Sunday, 8 March 2015

Arthur Robinson: British bluegrass veteran with a European dimension

Arthur St Clair Robinson, one of British bluegrass music’s true high-lonesome vocalists, passed away on Friday, March 6, 2015. He suffered a seizure at the beginning of February and was hospitalized for a while before being moved to St. Catherine’s Hospice in Scarborough, Yorkshire, where he lived in later life. He had battled against the ravages of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for about 25 years.

His first encounter with bluegrass music was when he went to a concert in Middlesbrough to see Bob Paisley and the Southern Grass. He said in an interview with me in February 2010, “I was knocked out by the performance of these American visitors, and can remember saying to myself I want to sing like Dan Paisley! Since then I have strived to sing and be as authentic as possible to my chosen artists.” Those influential bands included the Stanley Brothers, Larry Sparks, The Johnson Mountain Boys, Laurie Lewis, Special Consensus and the Bluegrass Patriots.

Robinson earned his living as a fire chief in Redcar, a small coastal town in the north east of England close to Middlesbrough. He made his musical baptism on stages – small sets in local pubs – in Redcar. Later he formed a band called King Arthur and the Knights of Bluegrass and they made many very successful appearances at the Edale Bluegrass Festival, the North Wales Bluegrass Festival and elsewhere.

In 1989 MS was diagnosed and in the following year he began a friendship with Czechoslovakia (as it was then) bringing Czech bands to tour in the UK; he visited the country many times and began dealing in mandolins with Czech musicians and instrument makers. The mandolin was his chosen instrument to play. In 1993 Robinson recorded with the Czech band Cop. From 2000 onwards he built up a business making and selling tortoiseshell thumb and flat picks.  He found a therapeutic benefit in working on the picks as it helped him maintain the use of his hands.  Sadly, he had to stop that about 2010. In 2006 Robinson was presented with a life time associate membership of the British Bluegrass Music Association.

Of his MS, he told me defiantly in 2010, “I still can sing and enjoy the music and I won’t give up trying to play the mandolin.” He was naturally a warm individual, with a wide smile. He helped young musicians attend the Sore Fingers Summer Schools.

British bluegrass pioneer Tom Travis once related ….
“Many years ago, I was in conversation with British bluegrass pioneer, the late Jan Jerrold, and we were discussing the British bluegrass scene. We got onto the subject of British bluegrass talent and Jan said, ‘I think that the best bluegrass voice in Britain is that of Arthur Robinson.’ And, do you know, I couldn’t argue with that.”
King Arthur and the Knights of Bluegrass can be seen/heard – with the three Crocker Brothers and Steve Read (glimpsed at the back playing bass) – in typical hard-driving form at the Edale Bluegrass Festival in 1990:

Robinson’s funeral will be held at Scarborough Crematorium on Friday, March 13, at 2:40 p.m., and all are welcome. There will be a gathering afterwards at Scarborough Rugby Club. Musicians are more than welcome to bring their instruments.
R.I.P. Arthur

Editor's Note: 
This obituary was originally published on Bluegrass Today and was written (and is reproduced with the kind permission of) Richard F. Thompson.