Rick Townend – Bluegrass musician

At school in the 1950s skiffle was the rage, and Rick was attracted by the strident sounds of the fretted instruments. From the age of nine he was learning piano, but at age 12 a guitar came into his hands, and shortly afterwards a banjo. Pete Seeger was on the radio in the early 60s and published tutorial books on folk styles; that was enough to go on with, and a bit later when the BBC broadcast some of the Alan Lomax/Shirley Collins field recordings from the US southern states Rick became hooked on bluegrass.

By 1962 he had a school bluegrass band, the Echo Mountain Boys [more about them], who performed at school concerts and other local events. Of major importance was the arrival in Sevenoaks of Bill Clifton [more about Bill]. As well as playing bluegrass at school Rick played double bass and guitar with the school jazz band, and also a ‘pop group’, and sang madrigals and glees in classical music groups. A big influence was his father Brian ‘Fuzz’ Townend, who at that time was head of music at the school. Andy Townend, Rick’s younger brother also started playing at this time with the Echo Mountain Boys [more about Andy].

Another friend and musical contact was John Morgan, who had been at school a few years ahead of Rick, and was at Cambridge in the early 60s. He borrowed several really useful LPs of bluegrass from the St Lawrence folk music club library, and Rick got to hear the Stanley Brothers and other classic 1950s US artistes. John also put Rick in touch with Rod Davis, with whom he had played at Cambridge.

At university (Oxford) Rick joined the ‘Heritage’ folk club, and started playing bluegrass with Alan Ward: Alan was a friend of Rod Davis – they had both played in the Liverpool band The Bluegrass Ramblers. Alan introduced Rick to British folk music, and some of the traditional singers and musicians at Oxford, including June Tabor and Peta Webb.

In 1972 at Andy’s suggestion he, Rick and Mick Audsley started playing bluegrass again as the Echo Mountain Band. In 1973 Rick won the London Bluegrass Club Banjo competition; at that evening they met another group whose music was to have a lasting influence on Rick – the Roches [their web-site], of whom Maggie and Terre were in London then to make their first recording.

At about this time Rick and Andy’s friend Adrian Crick started running a fortnightly acoustic music club known as ‘le Tepide Club de Sevenoaks’ [after the ‘Hot Club de France’]. As part of the house band, Andy played jazz guitar, with Rick on bass and sometimes fiddle or guitar. They also accompanied rock-music singer Paul Spice with Jordannaires-inspired vocal backings, in what must have been one of the earliest 1950s tribute bands.

During Rick’s time with the EMB they toured in Germany with Bill Clifton, including an appearance on TV ‘Musik-laden’; the songs from this are included on the Bear Family Records compilation of Bill’s recordings [Bear Family web-site].

After the Echo Mountain Band ceased to play regularly (about 1980), Rick played banjo and fiddle for a while with Del Robinson’s Rocky Island Boys. Much of the regular work was barn dances, and the interesting and complex ideas of the dances, some traditional, some invented by the caller and improvised on the spot, caught Rick’s attention.

In 1982 Alan Ward asked Rick to play banjo, fiddle and dobro with his new band, the Armadillos, a Tex-Mex line-up with Rosie Davis, Peta Webb, Tony Engle and Rod Davis, following the popularity of Flaco Jimenez with Ry Cooder and Peter Rowan, and also Hank Wangford. The Armadillos had several residencies in London, played some folk festivals, and toured in the north of England. When the band split up, Rick joined Rosie, Alan and Rod in a new version of the Bluegrass Ramblers. Jan Jerrold (editor of British Bluegrass News) had restarted the London Bluegrass Club, and the Ramblers became the resident band; they were soon joined by Bob Winquist on fiddle, and played at festivals at Edale and Ironbridge, and toured as well.

Rick had met Bob earlier when, in the mid 1980s, they both played occasional gigs with Tom Wolf: Tom had played on the UK bluegrass and folk scene since the 1960s – a US citizen, he was working in England for a degree in anthropology . He played banjo, guitar and mandolin, and also sang lead and tenor.

The Bluegrass Ramblers appeared on BBC radio and made a short cassette ‘Bluegrass Reel’ – all original numbers by the band: the title track was a mandolin tune by Alan Ward.

In the late 1980s, Andy Townend was again free to play more, and Rick and he played some gigs as a duo, sometimes under their own names, and sometimes as ‘Erle & Stanley Gardner’. Rosie Davis moved from London to Wadhurst, and Rick and Andy, with Rosie on bass and Tim Davies on banjo, formed the Townends Special Bluegrass Service, playing at first in local pubs, but soon travelling further afield, to festivals at Ironbridge and North Wales, and some touring concerts. They also appeared in the London Barbican’s Beyond Nashville series of events. The ‘TSBs’ had an entertaining show, which included an idea by Rosie: a ‘radio show’, where the band covered classics such as Foggy Mountain Breakdown as if played by the original artistes. Notable were Tim as Frank Ifield singing ‘She taught me to yodel’ and Rosie as Emmy Lou Harris, accompanied by Andy’s vocal pedal steel guitar. The band also developed a commercial jingle for Tim’s cider company (Chiddingstone Cider). Rick played guitar in this line-up, during which time he developed his lead guitar style; they made a CD ‘Fracas on the Frets’ which was issued in 1998.

