Last week I was mostly listening to… Martin Carthy… October 17, 2016Posted by Aonrud ⚘ in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
…I really was – I saw him play twice last week, after years of missing his gigs, and both were brilliant. If you’re not familiar wth him, Martin Carthy is a stalwart of the folk scene and one of the finer folk guitarists. He has a lot of solo work, but also often playing with the fiddler Dave Swarbrick, the Watersons (he is married to Norma Waterson), a brief stint in Steeleye Span, The Imagined Village, and various other folk groups. His arrangement of Scarborough Fair might be familiar from Paul Simon’s lifting of it (a man prone to appropriation, apprently). One distinctive aspect of Carthy’s playing is the tuning he favours, which gives a low C on the bottom string which is great for a bass-y root or drone, and widens the range as well.
He was part of a sort of memorial concert of songs of Ewan McColl in the NCH in Dublin – which included Peggy Seeger, her and McColl’s children, Martin and Eliza Carthy, and others. (Seeger, despite a somewhat weakened voice, still does an excellent performance of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, 60 odd years after McColl wrote it for her). Then a couple of days later, Carthy was playing a solo gig in Belfast, which was another fantastic performance.
The NCH is an odd place for a folk gig, but I suppose it reflects an older and probably middle class audience that it was a pricey Tuesday night in the NCH and not a Friday in the pub. Maybe a certain irony in it for a communist repertoire. The Belfast gig was a more typical pub venue, though still an older crowd. (I saw Chris Wood a few months back, with a similar age profile in the room, and he said the folk scene is supported by the pensions of the same people who started it with their student grants.)
Anyway, Carthy is the master of the long narrative ballad, and played this fantastic version of Bill Norrie, recorded elsewhere below. Under that is a selection of his songs from over the years.
Another ballad for which he was well known earlier in his career, Famous Flower of Serving Men.
Here he is with Dave Swarbrick, playing his version of Byker Hill.
His version of Dominion of the Sword, which I think is a traditional tune to which he wrote modern lyrics.
Another fairly grim tale, Prince Heathen.
Something a bit livelier from Imagined Village, with Carthy on guitar, and Eliza Carthy singing, along with Chris Wood.