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.

His music

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.

  • 1965
    Martin Carthy, Martin Carthy
    The Three City Four, The Three City Four
  • 1966
    Sydney Carter, Martin Carthy & Isla Cameron, Songs from "Hallelujah"
    Martin Carthy, Second Album
    The Three City Four, Smoke and Dust
  • 1967
    Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Byker Hill
    v Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy & Diz Disley, Rags, Reels and Airs
  • 1968
    Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, But Two Came By
    Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, No Songs
  • 1969
    Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Prince Heathen
    The Spinners, Martin Carthy, The Corries, Focus on Folk: 1969
  • 1971
    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
  • 1972
    Martin Carthy, Shearwater, LP
    Steeleye Span, Individually and Collectively
  • 1973
    Steeleye Span, Almanack
  • 1974
    Martin Carthy, Sweet Wivelsfield
  • 1976
    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
  • 1977
    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
  • 1978
    The Albion Band, Rise Up Like the Sun
    The Albion Band, Poor Old Horse
    Steeleye Span, Alive At Last
  • 1979
    The Albion Band, Lark Rise to Candleford
    Martin Carthy, Because It's There
  • 1981
    The Watersons, Green Fields
  • 1982
    Martin Carthy, Out of the Cut
  • 1983
    Brass Monkey, Brass Monkey
  • 1986
    Brass Monkey, See How It Runs
    Dave Swarbrick, When the Battle is Over
  • 1988
    Martin Carthy, Right of Passage
  • 1990
    Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, Life and Limb
  • 1992
    Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, ]Skin and Bone]
  • 1993
    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
  • 1994
    Waterson/Carthy, Waterson/Carthy
    Ashley Hutchings, The Guv'nor
    Martin Carthy, Kershaw Sessions (BBC)
  • 1996
    Dave Swarbrick, Folk On 2
    Waterson/Carthy, Common Tongue
  • 1998
    The Albion Band, BBC Sessions
    Martin Carthy, Signs of Life
    Brass Monkey, Sound & Rumour
    The Watersons, Green Fields
  • 1999
    Martin Carthy, A Collection
    Waterson/Carthy, Broken Ground
    Steeleye Span, A Rare Collection (1972-1996)
    Steeleye Span, The Journey
  • 2000 Eliza Carthy, Angels & Cigarettes
  • 2001 The Martin Carthy Chronicles
    Martin Carthy, Instrumental Album
(Discography Selected from