Kick Up the Dust on the HMS President in London, 2015. Dave Fishwick on guitar and vocals; Peter Dyson on drums.

Kick Up the Dust on the HMS President in London, 2015. Dave Fishwick on guitar and vocals; Peter Dyson on drums.

Studio West owner Peter Dyson and Dave Fishwick started playing music together in 1983, when they were students at Brunel University in London. Over thirty years later, they’re still at it, playing several times a year with their band Kick Up the Dust despite living on different continents.

At Brunel, Peter and Dave saw each other occasionally in the university bar, where students congregated (some more frequently than others) but they’d never actually met. Dave’s friends were mostly other golfers and cricketers, and Peter had a different crowd, but both Dave and Peter were friends with John Paddy, a Chemistry Ph.D. candidate and fellow musician. Dave and John had just formed a small folk band and were about to enter a talent contest at The Academy, Brunel’s music venue. After getting the okay from Dave, John asked Peter to join them. Amidst the chaos of the talent contest, Dave and Peter didn’t meet until they were actually on stage. The first song they played was “The Jolly Beggarman,” and Dave turned to Peter and said, “give it some kick drum!”  Peter gave it some kick drum—kicking off the song as well as a long friendship and musical partnership.

Both Dave and Peter grew up in musical families. Peter’s family was heavily involved with church and church music, and he grew up singing traditional English hymns. The same was true for Dave. Dave’s parents are originally from Liverpool, a port city where much of the population has Irish or Scottish roots. Liverpool had a strong tradition of Celtic sea faring songs, and Dave’s parents both grew up singing the songs, and they passed this down to their three sons. After every Christmas dinner and more than a few Sunday roasts, Dave, his parents, and brothers would spend the evening harmonizing traditional sea shanties.

Traditional Celtic sea songs form much of Kick Up the Dust’s repertoire. “These were working songs for sailors,” says Dave. “And since there’s no need now for these working songs, many are dying out. It’s so satisfying to take an old song that there’s no good version of, that might die out, and bring it forward so it has a chance of surviving the next three or four decades.” To modernize a song, Dave adds layers of instruments as well as music dynamics to add interest (working songs tend to be very repetitive). He also draws on an eclectic mix of influences, from classical to punk.

Classical Influence

Dave’s training as a church organist influences the way he arranges Kick Up the Dust’s songs. “My brain just thinks like an organist about harmonizing,” Dave says. “I use a Baroque ornamentation, Tierce de Picardie, in many songs, like the “Mingulay Boat Song” and “Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy.” Bach used it a lot. Even in “Mountains of Pomeroy” or “The Lakes of Pontchartrain,” the piano is very classical harmonic, with a little bit of folk. Most folk musicians who listen to the arrangement will know a classically trained musician did it, rather than a pure folkie.  We present the music as a blend of classical and folk. Some folk musicians look down their noses at this, they like the purity of the folk tradition. I think that if folk musicians had been classically trained they’d probably do what we do.”

With its trans-Atlantic core members—Peter in San Diego, California, and Dave in a village near Bedford in England—Kick Up the Dust has a rotating cast of musicians from both sides of the pond. “The way that Peter and I find harmonies is different in the way Colin, Shawn, and Jeff do,” Dave says, referring to American band members Colin Tedeschi, Shawn Rohlf, and Jeff Pekarek. “Peter and I have a tendency to finish off the lines of folk exactly the way an English hymn would finish.”

The Isle of Dogs

Kick Up the Dust’s most creative period was 1989, when the bulk of the band members—Peter, Dave, John Paddy, Richard Paddy, and Paul Hackworth–all lived together in London. “We didn’t have a telly,” Peter says, “so most nights we’d noodle around with music. Practice is probably too strong a word.” Typically they’d go off to the pub together, and pause at the Greenwich Foot Tunnel for fifteen minutes, practicing their harmonies and backing vocals in the superb acoustics the foot tunnel offered. On the way back, they’d stop again for even longer. “Number 18 Plymouth Wharf on the Isle of Dogs, where we lived together, was incredibly important for Kick Up the Dust,” says Dave. “I’ll never forget that place.”

Punk Influence

Kick Up the Dust doesn’t just draw from the classical and folk traditions—it’s also heavily influenced by punk, namely the Celtic punk band The Pogues and its lead singer, Shane McGowan. “When The Pogues came on the scene, it revolutionized the sound of Kick Up the Dust,” Dave says. “I wanted the upbeat feel that The Pogues brought, but toned down a notch, taking out the punk screaming aspect. Kick Up the Dust even opened for The Pogues when they played at Brunel.”

Kick Up the Dust Today

In summary, Kick Up the Dust takes Celtic sea shanties from Liverpool and elsewhere, arranges the shanties with classical, often Baroque, harmonies, and adds an upbeat punk flavor. All this makes for a highly original folk band that proves popular whenever they play. After a gig, Kick Up the Dust is always invited back, be it at a pub in England, a bar in Mammoth, California, or the Sea Shanty Festival in San Diego (where they perform regularly each summer, and now play two sets instead of the customary one, at the organizer’s request). All Kick Up the Dust members love the music and the camaraderie. And Peter still starts off each set with some kick drum.