Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


CARTHY, Martin

(b 21 May '41, Hatfield, Herts) Singer, arguably the most important in the English folk revival; also a gifted multi-instrumentalist, esp. guitar and mandolin; well-known both for solo work and with the Albion Band, Steeleye Span, Brass Monkey, the Watersons. Worked as assistant stage manager for theatrical companies after leaving school, drifted into performing in London coffee houses, the heavy infl. of skiffle giving way to mainly British repertoire. A Topic EP with Bill Leader was 'conveniently lost' early '60s while he was resident singer at the Troubadour club; proper debut on Hootenanny anthology on Decca with 'My Baby Has Gorn Dahn The Plug 'Ole' and 'The End Of My Old Cigar' (now sums up this role as 'comic relief'). Played with Thameside Four with Redd Sullivan (sang with him on Hootenanny), Marion Gray, Pete Maynard. Open to exotic music, citing a fluke introduction to Indian music taking him to Ravi Shankar's first London gig c'57 while still at school and the infl. of Davey Graham's 'She Moves Through The Fair', this period also marking friendship with songwriter Leon Rosselson. His stature in clubs grew; first solo LP Martin Carthy on Fontana showed embryonic talent at work, incl. arr. of 'Scarborough Fair' (also sung on the early EP): he let Paul Simon have the words and chording and it became the basis of Simon and Garfunkel's version; Bob Dylan (then in London for TV play Madhouse On Castle Street) based 'Bob Dylan's Dream' on Carthy's version of 'Lord Franklin', also mentioned him in notes to Freewheelin' LP. Second Album '66 followed by Byker Hill, But Two Came By, Prince Heathen '67--9, all with Dave Swarbrick (billing 'with Dave Swarbrick' became a partnership, reversed on Rags, Reels And Airs '67 by 'Dave Swarbrick with Martin Carthy and Diz Disley', incl. several tunes which later turned up in Fairport Convention repertoire). Strong development underscores these LPs; title track and 'Arthur McBride And The Sergeant' from Prince Heathen were later overshadowed by still stronger performances, powerful skills, becoming sparer, more confident. Good workmanlike LPs Landfall '71, Shearwater '72 and Sweet Wivelsfield '74 overshadowed by masterful Crown Of Horn '76: he could do no wrong with erotic 'Bedmaking', intricate 'Bonny Lass Of Anglesey', epic 'Willie's Lady'. Because It's There '79 incl. Gilbert O'Sullivan's 'Nothing Rhymed', stunning guitar instrumental 'Siege Of Delhi', gruesome 'Death Of Young Andrew'; also the playing of Howard Evans and John Kirkpatrick. Out Of The Cut '82 is possibly his most rounded product, having a rare unity and strong political current: his embellishments to 'Rigs Of The Time' (also incl. by Shirley Collins in The Sweet Primeroses) updated a tale of usury and cheating, while Chartist 'The Song Of The Lower Classes' had timeless lyrics. His side ventures incl. stints with Steeleye early and late '70s (on LPs Ten Man Mop, Please To See The King, Storm Force Ten and Live At Last); he was involved with Albion for Battle Of The Field and worked with them and Ashley Hutchings in subsequent years (e.g. in National Theatre prod. of Flora Thompson's Lark Rise To Candleford); he married second wife Norma Waterson '72, joined her in the Watersons; through work with Kirkpatrick (i.e. on Plain Capers) he met Martin Brinsford, at National Theatre met Evans and Roger Williams: threads pulled together resulted in formation of jolly vocal- instrumental quintet Brass Monkey '81. Many sessions incl. The Silly Sisters for short-term June Tabor/Maddy Prior partnership and several with Rosselson; also Peter Bellamy's the Transports. His mandolin playing is underrated, being the equal of Ry Cooder's bluesier style yet remaining distinctively British; the standards he has set in each area have rarely been matched. His daughter Eliza Carthy's first solo album, Heat Light And Sound '96 on Topic revealed warm and forthright singing and accomplished fiddling; her second duo album with Nancy Kerr, another fiddler-singer, was Shape Of Scrape '96 on Mrs Casey Records. Eliza Carthy And The Kings Of Calicutt '97 brought a new folk brat-pack together; her Red Rice '98 was a double album, one rootsy and one progressive.