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Ralph Jordan - 1954-2014

The folk world will hear of the untimely death of Ralph Jordan with great sadness. For 40 years, Ralph was a familiar and distinctive figure at festivals, sessions, on the concert stage and behind the mixing desk. His absence leaves a space that will not be filled.

Ralph was born in Streatham, South London, the youngest of a large family. On leaving school he joined the BBC and trained as a sound engineer - a job he did and loved (though he did not always love the institution) all of his working life.

By the time we met at the Bird in Hand folk club in Forest Hill, South London, in late 1974 or early 1975, he was already a solid guitarist and concertina player and was fronting a band called Fingers Galore. Ralph developed hugely as a musician in the duo Silas, adding cittern to his cast of instruments at that time. Silas joined forces with Mick Ryan and John Burge to form Crows in 1978 and enjoyed considerable popularity releasing an album on the Dingles label in 1981.

Tensions in Crows led to Ralph’s departure in about 1983 at which time he joined forces with the remarkable (and late lamented) Nigel Chippendale and Colin Thompson to form Eric. Though short lived, this trio explored the boundaries of folk music in a most influential way. At about that time, Ralph was also a regular member of the band of the Paddington Molly dancers along with other luminaries including Dan Quinn and Sam Stevens.

Ralph and I lost touch for a few years in the late 1980s – others will need to fill in his CV for that time. When we re-connected in the mid 1990s, he was working regularly as one of the Fraser Sisters and was doing more engineering of live concerts too. There was never seemingly an empty moment in his schedule.

All the while his BBC career continued and he carved himself a niche as one of the engineers of choice for John Peel or Andy Kershaw sessions, as well as being ever present in the control rooms of Radio 1, 2 and 4 where, on one occasion, he inadvertently turned off the tape machine broadcasting an episode of the Archers, leaving silence on the airwaves for nearly half a minute!

In the mid 1990s Ralph picked up, with Nic and Julia Jones, the project to find, select and release recordings of Nic’s work. Of all the production work Ralph undertook over the years, this project will stand as a great memorial to him. He was working on this when we got back together in the 90s. Any plan to revive Silas as a performing duo was halfhearted, though work went forward on a never released album. In 2000, Ralph met John Dipper at Whitby Folk Week and by early 2001, Patterson Jordan Dipper was a reality. We had a productive 5 years. When he left us, the dance band he worked with, Housewives Choice, were already working. More recently he teamed up with Irene Shettle too.

Wherever he worked and whomever he worked with, Ralph injected thoughtful, inventive and, above all, musical ideas. His musical knowledge and understanding reached far beyond the boundaries of the folk medium in which he worked and this informed his approach and always coloured his contributions.

He will be remembered particularly for his explorations of the potential of the McCann Duet concertina – for his memorable arrangements of Brubeck’s Take 5 or Warlock’s Capriole Suite. His contribution to folk music and its development was considerable as was the sheer pleasure he gave to thousands of people over the years. He was my musical partner, my teacher and my friend. He is greatly missed.

James Patterson