alex Campbell, and I said that it was surprising that no-one had made a programme about him considering his importance in the folk song revival. I pointed out that I was still playing some of the clubs he used to play throughout Europe, and someone should travel the road he travelled and get the full story. However, after I left I thought no more about the subject until a few months later when Rab phoned me and told me I had the gig. "What gig?" I asked. "The Alex Campbell Story" he said. "The BBC want you to write it".
This was a chance for me to make a public statement about a man I had known and respected for many years, a man who had sung my songs and made the way a little easier for me. After a lot of research and interviews in Britain, I started on the continental part of the story. I began in Skagen, where Alex saw out some of his last days with his companion, Gerd Parkholt. Then I went to Copenhagen and the ViseVersehuset in the Tivoli Gardens, the scene of many great nights for Alex. I could not leave Denmark without seeing Alex's long-time friend, Carsten Panduro in Tønder who was with him to the end. I then crossed the German border to meet with the folksinger Hannes Wader who had once given Alex his big Gibson J200 guitar, and then on to The Gallerie club in Flensburg to meet with Michael Rheinhardt.
Moving further into Germany I went to Gottingen to see Alex's one time agent Carsten Linde, and then I travelled across Germany to Antwerp to see my old friend Derroll Adams who had busked with Alex in the early days in Paris. And Paris was the final destination, the place where the story started. My guide through the streets of Paris was Marc Robine, the French folksinger and songwriter, and together we found the Bar Monaco where Alex had started as a street singer. The whole journey took close to a month and when I returned to England I wrote the script and presented the programme to the BBC with the invaluable help of Rab Noakes. It was broadcast in November 94.
That, I thought, was the end of it — I had made my personal and public tribute to a great man and it was time to move on. However, at the Tønder festival in '94, Peer Anderson of Skagen festival asked my agent and friend, Jorgen Nielsen if I would consider writing and presenting a 'Songs of Alex Campbell' performance for the following year at Skagen. Apparently the original idea had come from Phil Jackson. It seemed like a fun thing to do, and as I had all of the information already I agreed to start work on the script. So the story was to carry on — yet one more tribute to a great man.
The concert took place on Sunday 2nd July, 1995 at the Skagen Festival in Denmark. I remember walking towards the stage feeling fear for the first time since I had started working on the project. Only then did the enormity of what I had taken on hit me, and I was well aware that it could so easily go wrong. It has to be said that the musicians were faultless in their help and enthusiasm, and their support on the night of the concert was unfailing. Without their commitment the whole evening could have been a shambles, but it was quite the reverse. I have rarely felt such emotion, not only on stage with all those fine musicians, but also coming from the audience. It was a fantastic success and a remarkable event in the history of folk music.
The whole programme lasted over four hours and has had to be edited down to around two hours. However, I feel the essence of that unique night has been captured on this CD, and I hope in the listening you will have some idea of how respected and loved Alex Campbell was. Thanks are due to Danish Radio as this the only record of that night, a night that will never happen again.
Allan Taylor, Leeds, England, 1997.