Reviews 2008

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

Martin Carthy
Dick Woodhouse 21 November 2008

Martin Carthy - 21 November 2008

The evening opened with a rousing performance by one of the club’s resident bands; “Nothing to Prove”. This was followed by an impromptu spot by Ian Pittaway, whose guitar rendition of a Northumbrian pibrock was truly breathtaking. Malcolm Jeffery then provided the evening’s light entertainment with a couple of Jake Thackray’s songs and Grant Baynham’s “Wine Song”. Then it was time for the main act of the evening; Martin Carthy.

Martin Carthy has been one of the mainstays of the English folk revival since the early 1960’s and his distinctive guitar style has been the inspiration for many a folk club guitarist for more than 40 years, myself included! He has always played a Martin guitar, and in 2003 he was honoured by CF Martin & Co who launched a limited edition of the OOO-18 model bearing Martin Carthy’s signature.

Having started playing during the heyday of skiffle, Carthy became interested in the traditional material collected by the likes of Cecil Sharpe, Hammond and Gardiner, Child, Vaughan Williams etc. He became resident at London’s famous “Troubador Folk Club” where his popularity grew and he was seen by the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, the latter famously copying Carthy’s arrangement of Scarborough Fair.

In the mid 1960’s, Carthy teamed up with Dave Swarbrick and they recorded several albums before moving into different alliances; Swarb into Fairport Convention and Carthy into Steeleye Span. Carthy was also performing with “The Watersons” and married Norma in the early 1970’s. Apart from a brief encounter with “The Albion Country Band”, he devoted most of his performing time in the ‘70’s to “The Watersons” although he did release a number of solo albums during that period. In the ‘80’s he began playing with John Kirkpatrick and Howard Evans in “Brass Monkey”, and then in the early ‘90’s his family band “Waterson Carthy” released their first album. Carthy received the MBE for his services to British Folk Music in 1998 and continues to perform with Waterson Carthy, Brass Monkey and The Imagined Village, as well as reviving his partnership with Dave Swarbrick, and of course, as a solo performer.

He has a tremendous catalogue of material, and his performance tonight included a few of his “old favourites”. He is probably best known for his arrangements of traditional songs and this performance was no exception, beginning with John Barleycorn, followed by Limbo. Six Jovial Welshmen is supposed to be a St David’s Day carol, but is not religious and instead contains a number of humorous comparisons, including an observation of the similarity between a haystack and Barbara Cartland! 

A bonus to a Carthy live performance is the additional information about a song (or tune) in the introduction. Apparently, the BBC originally banned The Foggy Dew as being “too rude”, even though it was performed by none less than Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten. Sir Patrick Spens (all 26 verses of which he performed as a request) is about the return in 1282 of Margaret, Maid of Norway, and the “blind harper” in The Lochmayben Harper is a busker.

Mike Waterson’s A Stitch in Time is one of those serious but humorous songs describing how a battered wife “reforms” her drunken husband. Carthy recalled how after singing this song in Wales, he was “accosted” by a woman from Clydch who claimed to know the person about whom it was written; however, Mike Waterson also claims it happened to someone in his home town of Hull! An Invite to a Funeral tells the unlikely story of a drunken wake for a bloke who isn’t dead, and ends with the sound advice “Never go to funerals until the fellow dies”.
No Carthy performance would be complete without a sprinkling of his guitar instrumentals, and this was no exception, including Princess Royal, The Heroes of St Valerie, The Cuckoo’s Nest, and a brilliant rendition of The Harry Lyme Theme.

The evening ended with The Devil and the Feathery Wife.

All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, helped by the informal atmosphere of The Woodman Folk Club and the appreciative audience. Let’s hope it’s not too long before we see Martin Carthy here again!

Set List :-
John Barleycorn
6 Jovial Welshmen 
Princess Royal (Instrumental)
Foggy Dew 
Invite to a funeral
The Trees they do Grow High
A Stitch in Time
Sir Patrick Spens
The Heroes of St Valerie (Instrumental)
Bonny Woodhall
The Cuckoo’s Nest (Instrumental)
The Lochmayben Harper
Three Minute Hamlet
The Harry Lyme Theme (Instrumental)
The Devil & the Feathery Wife