Martin Carthy MBE, English folk singer and guitarist. b 1940
"I initially wanted to be an actor but I realised pretty quickly I was crap"
He's bowed down over his guitar, intent on the ringing chords. There's a smell of beer and stale cigarette smoke, and he's singing songs of the colliers' strike and Margaret Thatcher. It could be almost any folk club in the UK, but not just any folk singer.
A musician of some renown, Martin Carthy had a great impact on the burgeoning folk scene in the Sixties, a time when there were plenty of folk clubs, but few people buying music. The public image of English folk was of country bumpkins or ill-dressed hippie types standing around a hay-bale bar, droning along, finger in ear. Martin helped to change that, and he has spent nearly forty years since helping to ensure that the traditional music forms were kept, not just alive, but thriving, and has done much to create a wider audience for trad music.
Born in 1940 in Herefordshire, he began work as an actor, but realised that his talents lay elsewhere. He joined a skiffle group in 1959, and by the early 60s, was recognised and respected as a folk singer at the Troubadour club in London. Ever keen to evangelise folk music, he taught English folk songs to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon when they were touring the UK, both of whom adapted the song Scarborough Fair.
He made his first solo album in 1965, and it was around this time that he formed a close bond with Dave Swarbrick, with whom he toured, recorded and sang. The close musical relationship continues, and the pair are seemingly inseperable - "We are almost the same person" according to Swarbrick.
He has played and recorded with bands such as the folk-rock band Steeleye Span as well as the more traditional bands Brass Monkey, The Watersons, and The Albion Country Band. He also toured extensively and recorded with his close associate, violinist Dave Swarbrick. His solo repertoire covers traditional ballads, rediscovered songs and his own, uniquely thought-provoking political and social commentaries, for example Company Policy, Aux Anciens Parapets and The Dominion of the Sword.
Married to Norma Waterson
, their daughter, Eliza
has gone on to forge her own music career. Hardly surprising - the Carthy household ran on music the way most households run on TV and coffee.
Anyone wishing to understand what English traditional music is about could do worse than pick up his magnificent Crown of Horns album, and the BBC's Kershaw Sessions. The first is a blindingly good collection of trad folk, arranged and performed in great style, the second, a wonderful live album produced by the BBC, and featuring many of his own magnificent songs.
His playing style has been described as "in a class by itself" and he certainly has an attacking and percussive approach to guitar-playing which has inspired such people as Richard Thompson and Pierre Bensusan. Live, he is both thrilling and hypnotic - with an energetic and exciting performance, which holds the attention totally, so intent is he to share the music he loves.
The first time I saw him live, he was entrancing. He had 'dropped into' a club in Norwich, and was jamming along for a while before someone realised who he was. He gave a short set which stopped all conversation, and then sat with us, drinking beer and chatting. We felt we were all in the presence of a god among men.
He was honored with an MBE in 1998 in recognition of his great contribution to traditional music.
In addition to his many solo albums, he has played with and produced many artists - this is but a partial listing, of recordings with major bands and artists between 1965 and 2001.
(Discography Selected from http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/~gillard/watersons/disco.html
Martin Carthy, Martin Carthy
The Three City Four, The Three City Four
Sydney Carter, Martin Carthy & Isla Cameron, Songs from "Hallelujah"
Martin Carthy, Second Album
The Three City Four, Smoke and Dust
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Byker Hill
Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy & Diz Disley, Rags, Reels and Airs
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, But Two Came By
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, No Songs
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Prince Heathen
The Spinners, Martin Carthy, The Corries, Focus on Folk: 1969
Martin Carthy, Landfall
Martin Carthy, This is ... Martin Carthy: The Bonny Black Hare And Other Songs
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Selections
Steeleye Span, Please To See the King
Steeleye Span, Ten Man Mop, or, Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again
Martin Carthy, Shearwater, LP
Steeleye Span, Individually and Collectively
Steeleye Span, Almanack
Martin Carthy, Sweet Wivelsfield
The Albion Band, Battle of the Field
Martin Carthy, Crown of Horn
Fairport Convention, Gottle 'o Geer
Maddy Prior & June Tabor, Silly Sisters
Steeleye Span, Rave On (single)
Dave Swarbrick, Dave Swarbrick
The Albion Band, The Postman's Knock (single)
Steeleye Span, Storm Force Ten
Dave Swarbrick, Dave Swarbrick II
The Watersons, Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy
The Albion Band, Rise Up Like the Sun
The Albion Band, Poor Old Horse
Steeleye Span, Alive At Last
The Albion Band, Lark Rise to Candleford
Martin Carthy, Because It's There
The Watersons, Green Fields
Martin Carthy, Out of the Cut
Brass Monkey, Brass Monkey
Brass Monkey, See How It Runs
Dave Swarbrick, When the Battle is Over
Martin Carthy, Right of Passage
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Life and Limb
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, ]Skin and Bone]
The Watersons, For Pence and Spicy Ale
Richard Thompson, Watching the Dark
Brass Monkey, The Complete Brass Monkey
Martin Carthy, The Martin Carthy Collection
Martin Carthy, Rigs of the Time
Ashley Hutchings, The Guv'nor
Martin Carthy, Kershaw Sessions (BBC)
Dave Swarbrick, Folk On 2
Waterson/Carthy, Common Tongue
The Albion Band, BBC Sessions
Martin Carthy, Signs of Life
Brass Monkey, Sound & Rumour
The Watersons, Green Fields
Martin Carthy, A Collection
Waterson/Carthy, Broken Ground
Steeleye Span, A Rare Collection (1972-1996)
Steeleye Span, The Journey
Eliza Carthy, Angels & Cigarettes
The Martin Carthy Chronicles
Martin Carthy, Instrumental Album