Monday, March 03, 2008

For Martin Carthy

And, speaking of England, last night a friend invited me to join him at a concert in Blakeney. Martin Carthy was playing. Of course, I knew who he was, but British folk, even at the height of the late sixties revival, has always passed me by. Carthy is the great hero of folkies. Dylan picked up the idiom from him and Paul Simon spotted him at once.  Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair is pure Carthy. But, as I say, it had all passed me by. Carthy was playing with his partner, Norma Waterson, their daughter Eliza Carthy and Tim van Eyken. There was a capacity crowd of about two hundred. It was a characterless hall that looked as though it would be better used for a protest meeting about the installation of new benches on the quay. It should have been the Albert Hall if not Wembley Arena. Carthy and his band were sensational, breathtaking. Carthy's guitar style is unique. He had the distracted air of a man looking at himself and the tradition as if in a dream. He was selling CDs at the interval. I asked him why we don't make music as freely and easily as they do in America or Ireland. He spoke of places in Sheffield where they sing their own carols every Christmas and where everybody is expected to contribute new elements to the tradition. English folk - not just as a hobby but as a living tradition of informal music making - is. like England, not quite dead. The concert ended with a piercing a cappella blessing and valedictory - 'I love you well, but Jesus loves you best'. There were no dry eyes.


  1. Ireland and Scotland were very lucky at the time of which you write. A private folklore commission from the US with Guggenheim connections, traveled through, writing down songs and stories, many of which were in the oral tradition and about to be lost. The French did something similar with photographs prior to WW1, on the box lately.
    But from this came the Clancy's and Tommy Makem. Who played in Greenwich village,NYC, where Dylan heard and played with them.
    While, should you get a chance the area of the Borders, English side, has a rich source of the live music, as has the British Library on tape/Cd.

  2. ''It was a characterless hall that looked as though it would be better used for a protest meeting about the installation of new benches on the quay.''

    Well, I'm sure one of them'll sing a song about that. But why would you want the Albert Hall? (Wembley Arena is too ludicrous, I'm sure you jest.) You want somewhere where you can snuggle down with a nice warm pint, around an applewood fire, and you can clearly see the dancing string of spittle between the singers lips.

  3. i saw a great concert with Scottish Ent-man Alasdair Roberts, in Manchester. Crowd of about 20-30 people. It was fantastic though he seemed a little bemused at the niceness of the audience; at one point he said, "anyone want to hear a drinking song?" and the audience just smiled politely.

    It took Elberry to bellow 'yes!'

  4. English folk in a pub is pretty special. Many an evening has been spent over a pint or two and listening to a collection of folkies from near and far who happened to assemble that evening.