Rick also played in the 80s and 90s with Gerry Williams’ band WFTW Bluegrass Jamboree – the initials stood for Williams, (Adrian) Farmer, Townend, (Jerry) Webb, the original band members. Rick played mainly fiddle, and Andy often played mandolin. The line up changed from time to time: Bob Winquist played fiddle (Rick moved to mandolin) for a tour of Holland, including the 'Big Bear' festival, and Mark Hardwick played bass and sang some lead. They appeared on Radio 4’s folk music programme - this time with Rosie Davis on bass, Rick on banjo and Andy on mandolin. The WFTW also had a regular lunchtime spot at Tunbridge Wells 'Trinity Arts Centre'.

In 1990 Jan Jerrold called a meeting of interested parties – principally festival organisers – to discuss forming a British Bluegrass Music Association, to match the highly successful IBMA in America. Rick and Rosie were very much involved, contributing ideas, and Rick was on the first national committee, being treasurer for three years, and also SE England Area Representative – which he continues to be [BBMA web-site].

Rick also played old-time music in a duo with Rosie Davis, at many folk clubs and festivals, and they made a cassette of Rosie’s songs – ‘Play Love’s Tune’. They were approached by Bobb Records, and made a CD ‘Make the Old Times New’, a selection of old and new songs and tunes, played in traditional style. Later Rosie and Rick with Andrea and Mike Preston, made a cassette/book (now available on multimedia-CD) with music for Appalachian clogging. In 2002 the duo also put out a 6-track CD ‘Old Familiar Favourites – Carter Family Songs’. Rick also often played fiddle for Rosie's expert clogging workshops at festivals including Edale, Ironbridge, Gainsborough, Sidmouth and 'Feet First'.

Rosie and Rick also worked in the Newcastle area for the Folkworks development agency and, inspired by what they had seen, and also Pete Wraith’s description of workshop weekends in the USA, Rosie put forward the idea of workshop events in their own area. They had a meeting with Gerry and Sarah Williams and set up the Wadhurst Bluegrass Workshop days; these were an immediate success, and three were held each year. The idea spread so that now there are several such events annually – in particular ‘Sore Fingers’ week [their web-site]. The Wadhurst Bluegrass Days ceased in 1995; British Bluegrass News included a long article detailing the series.

Jan Jerrold also organised tours for US artistes, and Rick played as part of the accompanying band for Jim Eanes (two tours), Bill Clifton, Red Rector & Art Stamper, and also with Rose Maddox for her London bluegrass concert.

Andy Townend’s death in July 1998 was a dreadful blow, for British Bluegrass as well as for Rick, Rosie and Tim. They did not play for some months, but in the autumn of that year were persuaded to do so by Vic Smith of Lewes folk club and Pam Colls of Dartford. Adrian Farmer had helped out on previous occasions and did so for concerts at these clubs, with the result that they formed a new band Bluegrass Experience [more about them], using Adrian mainly for his wonderful lead guitar work and also on dobro, with Rick on fiddle.

Since the late 1990s Rosie and Rick had played old-time music informally with Dave Arthur, and around 2000, they started what became a new regular monthly lunchtime show at the Trinity Arts Centre, Tunbridge Wells. The audience grew, and also a number of old-time musicians showed up, so the show was followed by a picking session. The three also did some folk club gigs with Dave Plane, as the 'Doctor, Doctor' String Band. Rick plays (Irish music) with Dave Arthur as 'The Two Patricks' and they are the mainstays of the Medway Minstrels ceilidh band

In 2002 Rosie met Bulgarian singer Lilly Drumeva [her web-site] who was living in England then (her band Lilly of the West had been hugely successful at the European bluegrass festival - EWOB - in previous years). A trio was formed (Lilly, Rosie and Rick) named Lilly and Rosie, who made a 6-track CD ‘The Lily & the Rose’ (a song by Rosie), and then toured in Holland and Germany, appearing at the 'European World of Bluegrass' followed by festival dates in the UK, and an appearance at the International Country Music Festival in Skjåk, Norway [their web-site]. Lilly has since returned to Bulgaria, where she has her own national radio show. British Bluegrass News did a cover feature about the trio. In 2005 Rick played with Lilly of the West when he visited Bulgaria, and performed with Lilly on TV and Radio.

As can be seen from the above, Rick's tastes incline at least as much to old-time music as to bluegrass, and in 2007 he played at the Gainsborough Old-Time Music Festival with Tom Paley and Joe Locker in the New Deal String Band [more about them], standing in on fiddle for Tom's son Ben.

Also in 2002, Rick was asked to advise and assist with a special event put on by the Institute of US Studies at London University. The event was a celebration of the music of the Carter Family, and was partly a conference with papers given by Charles Hirshberg, Paul Kingsbury, Bill Malone, Neil Rosenberg and Tony Russell among others, and also a concert at the Shaw Theatre in London, featuring Mike and Alexia Seeger, Janette Carter, and Bill Clifton & Tom Gray - for whom Rick and Bob Winquist played twin-fiddle accompaniments to many of the songs from Bill's Carter Family Memorial album.

In the summer of 2003 Rick was approached by Rod Smith, director of Home Place Studio, who had seen a niche market for a series of CDs for people learning bluegrass and old time music, who wanted access to the rich field of tunes played at picking sessions at festivals etc.; often these tunes had never been recorded in their simple basic form. Rosie Davis came up with a name - 'Just the Tune' - for the series, designed the covers, and played on some of the tracks, which otherwise feature Rick's instrumental skills. The series is continuing. See more details

Currently Rick plays fiddle with Grassroots and plays A.P.Carter with the Kent Carters . A major event for him was the Royal Academy of Music's Genius of the Violin festival in March-April 2004, where Rick appeared at two concerts and the 'Soul of the Fiddle' Conference/Course. In 2008 he will be at the Fiddle Festival of Wales. Grassroots will be touring in Eire in July 2008.

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