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VIN GARBUTT - All The Very Best!: The Autobiography 

VIN GARBUTT - All The Very Best!: The Autobiography 
McGeary Media ISBN: 9781915187017 

In 2017, the folk world lost one of its most beloved icons, ‘Teesside Troubadour’ Vin Garbutt. He tragically died just a few months short of his 70th birthday, soon after undergoing heart surgery. During the previous four years, Vin had been enthusiastically working on his autobiography in collaboration with journalist Michael McGeary. Vin was undoubtedly a very popular folk-entertainer – and yet, considering his unquestioned status on the folk scene as one of its major ‘draws’ and the extreme loyalty which he commanded amongst his admirers, there were, incredibly, also periods when he was almost shunned by some factions within the folk ‘industry’. Even within a scene that nurtured and embraced so many unique ‘characters’, Vin was unique. Not only because his unmistakable harsh-hewn yet caressing vocal delivery and uncompromising songwriting unashamedly polarised audience reactions; ironically perhaps, this in turn mirrored the polarisation in his stage act, the latter-day equivalent of the trope where a comedian’s hilarious patter might at the flip of a coin, with the words “but seriously though…”, be succeeded by a deadly serious and passionately felt commentary in song that would move an audience to tears.

Therein lies the essence of Vin – a highly gifted “folk singer, musician, songwriter, storyteller and patter merchant”, and also a man who possessed the strongest love of life and of humanity. The eternal troubadour who proudly yet modestly proclaimed he had “the best job in the world”, Vin “lived to walk out onto the stage and give his all to a bunch of music-loving strangers” (in the words of his widow Pat in the book’s foreword) – Vin would staunchly endure whatever logistical impracticalities this may involve (he relied on public transport, for example). The very title of his autobiography is canny in itself, a trademark hearty and entirely genuine Vin greeting that can also be taken as a casual, almost incidental quality-judgement on his music – for he would never short-change his audience. In this autobiography, Vin both evaluates and illuminates the controversial aspects of his songwriting, which is nevertheless noted for its intensely felt and tender expressiveness, whatever the subject-matter or stance taken. The latter in particular has provoked extremes of positive and negative feedback or ‘love and hate’. Yet for the folk fan who belongs firmly in either camp, All The Very Best! proves nothing less than a must-read.

The book contains an enormous amount of worldly wisdom within its 200 pages, for scattered amidst its passages of direct self-portrait we find many affectionate tributes and a large number of ‘typical Vin’ anecdotes that round out Vin’s own disarmingly frank and often self-effacing account of the main backstory and all-embracing life-history. Just like the legendary Vin-in-concert experience, his autobiography is by turns uproariously hilarious, immensely touching, gentle and compassionate, sincerely outspoken on occasion, tremendously courageous and, above all, invariably life-affirming. For the headline quote, “Love can be said in a word, but there should be no doubt of it in your actions,” epitomises Vin’s life dictum.

Ideally, the last word of Vin’s autobiography should rest with Vin himself: “Death is as much a part of life as living.” But that’s far from being the book’s last word – for there’s a further 25 pages packed with eulogies and tributes from fans, friends and fellow-entertainers, ample indication of the serious esteem with which Vin is regarded.

The book is liberally sprinkled with family and performance photos too – indeed, I might say that ‘vin extraordinaire’ fairly pours (nay, leaps) out of every page. Reading this, you feel you are truly in the presence of Vin himself. The life-force: larger than life, yet totally of life. And what a life! All The Very Best! is just that, and the embodiment of everything an autobiography should be.

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 142 of The Living Tradition magazine